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Live Performance Royalties: Making Sure You Aren't Leaving Money on The Table When Playing Live

You're likely familiar with mechanical royalties for streamed music. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music pay artists a percentage of the revenue they generate from streams. But today we want to focus on how public performance royalties work and how you can make sure you aren't leaving money on the table when you perform your own songs live.

As a result of copyright laws, musicians receive royalties for each time their songs are played publicly. For example, if a songwriter plays her own original songs during a concert, she would be entitled to a portion of the gross revenue generated from that performance. Royalties for songwriters are also available when a song is played by a radio station when the song is background music in a grocery store, or even when the music is reproduced as sheet music. 

It is the responsibility of the venue, whether it is a concert venue, a bar, or another public venue, to obtain a license to have public performances. These licenses, called blanket licenses, are issued by a performing rights organization (PRO) like the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and allow the license holder to play any of the music in those libraries. The licensing fees for the venue are based either on their capacity or a portion of revenue. So larger music venues will have a higher cost for their license than the neighborhood bar.

Then it is the responsibility of the rights holder to report their setlist to their PRO after a concert in order to collect those royalties. If you are performing original music live at venues, but not reporting your set lists, you are missing out on money! Let's dive in a little deeper. To get your royalties for performing live you need to do all of the following:

1. Register your music with PROs

You will first need to register your music with the PRO of your choice. You can only be affiliated with one PRO at a time so no need to do them all, just pick one. The two most popular ones in the United States are ASCAP and BMI.

After you've signed up and made an account, you need to register your music. This video walks you through registering work on BMI. You don't need a recording to register songs with BMI. This means you can register songs that you perform live but have yet to release a recording.  

This article covers how to register your work with ASCAP.

2. Track which songs you play at each concert

Building a setlist for each show is a great habit. It comes in handy to collect performance royalties but it also ensures you give a professional performance. Especially if you play with other people, having a pre-determined list of songs and shared information about the key and tempo sets your band up for success. 

If you take a request or skip a song, update your setlist so it is accurate when you report it. 

3. Report your setlists

Unless you are one of the top 300 artists in the US you need to report your setlists manually. Tools like Muzooka automate part of the process if the shows you play sell tickets via Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, or AXS. Otherwise, you can upload setlists manually directly to your PRO, manually via Muzooka, or sign up for the Green Room Growth Plan and we will manage setlist reporting for you. 


In conclusion, it's important to understand all possible revenue sources within the music business. Record labels are able to generate so much revenue by staying on top of music royalties and whether you are an independent songwriter or the writer of tons of popular songs, there is money that is owed to you. If you're planning on performing any songs you've written in front of an audience, you should know that you can report setlists in order to get performance royalties from each show. While there are some steps required to make sure you are getting the public performance royalties you are owed, it is worth the effort to make sure you aren't leaving money on the table. 

Additionally, it ensures that the artists who wrote any cover songs you play are getting paid too! So if you perform the music of other songwriters, it can be a pay bump for them as well. 

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of handling this all yourself, contact us to see if Green Room Growth is the right solution for you. 


How much money am I owed when I perform original music at a concert?

The royalty rate that an artist can expect to receive for public performances will depend on the number of people in attendance, the venue licensing fees, and the mystery that is the PROs calculations.

Benom Plumb, former Vice President of Licensing for Bluewater Music is referenced in an article on Marketplace as saying that on the lower end of the spectrum, a $2 to $10 royalty per song is common for smaller venue performances. For larger arena tours it is a couple of hundred dollars per song per show.

What if I don't get paid my performance royalties?

First, you need to make sure you did all the steps outlined above. If you aren't registered with one of the Performing Rights Organizations, that is where you should start. If you've done that and aren't reporting your set lists, that is your next step. If you've done all that and still aren't receiving payment you should reach out to the tool you use to report setlists. So if you report setlists directly via BMI Live, you will want to contact that team. If you are using Green Room setlist reporting, reach out to us for assistance.

Sophie Randolph

As the founder of Green Room, Sophie Randolph is dedicated to providing innovative solutions that empower touring entertainers to take control of their careers. Before Green Room, Sophie worked in operations and customer success roles for startups, managed emerging artists, and completed her MBA at Rice University.

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