This is part 5 of a 7-part series of posts dealing with music licensing.
My last several posts have covered:

1. Basic Terms and Definitions
2. Publishing: Types of Deals, Part A
3. Publishing: Types of Deals, Part B
4. Clearances
5. Administration, Part A
6. Administration, Part B
7. Royalties, Part A

This week’s topic continues with performance royalties. Since we’re talking about music licensing for use in T.V., film and advertising, I’m going to focus on those kinds of royalties. There are other royalties such as mechanical royalties, print royalties etc.,  but that’s for another time.

When your song is used in a film, T.V. show or commercial, it can generate income in two ways:

1. Fees

A fee is a lump sum that is negotiated and paid up front by the production company when you give permission or grant a license to use your song and your master recording.

2. Performance Royalties

Performance royalties are paid after the film or T.V. show is broadcast and the money is collected by a performing rights organization (PRO) on your behalf, sometimes much later. Performance royalties are sometimes referred to as “backend” monies.

So, not only can you generate income in two ways, but you’ll be paid for those two licenses you have granted in two ways. They are:


Sync and master fees are negotiable. There’s no menu of standard fees out there. You or a library acting on your behalf must negotiate the amounts. Typically an offer will be an “all-in” fee that covers both the sync and the master use rights together.


Fees are paid up front for the use of your song synced to a visual. It will come straight from the network to you, or if you have a publisher representing your song, then it will come to the publisher and then in turn, the publisher pays you.

Some networks pay upfront fees and some don’t. Major networks generally do, while the cable networks will forego payment of individual fees in lieu of a one-time payment to the music provider for the use of many songs during the course of a year. Due to the abundance of music available to music users, there has been a recent decline in the number of upfront fees paid to writers.

So if you’re fortunate enough to get a placement in a film, T.V. show or a webisode, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve done a whole lot right. Which is why knowing the payout pipeline is all the more important. You deserve to be paid. And if you aren’t, you can follow the flow of money to find out how to “unclog” the pipe.


Performance royalties, unlike upfront fees, are collected by PROs from the music users (networks, etc.) in the form of annual licensing fees. These fees are paid to the PROs for permission to use music written by their members.

The three PROs in the U.S. are:


A note about PROs: There are differing opinions on which is the best. All have their pros and cons so I would choose based upon the one which gives you the most service and attention. After signing up with one, you will have to register each of your songs with them. You can do this online. This gives the PRO the ability to keep track of your songs and know which ones you’re owed monies on. If you want to represent yourself as a publishing entity, then you also need to register as a publisher, which is a separate transaction, so double check with your PRO to make sure it gets done.

In the television world, networks provide a “cue sheet” the PROs which lists all of the music they have used for any given show and episode. The PROs then pay their writers based upon factors such as:

1.    length of music synced
2.    type of network (major or cable)
3.    time of airing
4.    type of cue (feature vs. background)

In the advertising world, a commercial might air locally, regionally or nationally. The broader the scope, the greater the royalties per play. Since a commercial is not a T.V. show or film,  reporting of the plays is done slightly differently by way of a specialized form submitted by the ad agency or brand. Double check to make sure the form has been filled out or get the form, fill it out and submit to your PRO.

Check back next week for the third part of this post. I’ll include some infographics to help you truly understand the pipeline of how monies are paid.

Questions? Leave a comment below.

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Want more tips on songwriting for film and t.v.? Purchase my e-book, How To Explode Your Income By Licensing Your Songs here.



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