The three major performance rights organizations (PRO’s) are:  SESAC, ASCAP and BMI, and each exists in order to help writers collect royalties for when their songs are performed in public venues or played in restaurants, on the radio, on television, etc. They also provide licenses for businesses that would like to use songs by the PROs represented writers and publishers. However, most songwriters are unaware of the benefits, opportunities and workings of the publishing and licensing process. John Mullins, a Writer Relations Rep at SESAC, answered some basic questions about this part of the music industry for us and gave some insight for songwriters who might be just as confused about all of this legal business as most of us are.

CCM Indie:  Can you give a brief description of your job and how long you have worked for SESAC?

John Mullins: I work in the Writer Relations department where our job is to find new SESAC affiliates and service the existing ones. We have nine departments here, but we are the public face of our company. I have been here 10 years after 7 years at Sony ATV Tree Publishing.

CCM Indie: How is SESAC beneficial to songwriters/musicians beyond what the artist could do for themselves?

John Mullins: That varies as to the level of the affiliate. At lower levels, just explaining how the business really works and how to develop their skills towards commercial activity can be vital. At mid-level, it might be helping members network and establish relationships. At the higher levels, we might be advocating for a member at record labels or publishers. All services are free to the member but are offered solely at our discretion.

CCM Indie: At what point in an artist/writer’s career should they begin looking into working with a PRO?

John Mullins: I believe that time would be when making serious steps towards a writing/performing career. These might be moving to a music industry town, recording a serious project or just making the decision to be a full time professional.

CCM Indie: What things should an artist/writer take into consideration when deciding what PRO they would like to be affiliated with?

John Mullins: Personal meetings should be arranged to explore and learn about each PRO. Referrals are important and will get you taken more seriously. Never sign up online without having a personal contact at a PRO. If logistics prevent you visiting PRO offices, those same logistics will likely prevent you from having a music career.
*I would like to mention that a songwriter can only be affiliated with one PRO at a time. However, music publishers can be members with all three.

CCM Indie: Are there any pros/cons to working with a songwriter already represented by a music publisher as opposed to an independent songwriter?

John Mullins: From my end it is simple; a writer with a deal has more experience, resources and a team behind him.

CCM Indie: What do you look for in a potential affiliate with SESAC?

John Mullins: Talent and the ability to build relationships in the industry. I also try to avoid writers with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder)…

CCM Indie: Do you ever run into any grey areas while working with a music publisher who is also affiliated with BMI and/or ASCAP?

John Mullins: Yes. Often a publisher will have longer relationships with BMI or ASCAP than us and not understand how we operate. This is not as challenging as when a publisher owes favors to another PRO and pays them back by insisting their writers sign/stay with that PRO.

CCM Indie: Do bands/musicians have to receive a specific license to perform a cover of any other artist’s song?

John Mullins: Some rare situations aside, anyone can perform any song in concert.

CCM Indie: Once someone receives a license from SESAC are they then able to perform/use any of the music from the repertoire of songwriters, composers and publishers that SESAC represents? Or are different/multiple licenses ever needed?

John Mullins: Performers do not need licenses from PROs, businesses do. When a song is performed it is the responsibility church/venue/station/network/bar or whatever business where the song is performed to obtain the licenses.
*This is something to note. As an artist, one does not need a license to perform others’ songs. However, it is recommended that all venue/business owners obtain a license from each PRO as they will be held responsible for any songs that are performed without the proper license. Negligence to do so can result in a fine of up to $150,000 for each song performed without proper authorization.

CCM Indie: Would you say the majority of artists/writers are knowledgeable about the music publishing and licensing process? Or is the majority under-informed?
John Mullins: Music publishing is the least understood part of the music business except for PROs.

CCM Indie: What would be the biggest piece of advice that you would give an independent artist/writer in regards to the publishing and licensing aspects of the music industry?

John Mullins: Make a friend in the business. Aside from doing research on one’s own beforehand, having a friend in the business with a working knowledge of these things can be a great asset to an up-and-coming artist. They may be able to explain some of the legal lingo better and provide a referral when the artist decides that they would like to be affiliated with a performance rights organization.

John Mullins, Senior Director and Writer/Publisher Relations.
Mullins came to SESAC from Sony/ATV/ Music Publishing. At SESAC, Mullins primarily is responsible for signing new writers and publishers and providing service to existing writers and publishers. Other duties include representing SESAC at festivals, conferences and award shows while promoting the SESAC brand and speaking on panels and to college students about performing rights and SESAC. He primarily works with SESAC’s Country and Contemporary Christian affiliates but signs and provides service to affiliates in all formats. (as taken from SESAC’s website)

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