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What is ASCAP – What Do They Do And Don’t Do For The Artist

June 14, 2021 • 4 min read

Did you know that in the USA there are organizations that specialize in overseeing and enforcing music copyright laws? One of them is ASCAP, and they are ready to make sure that you are correctly paid the royalties related to your music.

What is ASCAP – American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

ASCAP is a non-profit organization that acts as an intermediary between music users and copyright holders. Its role is basically to supervise, collect, and pass on royalties due to the owners of the works.

As a non-profit organization, ASCAP maintains its structure by charging some fees. These fees are paid by its registered users, which are paid back in the form of royalties.

The return to the copyright holders is about US$0.88 for every US$1.00 collected.

ASCAP has existed since 1914, and was founded by Victor Herbert. Headquartered in New York City, its current president is Paul Williams, an American songwriter, singer, and actor.

Besides ASCAP, SESAC and BMI do similar work.

What is ASCAP

Photo: peakpx.com – License to use Creative Commons Zero – CC0

How ASCAP works

Although the whole process requires a complex organization and structure, the way it works is quite simple.

ASCAP monitors public performances of its registered users’ works, whether live or in phonogram performances. It collects the amounts related to these performances and passes on to its users, the copyright owners, their due portion.

Acting as an intermediary between artist and music user, it becomes a great ally for both sectors.

Simply put, on the one hand, copyright owners do not need to supervise the use of their works and collect their rights. On the other, users of these works do not need to contact the authors one by one to pass on their royalties.

By using state-of-the-art technology, ASCAP is able to monitor the execution of the works with great precision. This is indispensable, since ASCAP already has more than 16 million works registered by its users.

With regard to the collection of royalties, it is extremely efficient. In 2020 it collected over $1.327 billion dollars in royalties, exceeding the 2019 revenue by over $53 million.

You can view the full report here.

ASCAP’s Clients

ASCAP has a large list of music customers/users. It is these customers who will pay royalties for use of musical works registered with the organization. Most of these customers pay an annual fee for the right to use the works.

At this link you have a sample of these customers: ASCAP Payment System: Who does ASCAP collect from?

Registering Music

As important as creating the masterpiece of your life, is knowing the importance and how to copyright music.

Registering music is not mandatory, but it grants you, the author/songwriter, the rights to your work. Proof of ownership gives the copyright holder total freedom to market and use the registered work.

In the USA, the registration of works is done through the U.S. Copyright Office. You can access the site and register your songs from this link: https://www.copyright.gov/

Registering your music with ASCAP

With your works properly registered, you need an organization to make sure that your rights are respected. That way you will receive your royalties whenever your songs are performed publicly. This is where ASCAP begins.

For ASCAP to take care of your copyrights, first of all you must be registered with the organization. Access the registration area through this link: Member Enrollment (ascap.com)

You will be given a few options on how to register. Choose the one that best fits your case and proceed with the user registration by going through the following steps.

Once the registration is complete, move on to the registration of your works. During the registration you will also inform, if applicable, the percentages to be distributed to the writer, editor, etc.

You can access the registration area through this link: https://www.ascap.com/music-creators/login. Then go to “Register a Work” in the “My Catalog” tab.

Once the works are registered with ASCAP, they enter the organization’s repertoire and will be monitored by the system. With this, music users pay royalties for the use of their works, and you receive them.

Besides the basic services of collecting and passing on royalties, ASCAP offers a number of benefits to its members. Check out some of them here.


The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is used to identify the phonogram, creating a unique identity for a recording. This code is used to register music, videos, etc.

Just as no two people have the same fingerprint, no two phonograms will have the same ISRC.  This ensures that you can identify when and where your music has been used, and that you collect your royalties correctly.

Generating the ISRC

The ISRC code can be generated by the author of the work, by producers, record labels, or whoever is authorized by the author. There is no cost for this and you do not need to be a member or associate of any institution.

The ISRC can be generated online by going to the organization for your region. See the list here.

Music License

When dealing with copyrights, it is important to be clear about two concepts: Assignment of rights and public performance license for use.

The term “assignment” of copyright is used when there is a definitive transfer of rights over a work. This assignment can be total or partial. In the case of total assignment, the “creator” of the work will no longer have any right over its performance, sale, publication, etc.

The term “license” refers to the release for a specific use and usually has a specified period of time. This modality is much more widely used, and can include guarantees of exclusive or non-exclusive use. It’s especially common regarding audiovisual productions. In that case, it’s called sync license, or synchronization license, due to the fact that it’s a phonogram that’s only executed together with a visual piece.

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