Before You Copyright Your Song…

I​ always laugh when I hear someone make a huge deal about copyrighting their song. I think it's kind of funny that someone would assume that someone is going to search for a song that has less than a thousand streams on Spotify and rip off this no-name band from Fredericksburg, VA.

I​ always laugh when I hear someone make a huge deal about copyrighting their song. I think it’s kind of funny that someone would assume that someone is going to search for a song that has less than a thousand streams on Spotify and rip off this no-name band from Fredericksburg, VA. 

“Hello, is this Dean Nelson? Oh, this is Hollywood, and ​Oh my GOD!?! Where did you get that beat?”

“​… Ahem, Garageband.”

I​ admire your confidence in your music! That sounds sarcastic, and maybe 23% of it is… but the rest of it is genuine! You have to believe in your art! But let’s slow our roll a little. Copyrighting your music does not have to be your top priority, despite what you might have heard. 

I’m sure you have heard of the horror stories with Led Zeppelin stealing songs left and right.

Oh wait… that’s not Zeppelin. Sorry.

But that was then, and this is NOW. It is obtusely easy to prove you wrote a song at ____ time and on _____ date. I mean, you’d have to go out of your way to hide it. It’s also almost impossible for them to prove that they haven’t heard your song before because everyone has either Spotify or Apple Music or even Soundcloud. The system helps out the little guy (one of the few times it works in your favor)! 

To copyright, your song pricing is around $25 I’ll attach a link below to help make your process easy! You can copyright multiple songs at the same time, which is nice and saves you some cash.


I would advise against using something like “Legal zoom” – I was once tempted, you definitely don’t need legal help with this stuff. They charge you $114 before you’ve even started with the government fee.

Let me explain what copyrighting a song actually does.

  • Your melodies are covered under Copyright
  • The actual lyrics of your song are protected
  • You are proving the date of submission (which is painfully easy to prove)

Copyright does NOT cover

  • Any chord progressions
  • The title of your song or a short common phrase
  • The idea and/or concept of a song

BUT! Before you do this… Let’s think through this logically. 

You can file that copyright at ANY POINT in your career (or a life of the song) 

Let’s take a look at this giraffe. 

Ok, that’s out of my system. Now let’s take a look at this graph from Digitial Music News. This is from 2016, but it’s still pretty close to how it looks these days. 

Back at the end of 2018 Spotify changed its rate, so now it’s a 264 streams for $1. As of September 2019. It looked like this…


264 = $1 

2,640 = $10

26,400 = $100

Ok, now I’m just doing basic math. 

Let’s say you went through “Legal Zoom” (shame on you).You would need to get 30,096 streams (Spotify) to make back the $114 to copyright the song, and that’s doesn’t cover the federal filing fee.

If you’re getting that many streams… Maybe you can start thinking about copyrighting the song. But look at me for a second.

You don’t need to copyright your song. Just… you don’t. It’s wasting your money. No one is gonna steal your song. 

If someone took “Shake-a Pom Pom, Shake-a Shake-a Pom Pom” … I think I would be flattered more than anything. Also I could easily pull up when I recorded the song and wrote those brilliant lyrics. (Between you and me… I stole them from this guy.

Page 47 of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Now, I have heard a few people say a performing rights organization (PRO) would handle this for them. 

These organizations collect all the royalties from entities that play music and distribute those royalties to the artist. That doesn’t mean your song is copywritten. But It does help you! 

Before you pull up a new window. If you’re on Spotify or Apple right now, you probably used CDbaby or Tunecore, and these companies are doing that for you as you read this.

The question then becomes – Should you get involved with a performing rights organization (PRO)?

Someday… yes. But it doesn’t need to happen before you start writing music. You can add your songs and your name at any time.

A performing rights organization (PRO) like Ascap, SESAC, BMI will help you collect royalties on songs. It’s beneficial. It feels like an end all be all decision. But overall they are pretty close in payout and how they do so. They’re not always quick on paying out. It’s a business that involves money, that shouldn’t surprise you. Now, before you freak out about collecting royalties… I want to point out that Spotify pays out around $0.006 per stream. So you do not need to rush out the door to receive that. Companies like CDbaby and Tunecore collect this for you as well. Once again, it’s a good idea to get involved with a performing rights organization, but you don’t have to get stressed out about it. 

A little more than halfway through this column. I just want to take a deep breath in. This isn’t hard to do. It’s a lot of information, but it isn’t hard to do.

I’m going to briefly break down the differences between a couple of these companies. I just don’t want you to stress out about copyrighting your songs or signing up with a PRO when it’s pretty effortless to do and honestly it’s not something you need to rush to do. If you’re streaming like a river right now, you can set up something with your PRO and start that process going. You haven’t made any mistakes, and it’s not too late to start.

I like the way “Music Industry how-to” describes it. I will give you a summary of what they’ve said over there if you’re interested in learning more. Follow this link!


H​ere are the highlights, this is what you need to know

Ascap, SESAC, and BMI are pretty much the same thing. Sure they have a few differences. But you’re not going to get screwed because you went with Ascap or SESAC. BMI isn’t the devil coming for your soul. 

What are their most significant differences? 

B​MI 

  • Pays out quarterly 
  • Free for songwriters
  • One time fee of $​150 to join as a publisher
  • Biggest of the “Big Three” – meaning lots of networking opportunities
  • Known for hosting some HUGE networking event 
  • They offer discounts (hotel and car rental among other things) Medical insurance and gear insurance


A​SCAP

  • One time fee of $​50 to join as a songwriter, $50 to join as a publisher
  • Great company for networking ​
  • Workshops year-round
  • Once you really get into it, they offer discounts, medical insurance, and gear insurance
  • Pays out quarterly 

S​ESAC 

  • Smallest of the three – A little more exclusive, you have to be invited to join.
  • They have some awesome deals for some seemingly random things like Sprint, Berkleemusic.com, SONGTRUST, Avis Car rentals, and Discount Airport Parking. Very, very cool.
  • They payout monthly


In summary. Is it a good idea to sign up with a PRO? 

Yes. 

Do you need to do it now? 

No – No, you don’t. 

A PRO is useful when a lot of people are playing your music. Right now, nobody is playing your music. No one is covering your songs. When you breakthrough, when you’re signed or when a lot of people are covering your song. Then you can worry about a PRO. If you want to join one before then, totally fine! Just don’t stress about it.

Again – If you’re using CDbaby, Tunecore or something comparable, they are collecting royalties for you right now. 

NEVER use their PRO distribution that CDbaby offers. It’s a terrible deal for you, AND once again, they take a stupid amount of money from you, and it’s easy to get stuck with them FOREVER.. plus, what they’re saying they will collect, well you’re not making much in those royalties. It’s a joke! Don’t use CDbaby’s pro distribution. Their standard distribution deal will work well for you. 

It’s pretty easy to prove when you wrote a song. I have found that the people who champion copywriting a song are usually not musicians, and typically have no business experience. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many middle-aged nurses have explained to me that if I don’t copyright my song, I’m a fool. GAHH!!! 

It’s not a gut check.. its a fact of the real world. No one is going to steal your song at this point in your career. 

EVEN IF THEY DO, it’s stupidly easy to prove you wrote the riff. If you sue them, you couldn’t collect on the money they had made at that point. But you could start collecting songwriting royalties from that point on. 

Don’t stress about it. You don’t need to worry about this until you’re making some waves. At that point, you can work through this stuff (it’s obviously easy to do). What am I saying? I’m saying you don’t need to worry about this stuff! I’m saying focus on creating great art that you are proud of! When you get to a point where you need to be thinking about this stuff, you will have people helping you out.

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