Songwriter Quiz

This quiz presented by TuneCore’s Songwriter Service. We help songwriters recover money that is rightfully theirs.

TuneCore Songwriter Service


1. Are you affiliated with a PRO?

Performing Rights Organizations (also known as PROs) are clearinghouse agencies that were created to represent songwriters. There are three dominant ones in the United States: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Each does the same thing: they act on behalf of the songwriters who have affiliated with them, and issue licenses to those who wish to broadcast (i.e. publicly perform) these artists’ copyrighted songs. Further, these PROs distribute the money they collect in license fees from these broadcasters to their members whose copyrighted songs are publicly performed.

For instance, club owners pay the PROs a flat annual license fee that allows artists to perform copyrighted music in their club. This is how any artist is able to stand up on any stage and sing a Bob Dylan song. The PROs use a variety of methods (including visiting clubs) to determine which songs are being publicly performed.

In a similar fashion, the PROs monitor radio play and music played on TV in order to determine which of the writers who have affiliated with them are having their copyrighted works publicly performed.

In order to receive this royalty, the writer must become a member of one of the above-mentioned PROs, and then register each song.

2. Are you a member of SoundExchange?

To monitor and collect the money earned from internet radio, music streaming companies provide detailed electronic play logs which are matched to individual recordings allowing an entity called SoundExchange to pay out exactly what is earned. SoundExchange, a non-profit organization, was appointed by the Library of Congress to collect and distribute these royalties to artists like you. As soon as you sign up online for free, you can collect royalties you’ve earned dating back to the beginning of collections in 1996.

Go here to register and learn more.

3. Do you write your own music or lyrics?

The instant you write or record an original song, be it scribbling on a cocktail napkin or singing it into your iPhone, you get six exclusive legal copyrights as granted by the government.

These six legal copyrights are:

  • Reproduction
  • Derivatives
  • Public Display
  • Public Performance
  • Distribution
  • Digital Transmission

These rights protect your song, allow you to make money off it and control how others can use it (hey, it is your song after all!) These laws were written by Congress (or the equivalent in other countries) to protect and empower you … and advance a culture of creativity, which the government believes benefits society at large.

Click here to learn about the 6 legal rights.

4. Do you release your own music (are you your own label)?

If this is the case, you’re positioned to have the maximum amount of direct revenue streams an artist can have (assuming that, in addition to releasing your music, you’re also the songwriter — that is, that you’re not just releasing records of covers or songs in the public domain).

As someone who releases his or her own music, you are entitled to be paid directly every time the recordings you released are reproduced, distributed, or publicly performed.  While, obviously, you won’t pay yourself a mechanical license for the right to reproduce your own music on your own label, if your music is sold outside the U.S., there will be money owed to you for not only mechanicals, but public performance income (both for the public performance of the song itself and the master).

5. Has any label ever released your music?

If so, and if they haven’t worked out a deal with you to reproduce and distribute your copyrighted songs via a mechanical license, they are infringing on your rights.  In order for a label to release music that you wrote, they must enter into an agreement with you that stipulates precisely how much they will pay you for the right to reproduce (i.e. make CDs, vinyl, or sell downloads) and distribute the songs you wrote.  These agreements are referred to as mechanical licenses.  Payment for the right to reproduce and distribute another’s work is mandated by statute (law), and comes from the fact that copyright law grants the writer (among others) the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute his/her own work.  The current rate that must be paid by a label to a songwriter for the right to reproduce the songwriter’s work is $.091 (almost a dime) per song, per copy.  So, if an artist has an album with ten songs on it, the label owes the artist $.91 (almost a dollar) per record reproduced.  If the label reproduces 10,000 records with ten songs on it that the artist wrote, the label owes the artist/writer $9,100.  Now, this $.091 per song/copy is the maximum amount that a label must pay, but an artist can (and often does) accept a lesser amount (typically, 25% less). Additionally, no label will enter into a mechanical license agreement with an artist signed to their label that forces the label to pay on copies of songs made. Rather, they’ll only pay on songs reproduced and sold.

6. Has your music ever been used in a film or on TV?

When a producer of a film, TV show, or ad desires to use music in a production, the producer must obtain the rights to use this music from the copyright holder(s).

If, for instance, James Cameron wants to use the Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You,” that was recorded and released on an album by Columbia Records in Titanic: The Sequel, Mr. Cameron must make a deal with both Dolly (for the song) and Columbia Records (for the recording of the song). He needs Dolly and Columbia Records to grant him the rights to both reproduce and distribute their copyrights. He does this by offering to pay them a lot of money.

Mr. Cameron must obtain a “synchronization license” from the copyright holder of the song (Dolly) and a “master usage” license from the label (Columbia Records). These licenses grant Mr. Cameron the right to reproduce and distribute the film with Columbia Records’ recording of Dolly’s song in it. If he does this without getting the rights, he could be sued for a whole lot of money.

Learn more about synchronization licenses

7. Has anyone ever recorded a cover version of a song you wrote??

If you have commercially released a song you wrote, anyone who wants may cover your song on their release as long as you are paid the “mechanical royalty” for each reproduction. In other words, once you release a song, you cannot stop anyone from covering it. However, anyone that covers your song MUST pay you the mechanical royalty rate. If they don’t, they have violated the law and you can sue them.

Also important:, if you wrote a song and did NOT commercially release it, you, the copyright holder, can pick who gets to release your song first (you or someone else), and negotiate any rate you want for that first use.

Learn more about the rules behind cover songs, sampling, and derivative works.

8. Has anyone ever sampled any of your work?

A sample is when you take a piece of an existing copyrighted work (the © and/or the ℗) and combine it with another work. Because a sample clearly involves recasting, transforming, or adapting one work (according to the Copyright Act) in order to merge it with another work, the copyright holder of the work being recast, transformed, or adapted must grant permission for this to occur. Simply put, because a sample is a derivative work, no one can sample your copyrighted work without permission from you.

Note that there are typically two copyrights that must be addressed when a work is sampled (and thus two copyright holders from whom one must get permission in order to avoid infringing):
1. The copyright to the song itself – the ©
2. The copyright to the version of the song (i.e. the master) – the ℗

For instance, if you want to sample the guitar riff from a Beatles’ song, you would need to negotiate a deal with the copyright holder to the song (The Beatles’ publisher(s) – the ©), and negotiate a deal with the copyright holder to the version of the song from the recording from which you are sampling (The Beatles’ label – the ℗). Either party can reject the request and refuse to grant you the right to create a derivative work. Should they not reject the request outright, they will negotiate with you to attempt to come to terms that allow you to create a derivative work. There is no legally required maximum rate for samples, so publishers and master holders will negotiate in order to get everything they can – including the rights to the copyright of the song that is using their sample.

Still curious about the licenses needed to sample music?

9. Has your music ever been downloaded, streamed, or sold outside of the country you live in?

If your music has ever been downloaded, streamed, or sold outside the country you live in, you are owed a separate songwriter royalty. The mechanical royalties due from streams, downloads (outside of the US & Mexico) and physical sales are not collected by performance societies like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. The digital stores that stream and sell downloads do not have your songwriter information, therefore the money goes unclaimed.
When the rightful owner does not pick up this money, it’s given to Sony, Warner Bros, Universal, EMI and others based on their market share.

The TuneCore Songwriter Service registers your information with the stores, song by song, so you get paid.

10. Has your music ever been played on AM/FM radio?

Under federal law, when music is played on AM/FM radio, the person(s) who wrote the song must get paid a royalty for the “public performance.”
In order for a radio station to broadcast an artist’s copyrighted song, the radio station must have an agreement in place with the songwriter. The songwriter collects the money from radio play, by registering with a PRO, as PROs monitor radio play in order to determine which of the writers affiliated with them are having their copyrighted works publicly performed. The songwriter is the ONLY copyholder who gets paid when music is publicly performed on the radio. For example, every time Columbia Records’ version of Whitney Houston singing Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You” is played on the radio, it is Dolly Parton (and those who represent her) who receives the public performance royalties from the PRO. Columbia Records and Whitney get nothing.

11. Has your music ever been streamed online by a third party such as Pandora, Spotify, or turntable.fm (i.e. not from your own site)?

According to the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), when music is played via “digital transmission” radio, like Pandora and Spotify, the songwriter and the performer and the label must get paid. The amount paid to the performer and the record label is a rate set by the government.

So if your recordings have been played via digital transmission, U.S. federal law requires that you receive royalties. If it’s your song, or your voice, or your instrumental on the recording, you are owed money that is sitting and waiting for you to collect, through SoundExchange (see above for info on SoundExchange).

Click here for more info on “digital transmission” radio

BONUS: What is a Mechanical Royalty?

With its origins in the “piano rolls” of the 20th Century, the concept focuses on the income derived from the sale of a copyrighted audio composition that is rendered mechanically including CDs, ring tones, downloads, video games, etc… In the United States, the right to use copyrighted music for making recordings for public distribution (for private use) is the exclusive right of the composer, but once the music is so recorded, anyone else can record the composition/song without a negotiated license but on the payment of the Federally mandated statutory compulsory royalty*. The current rate is 9.1 cents or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time or fraction thereof, whichever is greater. Mechanical royalties for music produced outside of the United States are negotiated – there being no compulsory licensing – and royalty payments to the composer and her publisher for recordings are based on the wholesale, retail, or “suggested retail value” of the marketed CDs.

In the U.S., the Harry Fox Agency, HFA, is the predominant licensor, collector and distributor for mechanical royalties, although there are several small competing organizations.
In the UK the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, MCPS (now in alliance with PRS), acts to collect (and distribute) royalties to composers, songwriters and publishers for CDs and for digital formats. In Europe, the major licensing and mechanical royalty collection societies are: SACEM in France, GEMA in Germany, SFA in Italy. The mechanical royalty rate paid to the publisher in Europe is about 6.5% on the PPD (published price to dealers).**


TuneCore has launched a new service that helps songwriters collect money that is rightfully theirs. Check out the new Songwriter Publishing Administration Service to see if it’s the right fit for you: http://www.tunecore.com/songwriters

TuneCore Songwriter Service