How can I get my music registered to make money?

Copyright SymbolWe hear terms like copyright, registering music, licensing music, BMI, ASCAP and more. Let’s work through all these terms and see if we can make some sense out of all of it and understand how to get your music to the next level.

A Musical Copyright

The DIYMusician at defines a musical copyright as a “…designation of intellectual property similar to a patent or trademark. Once an original composition has been fixed in a medium from which it can be reproduced (having either been recorded or written down in some fashion), the composer is granted exclusive rights to that piece of music, including, the right to:

  • reproduce the song
  • distribute the song
  • perform the song
  • create derivative works.”

When a songwriter creates a song the first thing that needs to be done is to obtain a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office, There are two parts to the copyrights.

The Composition

The first is the composition, the lyrics, and music, which is owned by the songwriter and/or the publisher.  If you are a songwriter, composer, lyricist, or anyone who creates original music and has not signed a contract with a publisher, then, you own all the rights to the song, including the publishing rights.

If you have not signed a contract with a publisher you then have total control over how the music or composition can be used or “exploited” (to utilize, especially for profit).

As the publisher you should earn money every time your song is sung or aired, whether you have recorded your own record or whether someone is covering your song:

  • streamed
  • downloaded
  • manufactured on CD or vinyl
  • performed live
  • played on the radio
  • synced to TV, film, commercials, games, etc.
  • and more.

The Sound Recording

With a sound recording of the composition, the copyright is owned by the recording artist or the label, which is called a master recording. The recording artist and the songwriter can be the same person.

Copyrighting Your Music

You have the right to copyright just the lyrics or just the music or both. Your song can be new or a new version or a new arrangement of the song. The song must be your creative work. If it is a collaborative work, all participating names must be on the copyright designation and all rights to the work are shared.

You cannot copyright a song title or chord progression by itself. A recording that includes the title and chord progression can be copyrighted.

Copyright your song gives you the following rights:

  • Make and distribute copies in any form
  • Exclusive right to make the first recording of the song
  • After you make the first recording then others can make recordings covering the song
  • A mechanical license required and royalties paid to you.
  • A synchronization license for videos or films required and royalties paid to you.
  • A public performance license required for someone to perform your song for an audience, with royalties paid to you, whether performed live, played on the radio, television, or live streamed on the internet.
  • You have the right to make derivative works or new arrangements.
  • Display the song

Songwriters typically assign their songs to music publishers and recording artists assign their recordings to record labels instead of trying to track the song’s use and seek payment individually.

Royalties Calculated

Mechanical Royalties are based on the number of records sold. Sound scan and other sales reporting systems determine the number of sales for each recording. In the US, mechanical royalties are calculated on a penny (Ȼ) basis per song, according to Free Advice Legal.

Recording artists receive pay according to the current minimum statutory penny rate, or a “reduced” penny rate. As of January 1, 2006, the US statutory penny rate for a record is 9.1 Ȼ per song.

Most US recording companies rarely pay the recording artist the statutory penny rate of 9.1 Ȼ per song because of a standard “controlled composition” clause, included in most contracts, which allows the record company to pay the artist or the publishing company a reduced royalty rate. Commonly they pay 75% (of 9.1¢) per song, with a cap of 10 songs, regardless of the number of songs on the album. Music publishers collect the royalties and pay the artists after subtracting fees and other withholdings stipulated in the contract.

Performance Royalties

Each quarter the US PROs (Performance Royalty Organizations), ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC calculate the gross receipt from all of the income streams and deduct any administrative fees or operating fees then pay the money directly to the songwriter. Each company uses their own method of calculating the royalties. For example, ASCAP uses the random survey and consensus method, BMI uses a scientific sampling method, and SESAC relies on cue sheets for TV royalties and cutting-edge methods of detecting radio play.

How To Apply For A Music Copyright

Step #1. Record your song on either paper, a tape recording, or a digital recording such as an MP3 or WAV file. You have to have something tangible to turn into the copyright office with your application.

Step #2. Create an online account on the website. You can register your music by mail, but it will take much longer than registering it on their official website.

Step #3. Fill out the Copyright Registration Form. Once you have an online account with the copyright office you can fill out the registration form online. If you decide to process your registration by mail, your submission must be accompanied by a completed form just like online.

Step #4 Pay your registration fee. As of May 1, 2014, the online registration fee is $35 and the mail-in fee is $85.

Step #5 Submit a copy of your song. It is very easy to upload a digital copy of your song. You can submit tapes and paper copies by following the instructions with your application.

Step #6 The waiting begins. When you submit online it generally takes 3 to 5 months of processing. When you submit a paper registration it will take anywhere from seven to ten months to process.

Choosing to register your song is an important step in protecting your intellectual property. Without registering your song you will not be able to collect royalties.

by Dena Warfield


After spending approximately 20 years as a programmer analyst working in both the private sector and county government, Dena Warfield returned to college earning a Masters Degree in Psychology and in Creative Writing. Since graduation, her main focus has been on marketing – Direct Sales, Copywriting, and Writing for the Web. She co-owned and managed a direct marketing company with her husband working, primarily, with local newspapers. She managed the business office, human resources, and helped with training and marketing. She also designed their company Web Site plus writing for other web developers. Dena’s years of business, computer programming, and writing have helped to focus her copywriting skills in the marketing arena. Whether she is writing content for websites, emails, brochures, catalogs, or direct-response her goal is increased traffic and sales to your site or business. Education Dena earned her Master’s Degree in Human Behavior and a Master’s in Creative Writing from National University in San Diego, California. She has also completed a certification program from AWAI (American Writers & Artists Inc., Delray Beach, FL.) with a focus in copywriting for the web. Author Dena has authored a self-help book designed to help people become aware of their negative thoughts and core beliefs that keep them from becoming successful. The techniques described in her book were used to help their sales rep to become more successful. Her book is currently on She also enjoys writing Flash Fiction which can be found on her Facebook page, WarStories by Dena – Flash Fiction with a twist.

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