How to Get All Your Songwriting Royalties


Sarah Harralson

How songwriters get paid - If you're releasing songs, you can be earning money for them. Here's every royalty you can earn from your songs. Plus a free checklist to make your next release a breeze! | From

As an independent artist and songwriter, there are so many different platforms in this modern day society to utilize to earn money making music easier and faster.

With all of the options and different types of royalties to claim, is your release actually making every type of royalty out there?

Every cent counts in the streaming world we now live in, so let’s make sure your release is ready to make all that it’s owed.

Besides being an independent artist and songwriter, I have also worked in the music industry in licensing for a performing rights organization and artist royalties for a record label. I know firsthand how important it is to receive a royalty check.

4 Different types of royalties songwriters can receive:

1. Performance Royalties

Most songwriters are already registered with a Performing Rights Organization, and if you’re not, you should definitely register.

The three main PROs in America include BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

While each PRO has it’s own differences in cost, culture, and size, all PRO’s exist to distribute your Performance Royalties to you.

So you’re registered with a PRO—but are you utilizing everything it has to offer?

You get paid for live performances.

Any song that you have written that you ever perform, have released, or that someone else has released should be registered in your works with your PRO.

If you are an artist that performs live shows, even unpaid shows, you need to always submit your performance with the live feature your PRO has.

You will be paid quarterly for any live performances you register. Sometimes it just pays gas money each quarter, but it’s STILL money. If you have a friend who is constantly playing out a song you wrote with them, encourage them to register their performances as well, because you can also get paid for them playing out your song.

Any song that you have written that you ever perform, have released, or that someone else has released should be registered in your works with your PRO.

You will get paid for radio play.

Another reason you should register songs in your works that another artist has cut is because you will receive airplay royalties if the song goes to radio. I have seen instances where the artist never registers a song in their own works when it is published by a label, and it blows my mind. Always make sure to register the song on your end, even if you think the artist or co-writer has done it already. It helps everyone involved.

You will get paid publishing if you register as a publisher.

Do you ever notice when you register a song with your PRO that you usually make the songwriter share higher because you don’t have a publisher? This is normal as an independent artist and songwriter, but I am here to tell you that creating your own independent publishing company is so worth it.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a song registered with a 200% writer share and 0% publishing share, however, if the song gains traction, it would make it very easy for you to only be paid a writer share and the publishing share could possibly be withheld due to a company not having publishing information on the song. This is another better safe than sorry instance so you don’t miss out on publishing royalties.

You can collect digital streaming royalties through Sound Exchange if you’re an artist.

Let’s also talk about SoundExchange for a minute, because SoundExchange is a digital performance rights organization, and people often get them confused with BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

You will want to sign up for SoundExchange if you are the featured artist on a released track and the copyright owner of the sound recording. The other PROs only collect performance royalties for the songwriters, publishers, and composers.

2. Artist Royalties

If you are an independent artist, chances are you have used a third party distributor to release your music. This includes companies such as Tunecore, CD Baby, Ditto Music, DistroKid, etc.

[Shopping for distributors? Use my DistroKid referral link and get 7% off your membership, and I get $5 bucks. :) Thanks!]

But did you know you are only receiving artist royalties using these distributors?

Many of them now have an option where you can pay extra to also receive your mechanical royalties through them, but depending on who you use, that can get pricey.

I highly recommend any artist to do a comparison analysis of all the different distributors out there and then decide which one is best for them before just picking one. If you plan on releasing a lot of music in one year, perhaps a distributor with a small yearly fee with unlimited releases will suit you best as opposed to Tunecore and CD Baby, which offers a la carte pricing.

If your distributor does not offer an option to also collect your mechanical and publishing royalties, you are going to want to hire another third party distributor to do this for you, which I will go into more detail about below. This is where you’re going to want to keep track of all the different royalty statements you’ll be receiving!

3. Publishing & Mechanical Royalties

Most independent singer-songwriters utilize a performing rights organization and a distributor to release their music. But so many forget that they are probably also missing out on their mechanical and publishing royalties.

Songwriter pay in the streaming world is undeniably low, but you still want to be receiving every royalty that’s owed to you.

SongTrust for streaming royalties

Whether you are an independent artist that has released music or an independent songwriter that has other artists cutting your songs, you want to make sure someone is collecting these publishing royalties. I highly recommend Songtrust if you are looking for a collection company. They require a one-time set up fee and take 15% commission, which is standard.

You can usually import your catalog from your PRO, but make sure to give the company as much song information as you can including writer and publisher splits.

This is another reason having your own publishing company will come in handy. If you are a writer on your own song or an outside song that has been released, you will also want to provide your publishing royalty collector with ISRC and UPC codes. If you are a writer that for some reason can’t get this information from the artist, just visit the ISRC site where you can look up the song and find the codes.

Black Box Royalties for old releases

Now, let’s say songs you are a writer on have been published before you even signed up with a collection company. You might have black box royalties owed to you.

These are unclaimed royalties owed to you as a writer or publisher, but your collection society could not be found. Companies such as Songtrust will hunt down these black box royalties for you. They are usually royalties up to three years ago, and sometimes will take a year for them to find before you will see them on your statement.

The MLC and blanket licenses

Many of you may have heard about The Mechanical Licensing Collective that will be issuing blanket licenses beginning in 2021. This means if you are an independent songwriter and/or publisher, and you are not already using a collection agency such as Harry Fox or Songtrust, you will be able to sign up with them early next year to receive your digital mechanical royalties. You can find more about them at their website,

4. YouTube & Synchronization Royalties

You can get paid if your song is in a film or on tv.

Sync royalties are usually up-front and easy to receive if a company wants to use your song in a film or TV.

But what about those pesky YouTube royalties, also known as micro-sync royalties? They generate both mechanical and performance royalties. But why aren’t you seeing them on your statement? Monetization.

You can get paid through YouTube monetization.

Oh yes, the question you’ve been waiting for: How do I get monetized?

You can utilize YouTube Ad monetization to get the publishing royalties owed to your songs on Youtube, However, to do this, you need at least 1,000 subscribers on your channel and 4,000 hours of watch time in the past year.

The other option is YouTube‘s Partner Program, which includes similar requirements. You can find more information on monetization below, with this helpful article I found on Songtrust:

YouTube 101: A beginner’s Guide, on SongTrust

Even if you aren’t monetized for your YouTube content yet, you should still be receiving royalties from YouTube Music on your artist statements. This is separate from your YouTube channel, and strictly streaming.

When do I get paid?

Now that you’re signed up for these different royalty collection societies, when will you start to see the money come in?

When do I get paid my royalties? | From

Every agency typically pays out their clients on a quarterly basis. If you release a song in January, don’t expect to see royalties from it on your Q1 statement. It will be on the next statement since it takes about three months for these royalties to be processed from the time it was released. You can find a payout timeline on most of the distributors’ websites.

I have left you with a lot of information to digest, but luckily most of your questions can be answered by these companies. I will leave you with a checklist and timeline so you can always stay on top of making everything you are owed as an independent artist and/or songwriter!

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Sarah Harralson

This Knoxville native began writing songs when she was ten years old, her grandfather being her biggest musical influence. After her grandfather passed in 2011, Sarah decided she would move to Nashville two years later to pursue music at Belmont University. A year after releasing her debut EP in 2014, she was discovered by Scotty Schultz, drummer of Shooter Jennings (Waylon Jennings’s son). Scotty opened up his publishing company, Raindrop Music LLC, in 2015 and after hearing Sarah’s original song, “Watered Down Whiskey”, he knew he wanted to sign her right away. This would be Sarah’s first publishing deal. Scotty decided he would produce her first country EP, Watered Down Whiskey, of all original songs that Sarah has either written or co-written.

One of the tracks on the EP includes the song, “Radio Static” that was co-written with Johnny Garcia (lead guitar for Garth Brooks). Over time, Sarah began writing and working with Johnny, which evolved to the point where Sarah would sign her next publishing deal with Busy at Play Publishing (Johnny Garcia’s company). She recently released her first single, "Put a Rock on This Rolling Stone", since signing with Busy at Play, and her new single, "Get Lost in Some Rock 'N Roll", is out now.
Sarah Harralson on Spotify