In the United States, there are three Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) who, by arrangement with songwriters and publishers, license and monitor the public performance of songs: ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), and SESAC (originally chartered as the Society of European State Authors and Composers, though the acronym is no longer appropriate).
Commonly, when a songwriter begins to be commercially published, he or she will affiliate with one of these three organizations, and most established publishers will already have a relationship with all three.
When a song is commercially released, the music publisher will register or “index” the song with the Performing Rights Organization with whom the songwriter is affiliated. The indexing form will require, among other details, the name of the song, the name of the songwriter(s) with their respective percentages of ownership.
The PRO, then, is responsible to license radio stations, television stations, concert halls, arenas, and other venues where songs are publicly performed. The PRO will monitor the use of licensed songs by these organizations, and, out of the license fees collected from the public performance facilities, the PRO will pay the songwriter and the publisher according to its individual method for calculating and disbursing royalties.
Each of the three PROs also has relationships with similar organizations in other countries around the world. Through those connections, the performances of your song will be monitored around the world and paid back to you and your publisher through your respective PRO.
Each of the three Performing Rights Organizations also has a staff attentive to the needs of music songwriters and publishers. If you have written songs that are being publicly performed, you should begin to dialogue directly with a representative from each of the PROs in order to determine with which you will align. A basic knowledge of the organizations can be gained by asking for information from them or by visiting their respective sites on the Internet.