SESAC, ASCAP, and BMI are not music publishers. Neither are any other performing rights organizations (PROs) anywhere else in the world.
Historically, PROs are supposed to collect royalties from broadcasters (TV and radio) who use music to attract watchers and listeners. They collect money from stage plays that use music, along with a few other sub-categories like jingles.
They pay these royalties to either the songwriter, the publisher, or to both, but not to the artists because publishers pay the artists.
In other words, the PROs are service providers for publishers. Again, let me repeat:
PROs ARE NOT PUBLISHERS.
I hope you heard that screaming sentence above. Why am I screaming this? Let me tell you. It’s because I’ve had too many artists who are writing and performing their original songs ask me, “I know I have to get my songs registered with a publisher. Should I go with SESAC, ASCAP, or BMI as my publisher?”
When I tell them that PROs are not publishers, these sweet, innocent folk simply stare at me. That stare invites more information from me and when it dawns on them that they have to do things to set up a business entity — that is, they must become a publisher, they stare harder but this time with an expression of “oh, crap, this is more complicated than anybody told me.”
And it always follows that they say, “But, [insert here name of someone they trust and thought knew what to do] said that…”
Yeah, I know, sweetie. I know.
You need to understand this stuff if you’re going to protect and defend your catalog.