Being a Musician is a Business (SOCAN)

Image result for socan logo

The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers, more commonly known as SOCAN, helps ensure that composers, authors and publishers are compensated for certain uses of their work.

However, there are several misconceptions about SOCAN, including that SOCAN covers more music royalties than it actually does, and that there is no point in registering with SOCAN if the songs aren’t played on the radio. This blog’s purpose is to clear up those misconceptions and provide a few more details about SOCAN.

When someone buys a CD or downloads a song on iTunes, the buyer gets the right to use the music for private (non-commercial) purposes, as opposed to permission to publicly perform that music, for example on radio or in concert.

When a musician is hired to perform, a fee is paid for their performance (hopefully more than free drinks). While the musician/performer directly benefits from this, the fee doesn’t include payment to financially compensate the writers (composers and authors) and publishers of the songs that the musician performed, even if the performer wrote the songs. In Canada, it’s SOCAN that administers the rights of writers and publishers to have their compositions publicly performed in order that writers and publishers are paid for such use.



To become a writer member of SOCAN, you must enter into an agreement with SOCAN whereby you exclusively assign to SOCAN the performing rights in every musical work that was created by you (alone, jointly, or in collaboration with others) before your SOCAN agreement, and that is owned (in whole or in part) by you, as of the date of the agreement, and all performing rights in every musical work that may be created by you during the term of your SOCAN agreement. The term is two years and it continues to automatically extend by additional two-year terms unless otherwise terminated.

As members, we give these rights to SOCAN, who in turn licences those rights to others (radio stations, TV networks, venue operators, etc.) for money (tariffs certified by the Copyright Board of Canada), and we (SOCAN has over 130,000 Canadian members who are composers, authors, and music publishers) get paid royalties.

SOCAN has tariffs for music at an event, live music, music on new media (internet, mobile), music in a business and music in broadcasts (radio, television, cable).


Getting Paid

How much do songwriters get paid? It depends! However, SOCAN provides members access to a royalty calculator which provides some answers.

When SOCAN pays royalties (on a quarterly basis), half the money goes to the writers in whatever proportion they registered with SOCAN (33 per cent – Jack / 67 per cent – Jill). The other half of the money goes to the composition’s publisher(s). For a singer/songwriter who wrote the music and lyrics, and didn’t give any of her publishing rights to anyone else, all the money goes to her.


Getting Paid – Radio 

As for how much money is paid, with respect to radio, stations fit into one of several categories: CBC; stations who have their programming sampled (referred to as stations that are surveyed); and stations who have all their programming tracked (referred to as stations tracked by census).

For a song longer than one minute, and less than seven minutes, on Ottawa radio, the royalties paid are approximately as follows: $27.45 for CBC; $4.38 for surveyed stations such as 580 CFRA, CHUO and CKCU; $1.20 for census stations such as CHEZ 106, The New Hot 89.9, KISS FM, Live 85.5, and MAJIC 100.

Unless you’re a darling of CBC Radio, it may take some time to earn enough money for rent. However, if you think about how the same hit songs play on the radio, across the city, Ontario, Canada, North America, the world . . . you can imagine how quickly radio royalties can add up. All you need is a hit! Details on writing a hit will be found in another blog (not written by me).

To help keep track of how many times a song gets played, SOCAN uses a Digital Audio Identification (DAI) system. Under the DAI system, each song is assigned a digital “fingerprint” and when a song is played on the radio the digital fingerprint is recorded. To get a digital fingerprint, the music must be registered with Neilson Broadcast Data Systems (BDS), which can be done for free from their website or by mail.


Getting Paid – TV

With respect to TV, royalties are based on census. The information used to pay royalties comes directly from the music used on television. One key is to ensure the proper information is included on a program’s cue sheet if your music is in the show.

One factor in determining the royalty is the music usage—background; feature; theme and logo. For background, the character on screen doesn’t hear the music. For feature, the music is part of the scene, for example a character is singing the song in the shower.

For a 30-second spot, on TV stations available in Toronto, the royalties paid for a background use are as approximately follows: CTV ($37.99); Global ($27.74); CBC ($13.04); City TV Toronto ($10.83); YTV ($3.32); CBC Toronto ($3.10); TMN ($2.06); Lifetime ($0.90), and Disney Junior English ($0.08). The fee for a featured spot or a theme is about two-thirds more. Again, this doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when series air many times, in many territories, for many years, the royalties can add up.


Getting Paid – Concert Performance  

Another important distribution made by SOCAN is for concert performances, under certain circumstances. The more times a song is performed, whether by the songwriter or someone else, and generally, the higher tariff paid to SOCAN, the larger amount of royalties will be paid to the writers and publishers of the songs being performed. Always submit concert set lists to SOCAN and ensure that people who sing your songs do the same.


Getting Paid – International 

SOCAN also distributes royalties to its members for the use of Canadian music globally in collaboration with its peer societies. For example, when songs registered with SOCAN are played on radio and used on TV around the world, tariffs are paid to the relevant local organizations who in turn pay SOCAN, who in turn pay you.

SOCAN is Canada’s “PRO” which stands for performing rights organization. PROs in other countries include GEMA in Germany, JASRAC in Japan and ASCAP, BMI and SESAC all in the United States.

If you’re a singer/songwriter and you go on tour outside of Canada, submit the set lists and other required details to SOCAN, and their international department can help to ensure payment is made.


SOCAN does a lot, but what SOCAN does not do (among other things) is administer mechanical royalties, or royalties that are paid to the owners of masters or performers. To get them to really work for you, read more about SOCAN, understand your SOCAN statements, and strategize to figure out how to get paid more the next time around. It can’t hurt to have that strategy include writing a hit or two.


Edwards PC, Creative Law is a boutique law firm provides legal services to Music, Film, Animation, TV, Digital Media, Game, Software and Publishing industry clients. For more information and blogs, please visit www.edwardslaw.ca

Regarding music law, Byron Pascoe works with musicians and music companies to assist with record label agreements, publishing contracts, distribution deals, producer agreements, band agreements, etc.

© 2018 Edwards PC

* This blog is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please contact Edwards PC, Creative Law or another lawyer, if you wish to apply these concepts to your specific circumstances.


Post Categories