How working songwriters earn a living from SOCAN

Published 01/14/2014

By Kit Wheeler

One of the most popular misconceptions about SOCAN is that the performance royalties that we collect go mostly to established, high-profile “superstar” SOCAN members like Avril Lavigne, Leonard Cohen, Michael Bublé, Céline Dion, Chad Kroeger and Sarah McLachlan, among others.

But in reality, only about 20 percent of SOCAN members are “high earners” like this; the other roughly 80 percent are, more often than not, everyday songwriters who work hard to earn a living at their craft. Sometimes, these songwriters are not recording artists or live performers, so the royalties they receive from SOCAN aren’t just one part of their income, but the only way that they earn a living. And there’s no guarantee that their music will be recorded or performed live to actually earn those royalties.

So how do these often unheralded songwriters make a living from SOCAN?

Well, when you hear a song on the radio, a piece of music in a TV program or a score for a movie, the person (or people) that wrote the music and the lyrics (if any) earns royalties. SOCAN pays these royalties to the creators and publishers of the music that’s used in television and cable TV programs, played on the radio and satellite radio, included in movies in theatres, in movies on hotel TV, performed in concerts, and streamed on the internet.

More specifically:

  • There’s music used in virtually every television show and cable program. SOCAN captures all of the programs that are aired in Canada, and all of the music used within each and every program, and tracks all of the people involved in creating each and every piece of music to ensure that the royalties are paid to those individuals.
  • For songs heard on the radio – whether it’s on a commercial station, satellite radio or on a campus station – SOCAN will pay royalties to the songwriters and music publishers for those performances.
  • For live performances of music in a large concert hall, at a summer weekend festival, or in a small local bar, SOCAN pays royalties to the creators of the songs that are performed.
  • For music used in movies shown in a theatre, via movie rentals, through music services in hotels and motels, and on music TV channels on cable stations, SOCAN similarly collects performance royalties, from which songwriters and music publishers earn their living.
  • The most recent and rapidly growing source of income for creators is the internet.  Songs that are streamed on online music services, and music videos streamed on You Tube, are all tracked and processed by SOCAN to pay royalties.
  • Music is heard and performed almost everywhere you go: at restaurants, bars, clubs, dentists’ offices, hair salons, elevators, hotel lobbies, when you’re on hold on the telephone, and so on. SOCAN licenses all of these music uses to ensure that the often unsung people who work hard to create all of this music are properly compensated for their effort.

After all, songwriters aren’t paid on an hourly rate for the days, weeks, months and years that they spend on their craft. It’s only when their music is finally used and performed in public that they begin to reap the benefits of their hard work. SOCAN is there to make sure that these sometimes “behind-the-scenes” songwriters they get paid for their music being played – so that not just the superstars, but they, too, can earn a living from their songs.

About Kit Wheeler

Kit Wheeler is the head of SOCAN’s Distribution Department.  This division is the bottom line of what SOCAN is about: ensuring that performance royalties are paid out to composers, songwriters, lyricists and music publishers.  It’s very rewarding for me to know that the work and effort I put into my job means that creators are fairly compensated for their work. Music is a big part of my professional life, and that of my husband (a freelance music journalist/filmmaker), but it’s also a big part of our home life, too. It’s not unusual for the kids and I to break out into spontaneous dance parties, or for them to gather their buckets and guitars for an impromptu jam session.


  1. Sabrina

    Thanks for sharing this. This is all very interesting information and as an aspiring lyricist this is much appreciated and great and helpful to know.

  2. Natasha

    I am a songwriter

  3. Emil

    I am an experienced solo piano player I am entertain the audiences in the restaurants, bars, retirement homes, private homes in Calgary and surroundings, creating the enjoyable and relaxing ambiance for most memorable experience. I have written 300 my own songs and I am playing them when I am entertain the audiences and I do not receive any royalties for my music. So, yy question is this: If I am SOCAN member and if I am playing in retirement home for 2 hours; and 1 hour I am playing famous artists, and 1 hour I am playing my own songs, could I receive any royalties for this 2 hours playing?

    Thank you


    1. Howard Druckman

      We can help you with that question! Please call our SOCAN Info Centre at 1-866-307–6226, or e-mail and we’ll be glad to assist you.

  4. Dennis Cope

    I was wondering how I was to register

    1. Howard Druckman

      We can help you with that question! Please call our SOCAN Info Centre at 1-866-307–6226, or e-mail and we’ll be glad to assist you.


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