SESAC touts its small size:
If the phrase "quality vs. quantity" ever mattered, SESAC is the place. While SESAC is the smallest of the three U.S. performing rights organizations, size is its largest advantage. SESAC prides itself on developing individual relationships with both songwriters and publishers.
Whereas ASCAP and BMI operate on a not-for-profit basis, SESAC retains some income as profit. While ASCAP and BMI distribute all income from performance royalties to their composer and publisher affiliates (less an administrative fee), SESAC retains an undisclosed amount of performance royalty income. SESAC is also unique among the U.S. performing rights organizations in that it does not offer open membership – one must be approved to join.
The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers was founded by Paul Heinecke, a German immigrant, in New York in 1930. SESAC originally strove to support underrepresented European stage authors and composers with their American performance royalties, hence the original name. Heinecke continued to lead the company over the next four decades until his death in 1972.
In the 1930s SESAC helped broadcasters satisfy Federal Communications Commission requirements, supplying them with gospel recordings. The business evolved beyond gospel recordings and European composers during the 1940s, and in the 1950s SESAC established its electrical transcription service. On a monthly basis, SESAC recorded "transcriptions" of its affiliates and distributed them, on disc, to radio stations across America. Among its transcribed artists were jazz and country performers: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Chico Hamilton, Jackie Wilson, Chet Atkins, and Hank Garland.
As its original objective diminished in the 1960s, the company entered other musical genres. Since that time, the company has represented a wider range of writers and genres. SESAC's affiliates roster includes Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Robert Johnson, Bryan-Michael Cox, Nate "Danja" Hills, Rush, Coheed & Cambria, Young Love, The Faint, Rapture, Mariah Carey and Adele.
The company moved into new headquarters in Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan and opened an office in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1964. Six years later, the company began representing songwriters in addition to its traditional business of representing publishers. With a focus on Christian songwriters, the company was an early player in the Contemporary Christian music format. That evolution led the company to move its headquarters to Nashville in 1985.