What You Need to Know About Music Licensing for Your Restaurant

January 24, 2017 Andrea Victory


What kind of music defines your venue: do you blast the latest moody hipster numbers or is your dining room awash in the smooth vocals of a classic crooner? Whatever your musical tastes, those sounds setting the mood at your venue – well, you have to pay for them.


Surprised? You’re not alone. If this is the first you’ve heard of paying for the music you play, read on to find out more about music licensing and your restaurant.


What does “music licensing” mean?

Music has become so engrained in our day-to-day that we tend to think of it as free entertainment. But it is actually considered a commodity and is protected by copyright law. And playing your favorite tunes, whether from your personal record collection or even from the old jukebox in the corner without paying is technically illegal.


Performing rights organizations are the go-between for songwriters and performers, and businesses that use their music. In the United States there is BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, and in Canada, SOCAN and CMRRA. They collect licensing fees – in exchange for permission to use the music – and pass the money on to the songwriters and performers.


Why do I have to pay?

Because music isn’t free. And because it’s the law. If your restaurant is using the works of artists to create a feeling or enhance the mood, that contribution must be recognized and compensated.


What if I don’t pay?

Not paying is no joke. Though you may have gotten this far without spending a dime, it can eventually catch up to you and be costly. Federal law governs music licensing, and being sued in federal court is a real possibility….and not cheap.


Are there any other options?

There are some ways out of paying music licensing fees, such as music that is in the public domain (any music published in or before 1922), and music played from a television or radio. Even if you have a local band play on the weekends and that’s your only source of music or if you’re using a paid streaming service – you still have to pay.


So, how do I pay?

You have to pay the performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, SOCAN, CMRRA), and this is where it gets tricky. Because not all PROs cover all songs and artists, obtaining a license from one PRO isn’t enough. The only way to cover all music played in your venue is to obtain a blanket license from each organization.


Licenses will cost from a couple hundred to a couple of thousand dollars per year. When obtaining the licenses, make sure to provide specific information like the square footage of your venue and how often you play music, which will impact the amount you are required to pay.


Alternatively, you can pay for a licensed music solution, which does the dirty work of vetting approved artists for you and playing only that music. This option is cheaper, with options like SiriusXM for Business costing only $24.95 per month. But with this option, the number of artists is limited, and the option to customize your playlist or throw on your iTunes account is off the table.


You can also sign up for Spotify’s business streaming service, Soundtrack, for $34.99 a month. This version of their music streaming platform is licensed for commercial use, but you have to sign up and pay to be covered, your personal Spotify account won’t do.


Music licensing might seem like another cost to add to the long list of restaurant expenses, but it’s a law after all, and it’s better to know and comply to be on the safe side of things.



About the Author

Andrea Victory

Andrea is a Content Marketing Specialist and Editor at TouchBistro where she writes about restaurant and dining trends, restaurant management, and food culture. A self-affirmed food geek, Andrea devours cookbooks and food blogs. She also knows how to make a killer kale salad.

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