Do I Need a Music License for My Events?

Music Licensing Agencies

The answer is, yes.  It’s the law, and it’s the right thing to do.  We all expect to get paid for our work, whether we’re a planner, caterer, AV supplier or in hotel sales.  The same goes for the people who create the music that we use to make our events more successful.

‘But I’ve already paid for the music!’ I hear you say.  You may have bought a song on a CD, mp3 or via a streaming service like Spotify, however that only covers private use.  It doesn’t cover the ‘public performance’ of the music at your event.

As most of us don’t have Prince’s or Beyonce’s contact details, how do we pay the songwriters?

Performing Rights Organizations

The good news is that there are ‘Performing Rights Organizations’ (PRO’s) that collect royalties on behalf of the songwriters so that you don’t have to research every song you play at your welcome reception and gala dinner. Their solution is a blanket license from your country’s major PROs, allowing you to play pretty much any song ever written with minimal administration on your end.

There are three in the USA (BMI, ASCAP and SESAC), SOCAN in Canada, PRS in the UK, APRA in Australia, and the list goes on.  See more detail on the easiest way to obtain blanket licenses below.

Who’s Responsible For The License?

The owner of the event is responsible for having the appropriate music licenses in place.  So if it’s a Microsoft event, then Microsoft is responsible, not a third party planner, production company or AV supplier.  However third parties can obtain licenses on the event owner’s behalf.

What about venues?  Venues are required to have music licenses for their own usage, e.g. elevator music, background lobby music and lounge performers.  However, with the exception of SESAC in the USA, these licenses do not cover private events.  So you’re still going to need an ASCAP and BMI license.

How Much Do They Cost?

The Performing Rights Organizations realize that music usage varies from industry to industry, so they have different licenses for categories including ‘Meetings, Conventions, Trade Shows & Exhibits’.  Rates are federally regulated for ASCAP and BMI (SESAC’s rates are not as it is a for-profit organization).

ASCAP’s minimum event fee is $128 and BMI’s is $160, so you’re looking at a minimum of around $288 for a one-off event.  This may even cover all of your events for the entire year, but again, only the PRO’s can give you exact costs for your specific situation. SESAC’s venue license actually covers private events, so if your venue already has a SESAC license you won’t need to get one.

Here are links to the ‘Meetings, Conventions, Trade Shows & Exhibits’ pages for BMI and ASCAP.  For SESAC, you need to get in touch with them:


BMI: Pricing & License

ASCAP: Pricing & License

SESAC: Questionnaire 


Navigating The Licensing Process

For those in the USA, my recommendation is to get a blanket license from ASCAP and BMI, then check with your venue to see if they already have a SESAC license in place.  For those outside the USA, you’ll need a blanket license from that country’s organization (e.g. SOCAN in Canada, GEMA in Germany, PRS in the UK etc.)

BMI and ASCAP can’t legally refuse you a license.  Via their website or the phone, set up an account and sign their blanket license.  After each event you hold, report the details, including the number of attendees, purpose of the event and duration.  Each quarter you’ll receive a statement saying how much you owe or how much your account is in credit.

In summary, the steps are:

  1. Contact the PRO’s to get an accurate estimate of the fees you’ll owe for the events you’re holding for the next year and beyond
  2. Set up a blanket license that covers all future events
  3. Report on the details of your event after its completion in your PRO account
  4. Wait for your quarterly statement (and bill if applicable)


Contact Details:



Canada: SOCAN

Australia: APRA AMCOS


Singapore: COMPASS

Global: Full List Of PRO’s



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