Music Licensing

Music Licensing For Corporate Meetings & Events

We have the privilege of working with some of the best musicians and songwriters in the world, and as musicians ourselves, we believe artists should be compensated fairly for their work. One such occasion is the use of music for meetings and events.

Legally, owners of events are required to secure the proper usage rights before playing copyrighted music for their audiences. This regulation even applies to playlists being run from popular applications such as Spotify and Apple Music.

Not to worry, at SongDivision, we have partnered with the major music licensing agencies to help clear up some of the confusion around music licensing for corporate events.  Following is a 101 course on what you need to know and do, with links to help you easily obtain the licenses you need to use copyrighted music at your events.

Don’t let a music license be the reason that keeps your attendees from enjoying the perfect playlist!

Why you need a music license for events

Performing Rights Organizations (PRO’s) are the entities that collect royalties on behalf of artists each time their music is played publicly. PRO’s monitor music usage in everything from bars and restaurants, to advertising, online listens, and yes, even music used for “Meetings, Conventions, Tradeshows, and Exhibits.” These organizations have successfully argued for legislation making it a fineable offense to use copyrighted music at an event without the appropriate permissions. The good news is that you can obtain the correct licenses for an event of up to 2,000 people for as little as $300.

Music Licensing Agencies

Do I Need a Music License for My Events?

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.

There are multiple copyrights and associated licences in music:

  1. Public Performance:  which is what we’re mainly dealing with at corporate events, i.e. for when a song is performed publicly.  An event of up to 1,500 people can be covered for just a few hundred dollars, and you’re guaranteed to be given a license.  More detail on how to obtain these licences are below.
  2. Synchronization (or ‘Sync’) & Master:  A ‘Sync’ License is granted by the holder of the copyright of a particular composition (i.e. songwriters/publishers), allowing the licensee to synchronize music with some kind of visual media output (film, television shows, advertisements, video games, accompanying website music, movie trailers, corporate videos etc.) A Master License is obtained from the person who owns the actual recording (aka the master) which is usually the record company. If you want to use a recoring of a song to go with your corporate video, you need both the Sync and Master licences, and they can be very hard to get (plus the rights holders can refuse you, unlike with public performance licenses).  They can also be very expensive – a Top 40 or classic song can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.  If you want an affordable alternative for your corporate video, try agencies like Rumblefish that have music libraries you can choose from and will grant you sync and master licenses quickly.
  3. Mechanical: A mechanical license grants the rights to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical compositions (songs) on CDs, records, tapes, ringtones, permanent digital downloads, interactive streams. This is much less relevant to the corporate meetings and events world, but if you have questions, visit HFA.

 

‘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.  ‘Public performance’ is defined as “outside the normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances” – e.g. a wedding is private, a corporate event is not.

As most of us don’t have 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 the minimal administration on your end.

There are three PRO’s in the USA – BMI, ASCAP and SESAC.  Other countries have just one – SOCAN in Canada, PRS in the UK, APRA in Australia, and the list goes on.

Here’s the global list of PRO’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_rights_organisation

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.

Which PRO should I get a license from?

If you’re running an event outside of the USA, you just need one license – from that country’s one PRO.  Non-American PRO’s have reciprocal agreements with the three USA PRO’s, so songs written by American songwriters are still covered

Things are more complicated in the US, as there are three PRO’s. To cut to the chase, you should make sure you have a license from all three PRO’s in place.

If your event requires very limited music, say for example you just need a few songs to play keynote speakers on and off the stage, then you could make sure all the songs were from the BMI repertoire (all the PRO’s have a searchable database on their websites), and so you’d only need to get the BMI license. But if you’ve got a welcome reception, a gala dinner, or general background music, then restricting the songs played by your DJ’s, band or AV team to one PRO is going to be very difficult and not worth the effort.

Most hit songs you hear on the radio today are written by two or more songwriters, and chances are one of them is signed to ASCAP, the other to BMI. So the most efficient and cost-effective solution is to make sure all three licenses are in place.  Then you (and your bands, DJ’s and AV team) can play any song you want.

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 ‘General Business Use’ and ‘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).

 

Internal Events:

If your events are for company employees only, whether on your premises or not, they can be covered by the annual business blanket license that BMI calls their “Business Multiple Use” license, and ASCAP and SESAC call their “Music In Business” license.

As a rough guide, annual costs for a company of less than 500 employees ranges from $200 to $400 per PRO.  For a company of 5,000 employees, the PRO’s all charge around $2,500 each. But this covers a lot, including your big annual sales kick-off! Here’s what the BMI license covers:

  • Live or recorded performances by bands or DJs at offsite or onsite company functions
  • Company Training
  • Audiovisual presentations
  • Company fitness facilities
  • Interactive software such as CD-ROM
  • Teleconferencing at company locations
  • Music-On-Hold
  • Radios, tapes and CDs used to enhance company image and motivate, and increase employee productivity

Things start to get pretty complicated at this point though…the SESAC ‘Music In Business’ license is different from the others in that it also covers “social acquaintances or intra-corporate invitees”, along with “any exhibit booths, meeting or seminar rooms used by the licensee at conventions, trade shows, shareholder functions and the like,” i.e. the SESAC ‘Music In Business’ license covers certain ‘external events’.  To be covered by BMI and ASCAP for these events that include non-employees, you need their ‘Meetings, Conventions, Trade Shows & Exhibits’ as listed under ‘External Events’ below.

Here are the relevant links to the ‘workplace’ licensing agreements for BMI and ASCAP. For SESAC, you need to get in touch with them directly:

 

BMI: Business Multiple Use

ASCAP: Click on ‘Business – Music in the Workplace’

SESAC: Questionnaire

 

External Events:

If your event is attended by people from other other companies or members of the public, then you’ll need a ‘Meetings, Conventions, Trade Shows & Exhibits’ license from BMI and ASCAP.

ASCAP’s minimum event fee is currently $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.  So check with your venue first to see if they have a SESAC license.

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 directly:

 

BMI: Meetings, Conventions, Trade Shows, and Expositions

ASCAP: Click on ‘Conventions, Meetings and Tradeshows’

SESAC: Questionnaire

 

Navigating The Licensing Process

To recap – for those in the USA, our recommendation for anyone putting on events that aren’t just for employees, is to get the blanket ‘Meetings, Conventions, Trade Shows & Exhibits’ license from ASCAP and BMI, then check with your venue to see if they already have a SESAC license in place.

If your events are for employees only, then you might be better off getting the “Music In Business” licenses as listed under ‘Internal Events’ above.

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.) All the international PRO’s have reciprocal agreements with each – which means that if you’re a US event organizer planning a conference in the UK, you only need a license from PRS. You can still play songs written by US songwriters, because PRS has reciprocal arrangements with BMI, ASCAP and SESAC.

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. You’ll pay the minimum fee at the start of the year, then you’ll report on the actual number of events and attendees at the end of the year, and pay your annual dues less the minimum fee you paid at the start of the year.

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 events either at the end of the calendar year, or after each event in your PRO account

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a PRO?

PRO's are the 'Performing Rights Organizations' that collect music royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers.

What if I've already bought the music - do I still need a license?

If you've paid for a CD, record, or mp3 download off iTunes, the money you paid only covers you for private use. For any public use, such as at a meeting or event, you need a license.

I've paid for a streaming service such as Spotify/Amazon/etc. premium account, do I still need a music license for my event?

The bad news is that you can't use these streaming services for public events, full stop. Their terms and conditions state that they are for private use only. Even if you have all the right public performance licenses in place, you can't use these streaming services as the 'source' of your music. You need to have paid for a CD, record, or mp3 download off iTunes.

We only want to use one or two current Top 40 or classic songs to play as background music when our CEO walks onto the stage. Do we still need a license?

Yes - you need a license for any public performance of music, which means a gathering of people beyond family and friends.

Can I buy a license for a one-off event?

Yes - if you buy a license from all three PRO's, i.e. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, you will be covered for any song for an event for up to 1,500 people for around $620.

Shouldn't the band, DJ, event or AV company already have a music license?

Bands and DJ's won't have the licenses to cover you as BMI, ASCAP and SESAC do not license bands or DJs. They state that the 'responsible parties' for each event, e.g. the company the event is for, needs to have the licenses in place. An event company or AV company can obtain the licenses on behalf of the event owner. Only one license from each PRO is required - so if the company, event company or AV company have put the proper licenses in place for the event, then everyone is covered. You don't need to double up. But bands and DJ's won't them as they can't actually obtain public performance licenses.