Background Music Strategy

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BMI Licensing for Business Explained

by Ryan Santangelo, Ph.D., Co-Founder & CEO, Dynamic Media

To play music legally in your business, you need to sort out music licensing- a bridge connecting songwriters, composers and publishers with businesses seeking to enhance their spaces with music. At the heart of this  process are performing rights organizations (PROs), which ensure the fair compensation of music creators for the public performance of their work. Among PROs, BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) stands out as the largest, both in terms of the number of creators represented and music pieces covered. Because of the organization’s reach, BMI licensing is a must for businesses wanting to play music.

bmi licensing

Read on to learn how music licensing works, the benefits of obtaining a BMI license and the potential legal ramifications of failing to do so. You’ll also learn how SiriusXM Music for Business offers a common sense solution to the complexities of BMI licensing.

bmi music license

What is BMI?

Established in 1939, BMI represents the rights of songwriters, composers and music publishers by negotiating licensing agreements with businesses wishing to use their music publicly. By obtaining a BMI license, these businesses legally access the PRO’s vast music repertoire.

BMI’s significance in the music industry cannot be overstated. It represents an expansive and ever-growing catalog of music created by some of the world’s most renowned and budding artists. This makes BMI an essential partner for music creators seeking copyright protection and businesses looking to legally and ethically use music to enhance their offerings.

Who BMI Represents

BMI’s roster is impressively vast, including more than 22.4 million musical works by 1.4 million songwriters, composers and publishers from around the globe, including Taylor Swift, Luke Combs, Lady Gaga and Elvis Presley. It spans a multitude of genres, from pop, rock, jazz and classical to country, R&B, hip-hop and beyond.

But BMI’s reach isn’t all-inclusive. A number of creators, such as Billie Eilish, Jay Z, Garth Brooks and Lin-Manuel Miranda, are represented by ASCAP, another leading PRO. The diversity among the artists represented by the different PROs makes licensing complex. Businesses must ensure they have licenses from all the appropriate organizations for the music they want to play.

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What Is a BMI License?

A BMI license authorizes businesses and organizations to legally play music from the PRO’s vast catalog. This license is not just a formality  — it’s a legal requirement. BMI offers a variety of licenses, depending on the specific needs of different users. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Radio Stations: These licenses allow terrestrial, satellite and internet radio stations to broadcast music to their listeners.
  • TV Stations and Networks: From local broadcasters to national networks, these licenses cover the public performance of music across television.
  • Live Venues and Clubs: Whether it’s a cozy café hosting live music nights or a concert hall, BMI ensures that performances are legally covered.
  • Restaurants and Bars: Establishments serving food and drink often enhance their ambiance with background music or live performances, requiring a BMI license to do so legally.
  • Digital Platforms: With the rise of digital consumption, BMI licenses extend to streaming services, websites, and other digital platforms, ensuring that music can be legally enjoyed in the digital realm.

Nearly any business, including fitness centers, doctors’ offices, retail and convenience stores, spas, hotels and commercial properties, needs BMI licensing, even if they play music over the radio or television. If you’re wondering, “Does my business need a music license?” The answer is probably yes.

bmi license cost

What Does a BMI License Cost?

The cost of BMI licensing varies significantly, influenced by several key factors such as the type of venue, its size, the number of events hosted and how the business uses music. Understanding these factors and how they impact the overall licensing fee is essential for establishments to budget appropriately for music licensing expenses. There is no BMI registration fee for businesses, which only have to pay for their BMI license cost.

Each type of business has a tailored fee structure that reflects the specific use case of music in that setting. For example, a live music venue’s fees might be calculated based on factors such as the venue’s capacity and the frequency of live performances. In contrast, a restaurant’s fees could be determined by its square footage and the type of music played, whether live or recorded.

For small to medium-sized businesses, such as cafes and local restaurants, annual fees can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Larger establishments may face higher fees, which can escalate into tens of thousands of dollars, reflecting the broader reach and potentially greater revenue generated from the use of copyrighted music.

Fees are collected annually; sometimes, companies may be eligible for discounts for belonging to an association or paying on a specific schedule.

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Obtaining BMI Licensing

Acquiring BMI licensing is a multi-step process that often leads to more questions than answers. To start the process, you should: 

  1. Identify Your Needs: The first step in acquiring a BMI license is assessing your business’s needs. Consider the type of establishment you operate, how you intend to use music (live performances, background music, digital streaming, etc.), and the size and capacity of your venue. This assessment will help determine the type of license you require.
  2. Visit the BMI Website: BMI allows businesses to apply for a license directly through its website. The site provides detailed information on the various types of licenses available, tailored to different business models and music uses.
  3. Fill Out the Application: Complete the application process by providing details about your business and specific use of music. This will include information about your business’s revenues, the venue’s size and the type of music usage (e.g., live, recorded or digital).
  4. Receive a Quote: BMI will calculate a licensing fee that reflects your business’s music usage based on the details you provide. This fee is designed to fairly compensate songwriters, composers and publishers for the use of their work.
  5. Review the Agreement: Check over the license terms and the quoted fee. If you have questions or require clarification, BMI encourages direct contact for personalized assistance. This is also the stage where you can negotiate terms or seek adjustments based on your specific circumstances.
  6. Finalize the License: Once you agree to the terms and fees, finalize the license agreement with BMI. Payment arrangements will be decided, and you will receive official documentation of your BMI license, confirming your legal right to play BMI-represented music in your establishment.
  7. Ensure Compliance and Renewal: Carefully adhere to the terms of your license. Keep track of your renewal date to maintain continuous coverage and avoid any legal complications related to copyright infringement.

More than likely, you’ll need to contact BMI for help with the process.

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What Happens If You Don’t Have BMI Licensing?

Understanding the legal framework surrounding music licensing is crucial for businesses that use music. Copyright laws, particularly those pertaining to music, are designed to protect the rights of artists, songwriters, composers and music publishers. 

bmi licensing

When a business plays music in a public setting without the appropriate licensing from a PRO like BMI, it infringes on these copyright protections.

The consequences for businesses and venues that fail to obtain the necessary BMI licensing can be significant. BMI actively monitors commercial establishments for compliance with music licensing requirements. If a company uses copyrighted music without a license, BMI typically first sends out a licensing notice in an attempt to educate the business about copyright law and the need for a license. If these efforts are ignored, BMI has the legal right to take action against the company, including filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Real-world examples of legal actions taken by BMI against unlicensed music use underscore the seriousness of copyright infringement. These cases often result in court orders requiring businesses to pay damages and legal fees, often amounting to thousands of dollars. For instance, establishments ranging from small bars to large restaurants and even retail chains have faced litigation for failing to secure the proper music licenses. In many cases, the cost of settling these legal disputes far exceeds the expense of obtaining a license in the first place.

Beyond the financial implications, legal actions for copyright infringement can also damage a business’s reputation, losing your customers’ trust and goodwill. This is especially relevant in an era where consumers increasingly value social responsibility and ethical business practices.

SiriusXM Music for Business: A Sensible Alternative to BMI Licensing

As we’ve seen, BMI licensing can be expensive and may not be enough. Depending on the music you want to play, you may also need licenses from ASCAP and the other PROs. But SiriusXM Music for Business cuts through the complexity. We take care of all the licensing so you can focus on running your business. Plus, we give you access to thousands of artists and hundreds of unique channels and radio stations, so you can always play the music you want without interruptions or commercial breaks. 

Frequently Asked Questions About BMI Licensing

BMI licensing can be challenging to navigate. But SiriusXM Music for Business is here with the answers to your questions. Read on to learn more, and be sure to see our music licensing explainer for additional information.

Is BMI Licensing Legit?

Yes, U.S. copyright law recognizes BMI as a legitimate licensor of music.

What Happens If a Business Plays Music Without a BMI License?

If you play BMI-represented music without a license, the PRO will contact you to inform you of the violation and explain the importance of BMI licensing. If you continue to play music without the appropriate license, the PRO can take you to court, where you may be liable for thousands of dollars in fines.

What Are BMI Alternatives for Businesses?

If you don’t care about playing BMI-represented music, you can license with ASCAP or another PRO to play the music they represent. It’s usually easier and more cost-effective to sign up with a streaming music service like SiriusXM Music for Business.

Easily Stream Music Legally with SiriusXM for Business

SiriusXM Music for Business makes it easy to legally stream music in your business. We handle BMI licensing, so you don’t have to. Plus, you have your choice of devices to stream music. You can’t beat the simplicity or versatility we offer, all for a low $26.95 per month. Subscribe today and experience the SiriusXM Music for Business difference.

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