Background Music Strategy

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Can I Legally Play the Radio in My Place of Business?


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

background music for businesses

There are certain laws that dictate whether or not you’re allowed to play music for business purposes. Every so often the Performing Rights Organizations (PROs), the societies in charge of collecting and enforcing music licensing laws, will file a lawsuit against a bar, restaurant, or another establishment for playing music in a business without a license. This always begins with a legal letter from one of the four PROs, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or GMR, notifying the establishment they are in violation. If you have received one, it’s nothing to take lightly. The letter will rightfully demand the business purchase a license immediately, and oftentimes require back payments, which can easily reach into the five figures. Lawsuits are reserved for major violators, but when they happen, they get the attention of business owners everywhere. 

So, you might be asking, “Can I legally play the radio in my place of business without risking the attention of one of these PROs?” The answer depends on your specific needs and what music you wish to play or perform for your business. There are a lot of different aspects to these laws, so they can be a complicated matter – especially in regard to the radio. This article will give you the ins and outs of how to legally play music in your business as well as some tips and alternatives for playing music for business use. Keep reading to learn more.

Do You Need a Permit to Play Music in Public?

Can you play music in your place of business? When it comes to playing music in a business, there are two separate sets of rights. The first is the composition, covering the song’s notes, lyrics, etc., and the second is the actual sound recording, covering the actual performance of the song by the artist. A business owner only needs to worry about obtaining a performance license for the music she plays in her business, which is obtained through one of the PROs.

A Person Playing Music in a BusinessThere are four main PROs to consider when trying to license music for business use: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Each PRO has its own catalog of songs they control – business owners with licenses from all four PROs have free reign to play just about anything.

If you have live bands, charge admission to your facility, provide group fitness classes, or charge an admission fee (like a roller-skating rink), you need to buy a direct license from each PRO. This is the law and there is no avoiding it. However, if those scenarios do not apply to your business and you just need music for background use, there is a very easy way to get all the music you need, professionally curated into business-safe playlists, fully licensed by all four PROs combined together in one easy package.

Can I Play the Radio in My Business?

A typical option for some business owners is to use a regular over-the-air radio for background music. Business owners use over-the-air radio to avoid paying licensing fees, and under the law, it’s completely legal for some businesses, but only if they meet very specific exclusions regarding the square footage of the business and how the sound system is set up. It is very important to know how to legally play music in your business when using regular over-the-air radio so you stay within the limits of the law and keep your business safe.


SiriusXM Music For Business from SXMBusiness

SiriusXM for Business is the Easiest Way to Legally Play Music for Business Use

For as little as $26.95 a month and no contract, you’ll have complete and total access to a massive library of fully licensed music for business use. You won’t have to worry about the PROs busting you for playing music without a license — SiriusXM for Business takes care of the hard work for you. Don’t let your business make the headlines. Hand-pick your favorite artists and songs with SiriusXM for Business and Pandora Artist Stations streaming services.

Size Matters When Playing Music in a Business

The exclusions written into copyright laws dealing with over-the-air radio music for business use begins with size. According to The Fairness in Music Licensing Act of 1998, radio exceptions only apply to businesses that are smaller than 2,000 square feet (or 3,750 square feet for eating and drinking establishments). If your building is within that size, you can play over-the-air radio without a license as long as you (1) don’t charge an admission fee for entrance, (2) don’t have more than six speakers, (3) don’t have more than four speakers in any one room adjoining an outdoor space, (4) don’t charge a cover fee for entry, or (4) don’t have the radio connect to your phone system for hold music.

If your building is larger than this, or if you don’t meet any of the four exclusion criteria above, you must purchase a public performance license from ASCAP, BMI, GMR, and SESAC to use over-the-air radio in your business.

Why do these rules exist when it comes to playing music in your business? These laws were designed to help small businesses who might enjoy turning on a homestyle radio for some tunes. A typical business owner who falls into this category generally just brings in a traditional radio rather than installing a sophisticated sound system.

Businesses that grow larger need to be mindful of these exceptions – if they expand or take over an adjacent space, the radio exception will no longer apply to them.

Radio Music for Business Use Does Not Apply to Consumer Streaming Music Services

How we consume music has changed a lot in recent years. In addition to using traditional over-the-air FM radio, we can now access all of the music in the world on demand through consumer streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Music, and SiriusXM’s personal streaming service. While these may seem similar to using a regular over-the-air radio in your business, they are very different in the eyes of the law. The law is very clear. It is not legal, under any circumstance, to use a consumer streaming service as background music in your business. This goes for all businesses, regardless of size or the number of speakers playing the music.

There Are Certain Risks With Radio

While using over-the-air radio music for business use may seem like a good way to save money, it should be noted that certain risks come from playing radio programming. You have very little control over the content that comes through the radio. The last thing you want is to deliver an experience to your customers full of commercials, political opinions, DJ chatter, or, even worse, advertisements for your competitors. While over-the-air radio is regulated for explicit lyrics, there is still a chance that DJs or hosts might say something your patrons find offensive or irritating.

If you choose to use over-the-air radio music for business use, you will need to monitor the content all time – something that isn’t feasible when trying to run a business. Radio programming can directly affect your reputation without constant monitoring if something inappropriate or off-color is said during a programming block. Using over-the-air radio in your business puts an important part of your customer experience in the hands of random DJs. That is a risky proposition, especially these days! It takes a lot of work to gain a customer, and only a second to lose one.

SiriusXM Music for Business Alleviates the Risks With Radio

When you choose SiriusXM Music for Business, you don’t have to worry about the hassles of legally using the radio, like square feet or explicit language, to continue playing music in your business. You’ll receive access to hundreds of professionally managed background music streaming channels to choose from. You’ll have complete control over what plays in your business, and even have access to specially cultivated family-friendly stations if needed. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about licensing fees — we take care of everything for you, so you can play music for business use to your heart’s content. Check out our dedicated SiriusXM player, or compare the rest of our player options to see what works best for you. Harness your full musical potential today with SiriusXM for Business.

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