Background Music Strategy

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ASCAP vs. BMI: What You Need to Know About Streaming Music Legally In Your Business

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

If you’ve investigated playing music in your business, you’ve likely heard of BMI and ASCAP licensing requirements. There are few ways for companies to legally play music without the appropriate licenses from these performing rights organizations (PROs).

ASCAP Licensing

But what is ASCAP? And how do you properly compare ASCAP vs. BMI? This article will answer those questions and explore what you need to know about legally playing music in your business.

What Are PROs?

PROs, or performing rights organizations, are associations that ensure songwriters, composers and publishers get the royalties they’re owed whenever their music is played. The organizations do this by issuing licenses to businesses where the music is played or performed. Companies caught playing music without a license are subject to fines ranging into thousands of dollars.

What Is ASCAP?

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) is the oldest PRO in the United States. Founded in 1914, ASCAP is the only U.S. PRO controlled and created by writers, composers and music publishers. It has more than 875,000 members. ASCAP copyrights over 17 million songs.

What Is BMI?

BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) launched in 1939 and is the largest PRO in the U.S. It represents over 1.3 million songwriters, composers and music publishers who have created more than 20.6 million musical works.

What Are Other PROs?

SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) was founded in 1930. It primarily represents movie and television composers, although its base has substantially increased. It has over 30,000 members and more than 1 million songs.

GMR (Global Music Rights) is the newest PRO, launched in 2013. It licenses over 80,000 songs.

How Does ASCAP Work?

Like all the PROs, ASCAP works as a bridge between creators and the businesses that want to play their music. Songwriters, composers and music publishers join ASCAP, BMI or one of the other PROs and agree to have the organization manage the copyrights for their music. This can become confusing because the writer of a specific musical piece may belong to one PRO while the composer belongs to another.

The PROs issue licenses to businesses that want to play music in their catalogs. It’s up to the individual companies to ensure they have the correct licenses for the music they play.

ASCAP and the other PROs are very aggressive in protecting their artists’ copyrights. They routinely send investigators to various venues, large and small, to see what music they play and whether they have the appropriate licenses. Just because a business has a license with one PRO doesn’t mean it’s safe with the others.

ASCAP Licensing Fees

What Are BMI and ASCAP Licensing Fees?

The lowest annual ASCAP licensing fees range around $300, and BMI can charge as little as $378 for bars and restaurants. But BMI and ASCAP licensing fees can cost several thousand dollars, depending on a complicated assessment scheme. Factors that affect payments include the:

  • Type of business playing the music
  • Kind of music (live or recorded)
  • Size of the establishment
  • Number of customers
  • Amount of admission or cover charges (if any)
  • Number of nights per week that music is played

Your fee can also change mid-year, say if you decide to host live music during the summer. Keeping up with BMI and ASCAP licensing fees requires high vigilance.

Info About BMI and ASCAP Licensing

Identifying and securing the proper SESAC, GMR, BMI or ASCAP licensing to play music in public can be confusing. Review the information below for additional resources.

How Does ASCAP Work


It can be tough to decide between ASCAP vs. BMI. In the end, you may find that you need both. To help with that decision, visit ASCAP’s repertoire page and BMI’s repertoire page to see what music each has licensed.

How to Contact ASCAP

You can call ASCAP Global Services at 800-95-ASCAP or submit a contact form.

How to Contact BMI

BMI’s sales number is 888-689-5264. They also offer a contact form.

Is ASCAP Legal?

ASCAP is legal, even though some business owners feel like they’ve been through a shakedown after dealing with the PROs. Some people consider ASCAP and BMI a monopoly because they control around 90% of the song licensing market.

But the truth is that ASCAP and BMI operate under consent decrees with the U.S. government, allowing them to control song licensing in the United States. The intent of the decrees is to encourage competition among BMI, ASCAP and other PROs for members and music users.

Regardless of how effective you feel the decrees are, the fact remains that BMI and ASCAP are legal.

What Businesses Are Subject to BMI and ASCAP Licensing?

Nearly every type of organization needs to consider BMI and ASCAP licensing if they want to play music legally in public. Examples include:

ASCAP Copyrights

What Are Alternatives to BMI and ASCAP Licensing?

Given the hassle and expense of BMI and ASCAP licensing, some businesses may simply do without music. But that doesn’t make sense, considering all music’s benefits. Other companies may decide to harness the power of the most popular music streaming services and use a personal music subscription to play music. However, that violates the services’ user agreements and copyright law.

Some businesses may opt to only play music already in the public domain, but identifying those songs is time-consuming, and the available music is limited.

An Easy, Legal Way to Play Music in Your Business

SiriusXM Music for Business cuts through the red tape and provides a simple way to play music with all the necessary licenses included. You can concentrate on running your business, secure in the knowledge that your music is legal and properly licensed. We design our service specifically for companies and provide the convenience and variety you want in a music streaming service.

With SiriusXM Music for Business, you can choose from over 240 channels and more than 10,000 Pandora Artist Stations, all legal and fully licensed. You get simplicity and peace of mind all in one neat package.

Start Streaming Music Legally With SiriusXM Music for Business

Say goodbye to confusing, expensive ASCAP licensing requirements. Stream music with SiriusXM Music for Business for just $26.95 a month, with no long-term contract commitment. Subscribe today and take advantage of everything we offer.

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