I need licensing/rights costs of playing commercially recorded pop music to live audiences

I want to play music for my co-workers to enjoy over the lunch time or at special events. These are not commercial events – no one is paying an attendance fee. Think setting up a PA system at an annual spring staff picnic and playing beach or other stuff music for mood. No broadcast involved. I’m uncertain how large the live audiences might be.

At my last job I did this regualrly, and we al assumed “Hey, it’s just a guy playing music for his friends and colleagues.”

Now I work at a state agency, and I need something fairly explicit that says there would be no licensing/rights issues that would cost money, or if paying money to ASCAP or whoever ends up being a requirement, just how much money?

Would there be different fees for different songs? Would fees increase for a bigger audience even though it the whole thing is free except what people might pay for soda and food?

Can anybody give the the scoop on being a volunteer DJ? Please don’t tell me “just do it”, because that’s not good enough to get by or corporate counsel. If I can’t provide solid information, I can’t do it.

Pandora offers a service with DMX for $25 a month. It is intended for businesses, but you may be able to contact them to see if employee events are included in that, or if there is a different licensing option.


Thanks for trying, but this is not relevant to my situation.

Why not just ask ASCAP?
Find out if you need an ASCAP License
Get an ASCAP License.

BMI Offers a Variety of Music Licenses for Business

I’d go to the source - ASCAP Licensing

I guess ASCAP would be the right answer:

(I added emphasis on the portion that seems relevant.)

Problem is, the list of ASCAP license types (by venue type) doesn’t say anything about “state government employee picnic”. :smack:

Maybe Blanket Business license… just because it’s blanket.

I dunno.

Why not use music that is already licensed for free performances?

FYI, I contacted ASCAP, and the price they quoted for a state government is $235.50 for a 1 year license, or $139 for a one-time event.

Oddly, the proce is determined not by the size of the audience, but by the number of speakers used by the PA system. The quoted price is for up to 3 speakers, and each additional speaker is an additional $47, up to a maximum of just over $1900. I don’t know what happens then.

Sorry I missed this thread earlier

You will also need to get a Lic. from BMI and possibly Seasac(sp?). The vast majority of artists are covered by ASCAP and BMI but IIRC SEASAC has Bob Dylan.

The # of speakers thing seems very strange to me, for Bars, Live Venues and the like , the fees are for capacity and sources (Juke Box, Cd player, live music stage etc)

Hope this all goes well


I want to add, in case anyone was unaware, the majority of those fees go where the money is intended, to whom the rights are assigned. Whether or not the assignee is the “right” person is a whole nother matter. I have personally seen the checks, just none to me.


How do they know which CDs were played?

They don’t. The ASCAP person already sent me a contract (which remains unsigned), and there are no reporting requirements on my part. All I can figure is that they pay out on some formula, perhaps based on commercial music sales history of their artists. But that’s just a guess.

As for BMI, I have made a nearly identical request for a price quote from them, but I haven’t got a reply yet.

This license arrangement applies to a very limited set of circumstances. The basis for the fees from entities like clubs or retails stores might be entirely different.

What strikes me as perhaps the strangest thing is the reply I got about what the licensing fee would be if I opened a small business like a DJ services for weddings or similar events.

The answer was – no license needed from them, hence no fee. If a club hired me to be a DJ, the club would need to get a license. But if a couple hired me to play music at their wedding, that is considered a private event, not a public one, and it is of no interest to ASCAP.

The contact did note, however, that there were other performance licensing companies besides ASCAP, and she couldn’t speak for whether one or more of the others might want a license arrangement.

Why is your “company lunchtime” considered a public event? Presumably the general public cannot wander over to your company grounds at lunchtime and join in. Isn’t your situation as private as a wedding?

Strange - In the UK, a company that plays broadcast music over a PA system has to pay the PRS a fee. Their website does not state the fees but offers individual quotations. This applies to all events at which music is played, regardless of whether entrance is free, paid for or restricted.

That is a very good question and I’m considering starting a separate thread on it.

It is not a “company” bat an agency of the state government. That means that the even would certainly take place on property owned by the citizens of the state – arguably a public location.

But as you suggest, the public is not free to wander about the building at will. There is one office where they can go to attend to issues – Vital Records if they want a copy of their birth certificate (or whatever other records they keep, I dunno). Vital Records is right next door to the reception desk at the entrance - to go even that far one has to check in and get a visitor’s pass, and to go any farther you have to have an appointment or an invitation, AFAIK. No one comes into the building to eat at the caff, for instance, which consists solely of vending machines and tables and chairs.

When you say “broadcast music”, are you talking about amplifying music that is playing on some radio or TV station at that time? Or about music that has ever been broadcast some time in the past?

I am talking about playing music from an iPod or a CD, so “broadcasting” doesn’t really enter into it.

What happens if you get a coworker to request that you play the music? Then it’s a private matter like the wedding example.

In fact, I’d say it’s exactly like the wedding example even without jumping through any hoops. Just cc the Powers That Be the relevant line from ASCAP’s email.

As far as I can see it makes no difference. The point is that performers, writers and composers should get paid whenever their music is played. If you buy a CD then it is assumes that it is for you and your family and friends. If you play it for a wider audience then you should cough up.