License to Play Music in a Restaurant: What You Need to Know

In today’s ever-evolving digital landscape, the rights to digital downloads fall into a rather gray area. Many individuals assume that because they purchased iTunes songs or pay for on-demand streaming services, they automatically have rights to the music.

In reality, this couldn’t be any further from the truth.

When it comes to music, you’re almost always leasing content, not buying it.

And this gets even trickier when it comes to businesses utilizing background music in their stores.

The Basics of Legal Music for Restaurants

Seal of the United States Copyright Office

Music is protected by copyright law, which means that if a business plays an artist’s music without consent, they’re infringing on the copyright. To make matters worse, if you’re caught playing unauthorized music in your restaurant, you can be liable for damages ranging from $750 to a maximum of $150,000 per song played.

“But we pay for a monthly Spotify subscription! We didn’t download anything illegally!”

This is one of the most common statements that our restaurant clients say to us. And rightfully so! After all, business music licensing is a tricky and complex subject.

Most music streaming services are business-to-consumer, which means they are licensed for private, non-commercial use — aka, you can have as many glam-tastic, ABBA-fueled dance parties at home with your friends as you want. But, if you want to play aforementioned ABBA jams in front of your restaurant customers and employees, you need a Public Performance License (PPL) from from a performing rights organization (PRO) in order to do so.

Who are ASCAP, BMI, GMR, and SOCAN?

There are four main performing rights organizations (PROs) that represent songwriters, composers, and music publishers in the United States and Canada:

  1. ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)
  2. BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)
  3. SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)
  4. GMR (Global Music Rights)
  5. SOCAN (The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada)

These organizations are responsible for collecting performance royalties and protecting intellectual property. Long story short: if you want to play music from one of the PROs’ repertoires in public, you have to obtain a license from them.

How can I easily license music for my restaurant?

Music is vital to restaurant success: it has the power to reinforce brand identity, increase employee morale, and impact purchase behaviors. However, obtaining music licenses for restaurants from one of the PROs (or even multiple PROs) can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. And many quick-service restaurants are already working with a fixed or limited marketing budget.

This is where Cloud Cover Music comes into play.

Starting at only $18.95/month, our affordable music subscriptions give restaurateurs access to over 100 fully-licensed music stations, free of explicit language and ads. Mix and match your favorite playlists. Schedule music by time or day of the week. And even create custom in-store audio advertisements. Get started with a free 14-Day trial today.


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