Best Ways to Control the Music at Your Business

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In-store or restaurant music is well-known to change your customers’ mood, pace, and decision-making.

Business owners like you work hard to ensure that you offer the best products, store environment, and customer service. From your business plan to your quarterly reports, you know the success of your business relies on keeping your customers happy, and music is part of that.

If you choose a great music experience for your brand, your customers will enjoy their visit, appreciate your products, potentially buy more from you, and recommend your business to their friends. If you choose the wrong type of music, at the wrong volume, this can be a big turnoff for people who may otherwise want your products or service.

Playing music in a business is not as simple as setting up a wireless speaker and playing a personal playlist off your smartphone. The quality of your sound system can change how your customers experience music, so you must get the best possible sound setup for your type of establishment.

You also need specific licenses to play music in a business. With so many factors in play, it is important to know the basics and how much control you can have over the music in your type of business.

Music Is Important, So How Do You Access It Legally?

Music can influence customers in many ways. It can do the following:

  • Create and differentiate your brand from others
  • Build the best emotional atmosphere in your space
  • Create a feeling of privacy in the space
  • Set your shoppers’ pace, helping them to slow down
  • Shorten wait times through tempo, helping people to move faster
  • Increase employee productivity through more positive mood

You may have a clear understanding of the songs that will influence your potential customers. You may even have a playlist built.

Know this: You cannot play music from a record, CD, personal player, or personal playlist without the proper license.

If you purchase a CD or a subscription to a music streaming service, you receive a personal license to play that music for yourself or in personal situations for friends.

The individual license provided in these personal services does not cover commercial uses of the music. If you play a CD you bought in your restaurant, for example, you are violating the musicians’ copyright.

This is because, legally, playing copyrighted music before a group of people (such as your employees and customers) is considered a public performance of the work.

As BMI explains, a public performance involves music played outside a circle of friends and family members that occurs in a public place. A public performance could involve one of the following scenarios:

  • You play background music in your restaurant.
  • You pipe in music to encourage people to spend more money in your retail shop.
  • You play music in the reception area of your business.

In these situations, the composer, artist, or copyright holder is legally entitled to royalties.

But if you cannot play music from your personal collection, how can you legally use music? That involves understanding how copyright laws influence music’s availability.

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A performing rights organization (PRO) is a service institution within the music industry that manages copyright distribution through licenses on behalf of musicians, composers, performers, and publishers.

Several PROs exist, including the following.

Violation Table
What Does the Acronym Stand For? American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Broadcast Music, Inc. Global Music Rights Society of European Stage Authors and Composers
Who Are They? Not-for-profit PRO operating in the United States Largest PRO in the United States Founded in 2013 as an alternative to traditional PROs Large PRO that covers film and television composers, as well as traditional singers and songwriters
Who Do They Represent? Phoebe Bridgers, Theron Thomas, Killer Mike, Brandy Clark, Chris Stapleton Miley Cyrus, Lil Wayne, Patti LaBelle, Selena Lizzo, Drake, The Weeknd, Leon Bridges Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, RUSH, Adele, Nicky Jam
How Much Does a License Cost? Lowest annual fee is less than $1 per day Depends on your industry and location Depends on your industry Depends on your industry

These organizations keep a large catalog of songs and monitor for copyright violations. These violations include sharing music files without licensed permission, like in the early days of Napster and similar file-sharing services.

A license with one PRO won’t protect the catalog of another PRO. In other words, if you have a contract with SESAC and you play Chris Stapleton in your business, you’re violating copyright law because you don’t have a contract with ASCAP. To play all the songs you want, you may need a contract with every PRO.

Royalty-Free Music

One option for playing music legally in your business is to use royalty-free music. This is a type of music that allows you to pay for the rights (license) to play this music one time without paying royalty fees every subsequent time the song is played.

If you license the music, you can then play royalty-free music in your business. You can also use a royalty-free music streaming service with a paid subscription for licensing for this music.

Royalty-free does not mean “copyright-free,” which is actually a misnomer. Technically, all music is copyright protected as soon as it is created, and you need legal permission from the creator to use this music in your business.

There is royalty-free music on the public domain, which means it can be used legally without repercussions or licensing, as well as music in the Creative Commons. This type of royalty-free music often requires that you at least credit the artist when using their works.

Streaming Services

Fortunately, the rise of music streaming services has led to a rise in services focused on corporate or commercial streaming. The benefit of many music streaming services is being able to create a station or playlist that can match your brand, your store, or your ambiance, and this means you have a huge amount of control over the music at your business which can then benefit your customers.

The type of commercial music streaming service you choose can depend greatly on the type of business you own or manage. Your choice can also be influenced by how much control you have within the company.

The Risks of Playing Unlicensed Music

What happens if you ignore the laws and play all the music you want without a license? The consequences can be severe.

PROs often hire “music researchers” to visit businesses, listen for protected music, and submit reports if the organization doesn’t have an appropriate licensing agreement. That happened to a restaurant owner in Florida in 2016. The fines came to a whopping $30,000, and the owner was forced to close.

Some PROs can cause reputation damage when they spot organizations playing unlicensed music. For example, ASCAP published a press release in 2023 with the names of 13 bars and restaurants that wouldn’t pay for licenses. ASCAP pointed out that these businesses weren’t willing to pay musicians for their creative work. The reputation fallout from a press release like this could be hard to recover from.

Which Option Gives You the Most Freedom?

A music streaming service can offer you the most options and freedom to create playlists and use the songs you want. Most music streaming services already have the licenses for public performances from the major PROs, which you need to stream music in your business or use it for commercial purposes.

Music streaming providers often have large catalogs and libraries of music, and once you have a paid subscription to their service, you can access these. Music streaming services can also offer you customized playlists based on your brand or industry as well as the option to create your own customized playlists from their vast library of music.

When licensing music directly through a PRO, you will only be able to use music from artists that particular PRO represents. You will often need to obtain licenses from several major PROs to have more freedom.

A music streaming service already has agreements with several of the major PROs, meaning that you will only need to have a subscription to one music streaming service. Royalty-free music requires that you license each musical piece separately much of the time, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming.

Find the Best Music to Fit Your Brand

When looking for music for your business needs, you need to know what type of music will work best in your environment. Assess your music needs and go from there.

Think about what tone or ambiance you are trying to create. If you operate a gym, you will likely want to go with upbeat and heart-pumping music, while an upscale restaurant is going to need a quieter, more subdued soundtrack.

Music can influence your customer’s moods and behaviors, engaging them and creating a positive experience as well as fostering brand recognition.

Music in the workplace can also serve to increase employee production by inducing positive emotions, reducing stress, and enhancing learning, memory, and focus. Music can help to bolster creativity as well as elevate moods.

For an office setting, you will likely want to use music that stays in the background more and is not distracting. Classical music is often a good choice.

In short, the right music can serve to make customers and employees feel good, which can boost sales and productivity. To find the best music for your brand, consider using a music streaming service that caters to your specific industry.

These services will often already have pre-selected playlists designed for your type of business. You also have the ability to customize playlists.

Types of Businesses

There are a few basic types of businesses, and different types of music suit them better.

  • Service business: This type of business provides intangible products to customers, which are usually called services instead of goods. Businesses in this category may provide professional skills, advice, expertise, or guidance. For example, salons, law firms, schools, and banks are all service businesses.
  • Merchandising business: This business provides goods rather than services. They rarely make the products they sell, and they typically sell their products at higher prices than the cost of manufacturing and shipping. Businesses in this category are usually retail but sometimes considered to be restaurants, cafes, or bars. Other examples include grocery stores, convenience stores, or toy stores.
  • Manufacturing business: These businesses make money by creating products or goods to sell to merchandisers rather than directly to individual consumers. Different types of manufacturing businesses include car makers, computer manufacturers, and furniture producers.

It is rare that manufacturers will face issues with music licensing, while retailers, restaurants, hotels, and offices will face the problem of legally using music much more often.

Regardless of business type, if music is used illegally, who is responsible? Understanding the management hierarchy can illuminate this.

Management Hierarchies in Business: Who Is Responsible for Music Choices and Copyright?

Most businesses have three levels of management.

  1. Low-level: Foremen, supervisors, project managers, and section heads are examples in this tier.
  2. Mid-level: Branch managers, department leads, and general managers fit this category.
  3. Top-level: CEOs, boards of directors, presidents, and vice presidents are at this level.

This arrangement typically resembles a pyramid at most organizations, with few people at the top making decisions that are then delegated to employees on the lower levels.

If a specific storefront illegally uses music during retail hours, who in the company is responsible? Representatives from the PRO will target the business owner, CEO, or franchise owner — the person at the top who is responsible for making decisions.

A copyright lawsuit will most likely involve the company, and the person in control of that company, not the individual who made the decision. However, that person may face consequences, including being fired for cause, if they illegally use music in a business.

It is unlikely that a store clerk, bar manager, or mid-level office worker understands the nuances of music copyright law. That person likely chooses music they think stylistically benefits the work they are doing.

While the intention is good, the outcome can be bad. If you own a business or franchise, it is your responsibility to know enough about these laws to make decisions for your business, including for your employees.

If an individual owns and runs a business alone, they are responsible for violating the copyright, but their business will be the focus of the lawsuit rather than their person.

Control the Music at Your Business With Premium Music Streaming

Working with a commercial music streaming service allows your business to legally play music from several PROs because the service will manage the licensing issues for you. You pay a subscription fee or a one-time access fee, depending on your needs, and you have access to a large library of streaming music.

Some services may offer you personal control over the station or playlist. Others offer customized solutions like creating specific moods tailored to your business.

If you work with these groups to purchase their hardware, including music players and speakers, you not only get great sound quality, but you can also give your employees access to music selection through the commercial streaming service. You can control the music played at your business and empower your employees to work with you on music choices.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the questions we often hear about playing music in a business:

Can I work with just one PRO?

You can, but you must be careful. A license agreement with one PRO won’t protect you from the copyright claims held by others. For sweeping protections that will allow you to play music you want, you’ll need a contract with multiple PROs or with a business like Pandora CloudCover.

What’s the safest way to play music at a business?

Work with a company like Pandora CloudCover. Access a huge library of songs with one license fee, and know you can surround your customers with music without worrying about surprise visits from PROs.

Can I just play my private playlist at work?

No. Most streaming platforms are designed for personal use only. If you start playing them at work, you’re creating a public performance that’s subject to licensing requirements and fees. Using a private playlist in this way not only violates the streaming company’s terms of service, but you could also get fined.

How likely is it that a PRO will catch me playing unlicensed music?

Violations happen more often than you might think. Any time you’re playing music in an open place (like a restaurant or retail shop), someone could walk in and notify the PRO. The fines can be significant, and it’s a risk rarely worth taking.


Creative Commons. Creative Commons (CC).

The Sound of Wellness: How Music Tunes Up Workplace Productivity. Corporate Wellness Magazine.

7 Reasons You Should Play Music in Your Store. (April 2017). LS Retail.

Performing Rights Organizations. (February 2017). Repost, Resources.

Types of Management. Lumen Learning Courses.

Tampa Bay Businesses Are Sued for Playing Copyrighted Music Without Paying Fees. (June 2016). Tampa Bay Times. 

Venues Refuse to Pay Songwriters While Profiting from Their Music. (June 2023). ASCAP.

What Is a Public Performance of Music, and What Is the Performing Right? BMI.

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