How to Find Clean & Brand-Safe In-Store Music Streaming

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Creating playlists and streaming music in your store or restaurant is intended to relax or energize your patrons. However, even when you play popular songs in the background, you want to make sure that the music does not negatively impact your customers.

When you stream music from any given player, you run the risk of playing songs with explicit content. Suggestive lyrics, hate speech, and inappropriate words can hurt your customers and can give them a negative impression of your business. It is crucial to not only go through a music streaming service that can manage commercial licenses, but to work with a company that has a proven track record of offering the best clean music streaming from the past several decades without problematic content.

What is ‘Inappropriate’ Content?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages rules and regulations for radio, television, and now internet broadcasts regarding explicit content and language, helping to determine what 'clean' music streaming actually is.

The FCC defines each area.

  • Obscene content: This does not have First Amendment protection in public spaces, although the content have no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
  • Indecent content: This content portrays bodies, bodily functions, or activities in a way that does not pass the obscenity test.
  • Profane content: This covers “grossly offensive” language that may be a public nuisance.

Streaming services of all kinds, including those intended for personal use, are facing a debate around the FCC’s definitions for broadcasting. TV and radio have long managed these forms of inappropriate content so most people would enjoy broadcasts at different levels.

However, services like Spotify or iTunes are now facing complaints from customers because children are gaining easier access to explicit content through mobile technology, like smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and other smart devices like Alexa and Siri. Families are now concerned that a child or guest might request a song that isn't clean and have problematic content foisted on them without their knowledge or consent.

Most of the debate has focused around personal music streaming services – programs like Pandora or YouTube that are designed to find songs you might like, or offer songs you already know you like. The problem is even more serious for businesses, who face all kinds of consequences for streaming inappropriate music that isn't 'clean'. For example, a student employee at a café at Duke University was fired for accidentally playing a song with offensive lyrics after a patron complained. It is important to offer your patrons the best possible music that is not offensive, and you must follow the law about streaming music in your business.

How Do Radio Stations Handle Offensive Content?

Business owners aren’t the only ones who have to worry about spicy lyrics. So do radio station owners.

It’s clear that few radio stations can (or should) play music that’s downright explicit. That’s why artists like Cardi B and Olivia Rodrigo head back to the studio to record clean versions of their songs—even when they dislike doing so. Their clean versions could get played on the air, while the explicit versions might never get there.

Federal law prohibits broadcast radio stations from playing tunes considered obscene at any time of day. Songs that are indecent or profane can only be played between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. However, the law stops short of defining what exact content fits into this category. There are some songs that might seem perfectly fine to others and wildly wrong to some.

Dealing with this gray area falls on station managers. In 2015, a station manager told NPR that he runs music through three different employees before he considers it acceptable to play. If it’s not, he uses an engineer like Joel Mullis to make the song conform to his high standards.

How to Find Premade Clean Music Playlists

Finding every little blip and slip inside songs isn’t easy. Thankfully, you can find premade lists that have been curated and screened by computers and humans.

If you use a service like Spotify, you can search for song titles appended with the word clean. If the song contains something offensive, you’ll see a clean version that doesn’t include that tidbit.

Companies like Soundtrack Your Brand have explicit filters users can turn on and off. If you’ve enabled this feature, the songs you’ll play will always be clean, clear, and safe.

If using a service like this seems too difficult or expensive, you could focus your playlist on songs that have no lyrics at all. Classical, jazz, or soundtrack tunes could all fit in this category, and since they have no words, they’re automatically clean.

Licensing for Business Must Include Family-Friendly and Brand-Safe Option

When you want to stream music in your business, you may think this process is as simple as hooking up a smartphone to a wireless speaker, clicking the “filter explicit songs” option in the service, and playing whatever playlist you want.

Unfortunately, you cannot use a personal music streaming service in your business because of how music licensing works.

When you’re using a personal streaming account (like your individual Pandora account), you have the right to play music for yourself, your family, and your friends. You do not have the right to play those tunes in a public place, like an office or a restaurant. You must buy that right via a license with a performing rights organization (PRO).

PROs manage the licenses on behalf of musicians, composers, and other music rights holders, so they can ensure that royalties are paid to artists appropriately. Each PRO manages a different catalog of songs. 

As a business owner, you can contact PROs directly to use the songs in their library, and for a fee, they will issue you a license to play their music in your business for a certain amount of time. If you need one song for a large presentation, for example, that license will be different than full library access for a whole year.

Regardless of the type of license you buy, however, you will have access to that PRO’s catalog. If you want broader access to as much popular music as possible, you may find yourself needing to purchase licenses from multiple PROs. This is where commercial or business-focused music streaming services come in.

Comparing PROs

Several PROs exist, and they offer licenses for businesses. If you make an arrangement with one PRO, you can play the songs within that organization’s library, but you can’t play everything you want. If you want music controlled by a different PRO, you’ll need a separate contract.

These are the major PROs and the products that might help:

Violation Table
Typical Cost Library Size Typical Artists
GMR Does not disclose 63,000 Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Prince, Drake, John Lennon, the Eagles
BMI $182 to $2,515 22.4 million Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood
ASCAP $250 8 million Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, Tania Leon, U2
SESAC Does not disclose 44,000 Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Adele, Ariana Grande, Zac Brown

None of the PROs we’ve mentioned here discuss explicit filters on their library content. Instead, they often mention how large the song selection is and how beneficial an extensive choice can be.


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