How to Legally Play an Independent Musician’s Music at Your Business

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If you want to play the music of an independent musician legally at your business, you will need to ensure you get permission to do so.

Independent musicians have just as many rights as major recording artists do to protect their work. They decide when and where others are able to use their music.

These artists may not be registered or in partnership with the major PROs (performing rights organizations) the way that bigger artists with record labels are. They may not have the same strength of a massive legal team behind them, but they still own the rights to their songs.

You will need to have legal rights to play their music in your business. If you don’t, you’re violating the law.

Do You Need a License for Independent Music?

As soon as a musician creates an original work and records it, it is copyright protected.

Most of the time, songs are actually protected by two different copyrights: one that covers the actual recording of the song (the sound recording) and one that covers the musical work (the underlying composition).

Both of these licenses can be held by a single independent musician. If the work was composed by someone and then performed by someone different, each of these entities holds their own respective licenses. You will need to obtain legal permission from both copyright holders in order to play this song in your business.

Can You Just Play a Song if It Is Not Registered?

While music is technically copyright protected as soon as it is created and recorded as an original work, small and independent musicians frequently do not take the time to register their works with the U.S. Copyright Office. If the work is not registered, it can be harder for the musician to take legal action against those who do not ask for permission before using these works.

This does not mean that you should just play it without permission, however. The independent musician still has the right to decide if and how their works are used.

Risks if You Do Play Music Without a License

You should not assume that an independent musician does not have copyright protection.

Many of these musicians register their works to ensure they are protected. Many even take the next step and affiliate themselves with one of the major PROs to ensure that if their works are played without their permission, they are protected.

If you play music from an independent artist who has these protections without the proper license, you can face legal issues as well as fines that can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Once a musician has registered their work with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO), they have the right to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit against you if you use this music in your business without a public performance license.

Even if the musician has not yet registered their work with the USCO, they can still do so after they realize you are using their music without explicit permission from them to do so. They will then be entitled to seek legal action against you for playing this music without permission.

Another potential risk to playing music in your business that you do not have the proper rights to could be a cease and desist order. If you are sharing the music on a digital platform, this could be blocked or taken down.

Steps to Take to Ensure You Can Play Independent Music

It is important to understand that every original song is technically copyrighted as soon as it is created and then recorded in some format. This means that in order to play this music legally, you need to obtain the proper permission to do so.

Follow these steps to ensure that you can play the song by the independent musician by getting the right permissions:

  1. Find out who owns the copyrights to the music you wish to play in your business. Remember that there are often two different copyright holders for songs, and you will need to obtain permission from both of them to use this music.
  2. You can often get contact information for musicians from the music publisher or record company if there is one.
  3. Check with the four major PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR) to find out if the musician is affiliated with one of them.
  4. If the musician is affiliated with a PRO, you can obtain a business public performance license to play this musician’s music in your business. This license typically involves an annual fee, and it is based on your type of business. It gives you the right to play any music in the PRO’s music library, not just the musician you were seeking permission for.
  5. If the musician is not affiliated with a PRO, you will need to contact them directly to obtain permission to play their music. You will then come up with an arrangement to play the desired song.

    The cost for the rights for one song from an independent musician is typically much lower, often around $100 or so, than the costs are for a more well-known artist, which can be several thousand dollars for each song.

Independent musicians do not often have the same legal recourse or power that major recording artists do. However, you still need to ensure that you have the proper permission or license to play their music in your business.


What Musicians Should Know About Copyright. U.S. Copyright Office.

Welcome to the U.S. Copyright Office. U.S. Copyright Office.


BMI. (2022). Broadcast Music, Inc.

SESAC. (2022). SESAC Performing Rights, LLC.

Simple Licensing. (2022). Global Music Rights (GMR).

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