Spotify and Other Streaming Services for Commercial Use

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The right selection of background music in your store can make the difference between keeping your customers comfortable and engaged or restless and bored.

Unfortunately, playing music for your customers is not as simple as loading the perfect playlist from your favorite music streaming service.

Many store owners in the retail industry wonder if they can play or share Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, or other music services on their premises, and the answer is complicated due to intellectual property law in the United States.

Can I Play Licensed Music In My Business?

Can I play clean music from my personal Spotify account at work? The simple answer to this is “no.” However, understanding licensing laws and streaming music for business can help you find a solution that is just as simple.

Spotify represents about 36 percent of the global music streaming market, with only a few major competitors, including YouTube, SoundCloud, Pandora, SiriusXM, and Apple Music. However, all these services are primarily directed to individuals, with licenses allowing streaming music and/or video for personal use.

If you broadcast streaming music to your customers in your business, this is legally considered a public performance, and it requires a different type of business-specific license.

When licensed music is played in a commercial space, it is played with the intention of creating an experience for customers that is conducive to the interests of the business.

Happy customers make businesses more money, and music can make customers happy. Since you are financially benefiting from another’s creative work, that artist deserves some income for their intellectual property.

Published or recorded music is owned by someone through intellectual property rights. Copyright law also stipulates that when the music is played in certain public or global spaces, the copyright holders must be compensated. This supersedes legal purchase of the song (either in a digital or CD copy) for individual use (a private performance) since part of the song’s retail cost goes to the artist and publisher.

Companies like Spotify make this very clear in their terms and conditions. Spotify’s website clarifies that a personal account does not allow the user to play songs in public spaces, like stores, clubs, restaurants, and bars.

An individual account allows users to stream music privately without any intention of using the music to boost their business. As with most terms of use, agreeing to them is the user’s acknowledgment that they will use the personal account within the specified boundaries.

Spotify for Business Can Help

Instead, a Spotify Business account works as a commercial license subscription. It gives users the legal coverage to stream and download internet-based music through the Spotify Business platform, and to play it to anyone within the business’s premises. This is one way that Spotify itself makes money.

While over 100 million people use the free version of the platform, the company receives payment from just 30 million people to unlock additional features. As a result, the company has been bleeding money because of how expensive its licensing agreements with record labels are. Collecting monthly fees from businesses helps to offset the exorbitant deals it has with the publishers of some of the biggest artists in the world.

Having a Spotify for Business account ensures that anybody who has a copyright claim to the music — the artists, the record label, or both — is fairly compensated every time their music is used in a professional setting. The Spotify for Business (also known as Soundtrack Your Brand) cost is $39.00 per month for the base plan. Other music streaming services, like Pandora with Pandora for Business, have their own business arrangement, and it works in much the same way.

Users with a Spotify business license pay a monthly flat fee to access and play songs, safe in the knowledge that the respective services have arrangements with the necessary performing rights organizations that disburse royalties to labels. Through the use of a Spotify for Business license, a store will be playing licensed music lawfully.

Spotify & Soundtrack Your Brand in Partnership

Soundtrack Your Brand was founded in 2013 by Swedish developers who originally worked for Spotify, so the company’s core concept is very similar. This is why Spotify chose to partner with them to get access to Spotify’s huge library of music for commercial subscribers. This requires negotiating different licenses with performing rights organizations (PROs).

If you have a personal Spotify account, you are familiar with the basics of using Spotify for business. Access to this type of streaming interface will help your employees too, as they manage music playlists throughout the day.

The Role of PROs

Performing rights organizations are groups like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); SESAC (originally the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers); and Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI). These organizations represent the rights of songwriters and music publishers to publicly perform the copyrighted works they created.

This means that only people with the necessary copyright can play or perform those songs in public. Everyone else must purchase a license to do so.

Big distribution platforms like Spotify have their own next level arrangements with PROs, which simplifies things for business owners who want to stream music in their stores. Just having a Spotify Business account grants you access to the repertoire of songs covered by the respective PROs.

The language in the terms of use agreement can seem complicated, but the choice of words is key.

“Personal” and “noncommercial” prohibit the streaming music from being played in a work environment, especially if the intention of the music is to benefit the business.

Playing music in this environment constitutes a public performance, which is forbidden by both the user agreement with Spotify and similar streaming services, and federal copyright law.

Specifically, U.S. copyright law states that music can be considered to be “publicly performed” when the music is played in a location that is either open to the public or a location where “a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” An example of this is using free music streaming at school (non-educationally), which is a public place and therefore needs a commercial license.

The Terms of Using Licensed Music

Legally purchasing the music being played is not the same as legally owning that music, according to intellectual property law.

As The Guardian explains, a consumer simply buys the right to play the particular song per the terms set by the copyright holder. For individual consumers, those terms are almost exclusively for the song or album to be played in a private (or, at least, a nonpublic) setting. Attempting to use that same song in a public setting, like Spotify for retail stores or Spotify for hotels, is a violation of the terms of purchase, akin to using a rental car as a personal vehicle.

The public performance clause in the copyright law includes, but is not limited to, streaming music from digital sources, playing MP3 files from a music player, CDs, music videos on TV, and music played by a DJ.

If you listen to your own music on a break, away from customers, this does not constitute a public performance, so you do not need to worry about using your personal Spotify playlist. If you think these playlists are something your customers would enjoy, get Spotify for Business and you can transfer your personal playlists over and play them legally, to create a great atmosphere in your establishment.

Business to Consumer vs. Business

In general, services like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, iTunes, SoundCloud, Pandora, and are music platforms for individual consumers (business to consumer). Typically, they are free or have a reasonably flat monthly fee, allowing users unlimited listening.

This can confuse users into thinking that they (the users) “own” the right to do whatever they want with the music they are getting. And users do have a lot of things they can do with that music. They can stream it in their car, play it at family gatherings, or listen to it at the gym or on the bus.

But playing music in a public business setting over multiple speakers, with the intention of creating a welcoming environment for the general public to spend their time, is the function of a business-to-business arrangement, and this needs the appropriate licensing.

Spotify and Pandora have the necessary deals with performing rights organizations, meaning that a business owner can simply pay an extra fee every month to have access to literally thousands of songs to play for customers. Additionally, this also protects the business from liability for copyright infringement.

For services that do not have deals with PROs, a license can be obtained from one or all of the PROs, which entails paying the PRO directly. There are also streaming services that are built exclusively for business use. This achieves much the same effect: legally playing music for customers in a place of business.


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