Music License Cost Guide (ASCAP, BMI, Per Song & More)

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Performing rights organizations (PROs) typically manage music licenses on behalf of their member artists and music publishers. If you are a business owner, you may need to negotiate and purchase a license with a PRO to use songs in their catalog.

PROs typically create individual monthly or annual fees in a contract based on your type and size of business, which can take time to negotiate and seem complicated. Individual licenses may not cover your use, so you may end up with multiple blanket licenses with multiple PROs.

Fortunately, commercial music streaming services like Cloud Cover Music can help you get legal access to thousands of songs, without navigating licensing with PROs.

What Is a Music License? Why Do I Need One?

You want to play background music in your business since there are many mental and emotional benefits of music. However, as the business owner, you cannot simply bring in an MP3 player and play your personal music collection over the loudspeaker in your building or office.

Since the music you play is considered a public performance, even of the recording, you need to acquire a different type of license to legally play songs in this situation.

If you play a song without a required license and are caught, the consequences can be severe, including fines of $750 to $30,000 or more. Since this potential penalty is per song, the total can add up to an incredibly high amount very quickly. If the court deems that you intentionally and willfully broke the law, the penalties will be more severe. In addition, you’ll incur attorney fees and court fees.

Music licensing can be managed by the individual musician or composer, or by the music publishing company, but most often, music licenses are distributed by performing rights organizations (PROs). A PRO manages intellectual property rights for multiple musicians, songwriters, and other rights holders while providing access to a large catalogue of different songs to the public, including businesses like radio and television stations, film production companies, restaurants, and spas.

We’ve outlined some PROs, the licenses they offer, and the cost of those licenses.

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Big 3 PROs

Although there are a number of PROs operating in the United States and internationally, there are three large PROs that manage the most popular music of the last several decades. These are generally organizations who are managed by member artists, so these artists’ intellectual property interests are appropriately represented.

The licensing fees and terms with each of these PROs can change regularly, so it’s important to contact each PRO directly for the latest fees and terms.


ASCAP: This is the oldest PRO in the US. They have 960,000 members and over 19 million songs available in their catalog. First-time membership to ASCAP is free for all writers. Publisher membership is $50, but if you join as both a writer and publisher, the fee is waived. ASCAP reports to have distributed more than $1 billion to all members in 2022, showing this is also one of the most popular PROs.

The cost of a music license with ASCAP varies by business and situation. For example, ASCAP considers how many potential patrons will hear songs, how often the song might be played, and how the song is presented (audio, visual, or audiovisual). License types are typically divided into business type, such as:

  • Bowling center
  • Campground
  • Dance schools
  • Festivals and special events
  • Radio

Each contract will have a separate rate schedule that helps to determine how much the licensee pays per month to access ASCAP’s catalog. One report, though, found that a couple were asked to pay $600 for a year-long ASCAP license, which could be too much for a small business. Check with ASCAP directly regarding the most up-to-date licensing fees and terms.


BMI: This is the largest PRO, representing more than 1.4 million artists and more than 22.4 million songs. The membership fee for songwriters and composers is $75. It’s $175 for individual publishers, $250 for publishing corporations or LLCs, and $500 for partnerships.

In 2016, BMI distributed $931 million to all their artists. BMI offers licenses to music.

  • Public Performing License: This allows the licensee to perform the work in public or transmit the work to the public.
  • Mechanical License: This grants the right to the licensee to re-print and distribute a specific composition at an agreed-upon fee.
  • Synchronization License: This allows the composition to be used by the licensee in a synchronized way over other visual images, like an advertisement or a music video.
  • Digital Performing Right in Sound Recordings: This covers licenses for digital streaming services.

A license with BMI can range from $250 to $400 per year, but larger businesses might pay upward of $2,000 per year. Check with BMI regarding the fees and terms on particular works.


Although SESAC is the only for-profit PRO in the big three, it is still managed by member artists, and it represents more than 1.5 million musical works from more than 15,000 artists. Artists must be invited to join SESAC, but the group paid between $400 and $500 million to their member artists in 2016.

Like other PROs, SESAC considers the type and size of business in order to determine licensing fees, but these are generally more expensive, with $700 per year being the average price. Check with SESAC directly for specific fees and terms.

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Types & Cost of Different Licenses

Depending on your business, you might need one of the following types of licenses.

  • Custom Digital Phonorecord Delivery (DPD) License: This allows downloadable audio files online for $18.20 for 250 units, minimum.
  • Custom Mechanical License: This allows for recording a song onto physical media like a tape, record, or CD, with a starting rate of $0.091 per song copy.
  • Slide Projection/Overhead Transparency/PowerPoint Lyric Display: This covers situations where song lyrics are printed on a permanent slide or digital file and used in a presentation, starting at $20 per 500 viewers.
  • Non-Commercial Videogram Synchronization License: This involves using a song in a video or “on-screen performance,” starting at $0.25 per copy with a minimum license amount of $25 per license.
  • Commercial Mechanical License: This covers making a new physical recording like a CD or tape of songs that can be sold at the expense of the recording company, with no starting number, but individual negotiation is required.
  • TV Synchronization License: This covers broadcasts like those on ABC, NBC, ESPN, or other TV stations, for a negotiable one-time fee.
  • Internet Performance License: This covers using songs in online videos or for an online live-streamed performance, starting at $50 per license that lasts for three to six months, initially.

If you are concerned about the potential cost of each music license you negotiate, you may be able to use music in the public domain, or music published under the Creative Commons license, as long as the artist has specified there is a commercial use.

Commercial Streaming Services to the Rescue

Using music from the public domain or Creative Commons may not give you access to the genres or specific songs you want for your business's background music, but negotiating with a PRO can become expensive and complex. Fortunately, commercial music streaming services like Pandora CloudCover now offer the convenience of a consumer streaming service like YouTube or Spotify while covering your business license with most PROs.

For one low monthly fee, you can use curated playlists or make your own playlist to play in your establishment, without worrying about which PRO manages the song. The interface is easy to use, so you can get started fast.

FAQs About Music Licensing Fees

These are some of the most common questions we hear about music licensing fees:

Do I need to pay a license fee to play music in my business?

In most cases, yes. Playing music in your business is considered a public performance, and you’ll need a license from major PROs to do so legally. You will be covered if you use a commercial music streaming service, like Pandora CloudCover.

Can I play the radio in my business without paying?

If your business is very small (smaller than 2,000 square feet) with a small number of speakers, you can potentially play the radio for free. If you have a large business with more than six speakers, you can’t play the radio for free.

How do I get a music license?

You can contact the major PROs individually, such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. You can also sign up with a commercial streaming service that handles these contracts and licenses for you. You cannot use an individual streaming service, such as a standard Spotify, as this doesn’t cover commercial or business use.

How much is an average music licensing fee?

It depends on the work. Average music licensing fees can range from $250 to $400, but they can cost more than $2,000. It’s more financially feasible for businesses to subscribe to a commercial streaming service, which allows them to play a wide library of licensed music for as low as $16.95 per month (when prepaid annually).


ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC: The Big Three, Who’s for Me? (July 017). Royalty Exchange.

Frequently Asked Questions. ASCAP Licensing.

ASCAP Music License Agreements and Reporting Forms. ASCAP Licensing.

ASCAP, BMI and SESAC Force Local Coffee Shop to Shut Down Live Music. (October 2014). Digital Music News.

About. BMI.

Types of Copyright. BMI.

How Much Does a BMI License Cost? (September 2020). SoundMachine.

Licensing FAQs. SESAC.

SESAC: Licensing, Fines, Laws, and More. Cloud Cover Music.

A Guide to Key Pay Sources in the United States: BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, GMR, HFA, MRI, the MLC. (October 2021). Songtrust.

Rates and Licenses. Music Services.

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