Music on a website can be a nice, catchy feature that can engage viewers and encourage them to spend more time on your site. You need permission to play most music, as commercial and popular music is all copyrighted.
To play music legally, you will need permission from the copyright holder or holders. Not doing so can have serious legal and financial consequences.
You can also use music that is on the public domain for free. Many times, music that is under a Creative Commons (CC) license can be used as long as you credit the creator.
Another option is to use royalty-free music, which is typically available through a paid monthly or annual subscription.
What License Is Needed to Play Music on Your Website?
The majority of music is copyright protected through two different copyright licenses: both the composition license and the master use license. To obtain permission to play music legally on your website, you will need both a synchronization, or sync, license to cover the music composition and lyrics, and a master use license to use the completed sound recording.
There are three main performing rights organizations (PROs) that partner with recording artists and musicians. To play music from one of these sources, you will need to have either an ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC license. Each of these has a specific music library, and you will need the license to play the desired music based on which organization holds the rights.
To play music on your website legally, you will need a license that gives you permission from the holder of the copyrights.
How to Get Permission to Play Music on Your Website
The steps for getting permission to play music on your website legally are as follows:
- Determine if the music you wish to play is copyright protected.
- Learn who holds the rights to the music you want to use.
- Contact the holder of the copyrights or join a PRO organization that collaborates with the copyright holders.
- Negotiate a fee and the terms of using the music.
- Pay the fee and transfer the rights.
Consequences for Not Getting Permission
It can seem tedious to track down the holder of the specific copyright — remember that there are usually two of them for each song — and negotiate terms for using the music legally. You often have to talk to the musician or record label directly, and fees can get expensive.
If you do not have permission to use the music and you use it anyway, the consequences can be severe, however.
Without permission to play the music on your website, you could face the following:
- Legal troubles for copyright infringement
- Massive fees
- Your website being blocked or muted
- Having your website reported and taken down
Costs to Play Music Legally
Licensing a song can vary in cost based on who holds the copyright licenses. An independent artist may agree to costs around $100 for the song, while a major recording artist is likely to ask for tens of thousands of dollars and possible royalties on top of this cost.
You can obtain permission to use music on your website through membership with a PRO. The costs for these memberships can also vary.
For example, an ASCAP annual license agreement ranges from $286 to $1,499 based on how many hits your website receives and its revenue. A BMI license is similar, ranging from $250 all the way up to $2,000. A SESAC license also varies in cost, and royalties are expected for each time the song is played.
Alternatives to Getting Permission
There are some additional ways to play music legally on your website without obtaining a copyright license directly. This includes:
- Using music in the public domain.
- Subscribing to a service that offers royalty-free music.
- Using music under a Creative Commons (CC) license.
Music in the public domain is not subject to copyright. It generally includes music with copyrights that have expired. As of now, any music made prior to 1925 is free to use and in the public domain.
Music that is under a CC license is also typically free to use as long as you credit the composer, musician, or creator.
There are also a variety of sites and services that offer royalty-free music for a monthly or annual subscription fee. These services already have the licensing you need to use the music legally. By paying for the service, you have permission to use the music as you would like.
You can often buy just the track you are looking for or subscribe to the service for unlimited access to their music catalog.
Can you play music on your website legally?
Yes, you can play music on your website if you obtain the proper permission or licensing.
Do I need a license to play music on my website?
You either need a license or you need to use music that is royalty free, under a Creative Commons license, or in the public domain.
What happens if I do not have a license to play music on my website?
If you do not have the proper legal permission to play the music on your website, you can be sued for copyright infringement and risk having your website taken down, blocked, or muted.
Are there other options besides getting legal permission directly?
The alternatives to obtaining copyright licenses and permissions include using music in the public domain, under a CC license, or subscribing to a royalty-free music service.
What Musicians Should Know About Copyright. U.S. Copyright Office.
ASCAP Music Licensing for Websites & Mobile Apps. The ASCAP Foundation.
Music Users. (2022). Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).
About SESAC. (2022). SESAC Performing Rights, LLC.
The Lifecycle of Copyright: 1925 Works Enter the Public Domain. (January 2021). U.S. Library of Congress.