Playing music in a public setting, like in a business or at an event, comes with legal guidelines.

If you play music in certain settings without securing the right license to do so, you could be subject to fines.

We’ve outlined different scenarios and whether it’s legal to play music in these situations.

Scenario 1: You play music in your business using a personal streaming account.

You've signed up as an individual with Pandora or Spotify, and you've plugged your business sound system into your account. That setup takes just minutes, and you're prepared to play your personal selection of music for all of your customers. 

Unfortunately, that use isn't legal. Personal accounts from companies like Spotify are made for individual use. That information is often included in the fine print of the app, although it is easy to overlook. Signing up for the app lets you play music for yourself, not for your customers. If you make this decision, you could get sued. 

That happened to a company in Charlotte, according to The Charlotte Observer. The owner of the business thought he was protected when he played songs using Spotify and Pandora, but he was hit with a lawsuit for $150,000.

Play legal music in your business. Cloud Cover Music offers a wide variety of clean, ad free music with an easy to use interface.

Scenario 2: You are holding a work event, and you assume the band has a license to play the songs.

According to BMI, it is the responsibility of the business to get a license for public performances that benefit that business. That means you will need to secure the paperwork and ensure that the music played adheres to the agreements spelled out in that paperwork.

If you are caught, the companies that hold the copyright will come after you, not the musicians. 

Scenario 3: You are using music as a teaching aid.

If you're pulling together a course, either for young students or adult learners, you might use music to help:

  • Set the tone for the lesson.
  • Demonstrate a musical concept. 
  • Explain a specific point in time. 
  • Provide a pop of color to a dull lesson.

According to BMI, you will not need a license if you work for a nonprofit institution, and you are teaching the course in a face-to-face format. If you are using any kind of distance learning, or you work for a for-profit institution, you will absolutely need a license. 

Scenario 4: You want to use music during your charity event.

If you work for a nonprofit institution, and you'd like to use music during a big event, you may be able to play any kind of music you want to play without a license. But the rules are very strict. 

According to BMI, you cannot charge admission to the event. You also cannot use the event for any kind of commercial advantage or private financial gain. And, if the person who holds the copyright finds out about the event and sends you a letter of objection, you cannot play that person's music. 

Scenario 5: You want to use music during your business seminar.

If your company is holding a seminar, convention, or another similar learning event, you will need to get a license for the music you play, according to ASCAP. Presumably, there would be an exception for companies that work on a nonprofit status, but again, if you charge admission to the event, even a nonprofit would need to get a license for the music played.

Can I Stream Music at My Small Business?

You need the proper license to legally play music at your business, even if it’s a small business with few customers.

If you work alone in an office, you can play music from your personal streaming service because you are the only person listening to that music. But if employees or customers are also in the space, this becomes a public performance, and you must have appropriate licensing to legally play that same music.

In this scenario, you must license the music for commercial use. If you use a music-for-business streaming service, you will be legally covered.

How to Legally Stream Music at a Company Event

In order to legally stream music at a company event, you’ll need to have proper licensing to play the songs since this event is considered a public performance.

There are some songs you can play without a license, such as music that is in the public domain or music with free licenses. However, chances are most songs you would want to play at your company event will require a license.

You can contact the major performing rights organizations (PROs) yourself to secure the rights to the specific songs you want to play, or you can work with a professional streaming service. The latter option is much easier and often less expensive.

Your personal streaming account, such as Spotify or Pandora, is not enough. You’ll need a commercial streaming account, often defined as a “music for business” or professional streaming account, to legally play most music at your event.

Can You Skip These Rules?

Understanding licensing laws isn't easy, and it can be tempting to simply do what you want to do and hope you won't get caught. That isn't wise. 

Most consumers come to events, classes, seminars, and festivals armed with smartphones. They can post video clips in seconds. A clever representative of a company like BMI or ASCAP needs only to look at that clip for proof that you are using music without a license, and the law is on their side if they take you to court. 

Let Cloud Cover Music Handle Your Streaming Needs

We can help. At Cloud Cover Music, we can provide you with the right soundtrack for your day-to-day business needs, and we can help you pull together special lists made for your occasional events.

All of our music is protected, so you will not be subject to lawsuits. That will allow you to focus on putting together the best event, and pleasing your customers every day, without worrying about when the next court summons will hit your desk.