Music Licensing: You've Got to Pay to Play
But if you are set on playing certain songs -- especially ones performed by popular singers who don't do their own songwriting -- you'll have to some research, tracking down the songwriter for each tune. If they belong to different rights agencies, you'll have to pay for more than one license to broadcast your ideal playlist. If you want to play songs written by Bob Dylan, you've got to go through Sesac. Songs written by country star Taylor Swift require a license from BMI, while fans of pop diva (and songwriter) Katy Perry will need to get a license from Ascap to play her biggest hits.
It may seem like a big hassle. Small businesses are understandably reluctant to take on more expenses, and the easiest, most economical solution is to simply not play music. You could also take advantage of a small-business exemption that allows restaurants or bars that are 3,750 square feet or smaller to broadcast a radio station with no licensing costs, as long as there are no more than four speakers per room; retail establishments of 2,000 square feet or less have the same privilege.
But if you believe the right, custom-chosen music creates an atmosphere that attracts or retains customers, you're acknowledging it has value. Therefore, it should be paid for."It's like if you go to a nice restaurant," Candilora says. "They use parsley, even though it's not on the menu, because it adds something to the taste of a dish or the presentation. It's the same for music; it adds to the ambience." Licensing fees vary according to the size of the establishment, how often the music is being played and how many people are likely to hear it. The average licensing fee for restaurants and stores through Ascap is about $600 a year. Candilora estimates that his organization files between 250 and 300 copyright infringement lawsuits every year, but the vast majority of businesses who are caught playing unlicensed music settle quickly. "Here's how I explain it if I'm visiting a bar," he says. "I tell them I can go across the street to a liquor store, buy a bottle of wine, take it home and drink it in private with no problem. But if someone wants to come in here and drink that same bottle of wine, the establishment needs to have a license. It's the same with music: You need a license to play it." While some may grumble about music licensing as an added expense, paying that license is ultimately a gesture of support for fellow entrepreneurs. Songwriters depend on licensing fees to make a living through their work. Isn't that something we should all support? >To submit a news tip, email: email@example.com.
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