3 Key Lessons for Licensing Music at Your Next Event

Author: David McMillin       

From the moment attendees arrive for an opening session of a conference to the minute the lights come up on the closing keynote speaker, there is a common ingredient that stretches across every kind of conference: a soundtrack.

“Music creates emotional connections and it creates memories,” Andy Sharpe, CEO of SongDivision, said in the PCMA webinar “Music Licensing and Your Event: What You Need to Know.” “That’s why we use music to create energy at a reception, to bring in a feeling of sophistication, or even to create a sense of calm and focus during an education session.”

There is no question that the right melody and rhythm can set the tone for an event, but there are plenty of uncertainties about the legalities of your musical backdrop. “We know how to pay for food and beverage, lighting, and decor,” Sharpe said, “but it’s harder to know who to pay and how much to pay for pieces of music.”

To make sure you are taking the correct approach to selecting music for your meeting and properly compensating the songwriters and performers for usage, consider these three key lessons.

1) Paying for your own music is not the same as paying for your group’s music. Sharpe said that it’s easy to assume that since you paid for a subscription to a music-streaming service or you purchased a physical copy of a song, you’ve already taken care of the compensation to play the song in a group setting. “That only covers private use,” Sharpe said. “If you’re going to use it for a public event, you need the public performance license.”

So what qualifies as a “public performance”? Basically anything “outside the normal circle of a family,” Sharpe said. Since weddings involve a circle of family, organizers don’t have to pay for spinning a song in that environment. For business events, though, Sharpe said that organizers need to obtain the proper license.

2) In the U.S., there are three main parties to pay. So what entity do you contact? The artist? Their managers? Luckily, it’s much simpler. Organizers must contact performance rights organizations (PROs) to check off the proper boxes for payments. In the U.S., there are three: ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Each of these organizations represents different songwriters. However, many of the most popular songs are written by more than one person. For example, Imagine Dragons’ “Natural” has seven credited songwriters. Drake’s “In My Feelings” has nine songwriters.

In many cases, songwriters on the same songs belong to different PROs. Jessica Frost, executive director, industry relations at BMI, advised webinar viewers to obtain licenses from all three organizations. “Depending on how much music you use at your event, you should get blanket licenses from all three,” Frost said in the webinar. “[The total cost] will depend on how many attendees you have at your events.”

Those blanket licenses make an organizer’s life easy, too. They cover all the songs in the PRO’s catalog. “With your blanket license,” Sharpe said, “you can play as many songs as you want as many times as you want.”

3) The cost is quite reasonable. With millions of songs and three different checks to sign and send, you might think that proper licensing will put a major dent in your budget. Not so. In 2018, getting all three blanket licenses starts at under $700. At the end of the contract year, each PRO will ask you to report the number of attendees at your events, and your final invoice will increase to accommodate the size of your audience. There are other factors that may impact the type of license you need, including whether the event is for internal use or if it is open to outside participants. Regardless of the additional questions you have to answer, though, one fact is certain: Paying for music is the right move.

“We don’t walk into a store and steal a bottle of red wine because we’ll be serving it that night,” Sharpe said. “And we shouldn’t do that with music, either.”

Interested in obtaining the proper licensing for your organization? Click on the links below for the paperwork:

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