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What is ASCAP and BMI?

A complete guide on performing rights in the US

If you’re playing music in your business premises, you probably know you have to pay for the right to rock those tunes.

It’s only fair. You wouldn’t want people coming and helping themselves to your stock. And in exactly the same way, songwriters and publishers want you to pay for their work.

But paying to play music in your business can be complicated.

What do I need to pay for?

You need to pay for 2 things:

  • To pipe the music into your store, i.e. a music source. This could be for example CDs or a professional music service like the one offered by Soundtrack Your Brand.
  • In addition to the music source, you also need to pay for the right to perform music to your customers. This could be called the “pipe out” and it is basically the music that comes out of your speakers. This right is called the “Public Performance Right” and is administered by so-called “Performing Rights Organisations” (PRO’s).

What is a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)?

  • A PRO works on behalf of songwriters and publishers to make sure they’re paid for their work when it’s publicly performed. Which means playing music in a public place or any place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family or friends). In order to help getting paid, the songwriters and publishers sign up with a PRO.
  • Then the PRO licenses businesses to play their music. PROs charge a license fee, and in return, you can play music by anyone they represent.
  • Remember, if you use the music they represent, and you don’t pay them, they may track you down, and you could be liable to them for copyright infringement damages.

Who are the Performing Rights Organization?

The main PROs in the US are:

  • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
  • Broadcast Music Inc (BMI).
  • Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)
  • Global Music Rights (GMR)

They all represent songwriters and publishers, licensing businesses to play their music.

What’s the difference between ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR?

  • For its members, there can be significant differences. Different PROs may offer different commercial terms to their members. The PROs are competing to represent composers.
  • For businesses, the differences include whether you pay quarterly or monthly, and how the PRO works out what you pay. The rate could be depending on square feet, numbers of speakers and so on.
  • However, these differences are — to a large extent — irrelevant because a business playing music usually needs licenses with all PROs. Why? Because in order to be able to play music in a practical way, you need all of them as it’s virtually impossible for an individual store owner to figure out what songs belong to what PRO. Hence, you’ll end up having to pay them all.

Say what?

The PROs all represent different songwriters and publishers. So if you only ever want to play one artist, you could check to see who wrote the songs that the artist performs and then find out which PRO represents them and only pay a licensing fee to that PRO. Rather academic. It’s far more likely that you want to be able to play whatever you like, whenever you like—and for that, you have to pay all organizations to get you covered. In fact, to make things even more complex, the number of PROs in the U.S. is clearly expanding.

”Streaming rights aren’t the same as performance rights (you’ll need both). Each organization carries out their own set of calculations and presents you, potentially, with a different bill each quarter or month.”

So if I pay all the PROs, I can get on with playing whatever I want?

Hold your horses there. The short answer is “yes”, as long as you don’t use a consumer streaming service, like Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube. Those consumer services have not licensed the right to pipe music into a store. They are for private use only and cannot be used in a public, commercial place.

How much do ASCAP, BMI and other PROs cost?

  • They all have different rates, depending on the size of your premises, how you’re playing music (CDs? Streaming?), how many customers you have—as well as a number of other factors. Even the number of speakers is sometimes used!
  • You need to know that streaming rights (the pipe in) aren’t the same as performance rights (the pipe out). You’ll need both. Each organization carries out its own set of calculations and presents you, potentially, with a different bill each quarter or month
  • As a ballpark, in 2018, ASCAP’s minimum annual fee is $380 for restaurants and bars and $246 for retail. BMI is in the same range. And then you have SESAC… And then you have GMR…

    Calculate ASCAP and BMI

How does Soundtrack make things easier?

You simply pay a flat monthly fee! We have one, single invoice that covers both the pipe in and the pipe out. You can be safe in the knowledge that all the rights have been taken care of so you won’t be liable for copyright infringement. We either license the rights from the PROs, or we manage our playlists and content to avoid any music which we may not have licensed. And our super-accurate systems track and enable payment to artists as well as songwriters and publishers each time a track has been played. No more estimating.

cost for ASCAP and BMI

So I wouldn’t have to pay the PROs and Soundtrack

No. We deal with PROs and publishers so that you don’t need to. Now with Soundtrack, you have a music service and rights provider all rolled up in one. Which makes life a whole lot simpler.

How much is it to sign up to Soundtrack?

  • schedule your music
  • 300+ ready-made soundtracks
  • create customized soundtracks
  • turn Spotify playlists into soundtracks
  • explicit-lyrics filter
  • licensed and legit


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