What is ASCAP and BMI?

A complete guide on performing rights in the US

If you’re playing music in your business, you probably know you have to pay for the right to rock those tunes. Songwriters and publishers should be paid for their work, since it’s being used to further the experience you offer with your restaurant, store or other business. But even though you might know these basic facts, performing rights is still a complicated subject! We’ve put together these points to help.

What do I need to pay for?

Simply put, you need to pay for 2 things:

  • To pipe the music into your business, i.e. a music source. This could, for example, be a stack of CDs or a professional music streaming service like Soundtrack.
  • The right to perform music to your customers. Also known as the “Public Performance Right”, which 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. This means playing music in a public place or any place where people gather (other than a small circle of family or friends), including commercial venues. PROs charge a license fee, and in return, you can play music by anyone they represent.

Remember — if you use 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).

More information about rights organizations:

Who are these Performing Rights Organizations?

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)
What’s the difference between the rights organizations?

It can be 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 organization. Hence, you’ll end up having to pay them all.

Do I need to pay every single rights organization?

Not necessarily, but you’d have to be very specific when it comes to how you use music in your business. 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.

However, 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. It gets expensive pretty quick.”

– Soundtrack

If I pay all the PROs, can I play whatever I want?

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. If you’d use one of these services and still pay the relevant PROs, you’d still be potentially liable for copyright infringement.

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 (CD’s, streaming), how many customers you have—as well as a number of other factors. Even the number of speakers is sometimes used.

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 GMR.

Calculate ASCAP and BMI

How does Soundtrack make things easier?

We have one, single payment that covers both the streaming itself as well as any necessary public performing rights. 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. Simply put – with Soundtrack you get 1 receipt instead of 3.

Not only that—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 for them either—the artists you play are the ones getting paid.

Can I lower the cost of ASCAP and BMI?

As the service is already bundled with ASCAP and BMI licensing, you could actually save a lot of money compared to if you were paying the PROs separately.

Let’s round this off with an example. Say you have an average sized retail store with 6 speakers throughout the premises – this is what your cost savings could be, should you choose to use Soundtrack with both ASCAP and BMI licensing included.

  • schedule your music
  • 450+ ready-made playlists
  • create customized stations
  • turn Spotify playlists into stations
  • explicit-lyrics filter
  • licensed and legit
  • works with Sonos



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