How to License your Venue for Live Music

by Brian B.

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If you own a bar, night club, or other venue hosting live music, you might want to protect your business from copyright complaints by getting properly licensed.

The rule of thumb is, if you have a cover band or a tribute band playing well recognized songs, you need a license.  For new, local musicians playing their own independently composed music, probably no license is required.  (If you really want the gory details, don’t take our word for it, go talk to a lawyer!)

Don’t Cover Bands Have their Own License?

Actually, no.  Each location where they play has to have its own license for that performance.

Who’s Gonna Know?

If you host cover band or tribute band shows without a license, you’re not alone.  But you could get in trouble with a major licensing company.  They send out agents to find performances and coax venue managers into getting properly licensed.  The “coaxing” may involve large fines.

What Does This all Cost?

We called two of the major licensors, ASCAP and BMI, to get quotes for a new venue.  (SESSAC is another licensor; we didn’t call them.)  We asked about a venue with the following features:

  • Free to $5 average cover charge
  • 100-150 person capacity
  • Live music on Friday and Saturday nights
  • Recorded music all other nights

The formula seems to be a closely guarded secret, but here are some data points from ASCAP:

No cover $5 cover
100 capacity $698 $891
150 capacity $1,047 $1,336

Those fees cover you for a year. You can play the licensor’s entire library 24-7.  The fees are reduced by 10% off if you pay in the first 30 days, but you can also pay as you go.

The numbers for BMI are similar: any venue up to 150 would be $1,125/yr with no cover, or $1,282 with a $5 cover.

That’s kind-of a lot of money for a small business, so you want to make a careful decision about whether you need one or both licenses.  If you do decide to get licensed, they can waive their copyright wand and have it done in 10 minutes.  If you decide not to, you’ll want to keep your music selection to local artists who are just happy to be heard.

The Rules are crazy complicated

It matters to the licensors whether your recorded music is played from CD’s or the radio, among a host of other factors.  For more information, poke around at:

5 Responses to How to License your Venue for Live Music

  1. Mark says:

    I’m a solo musician playing cover songs. How about a license structure for me as an individual so I could perform at a venue without an ASCAP/BMI license?

Thoughts?