Business Music Guide

Understanding Music Use in Business

This page is meant to help you understand the use of music in business. What you can and can't do, etc. I'm not a music lawyer, but I have some knowledge about music rights and can search google for the right things in law to help guide you.

If you don't have any idea about use of music in business, don't worry, most people don't. I'll try and explain things in as much detail as I can in simple terms.

When you buy a CD, or a music download, or subscribe to spotify, the terms of your agreement for those things is for "personal use". Using that music in your business is beyond the accepted terms of use on consumer music. Even though music is obliviously viewed as "free" on the radio, and cheap to buy for .99 cents a song. You don't have the right to use that music in your business, because you haven't asked for permission to do so.

Let's start with what music actually costs to create. There is a composer, who spends hours putting notes on a page for the music to be played, sometimes a writer who spends hours crafting lyrics. Then there's talented skilled musicians who have to spend hours practicing for a performance in the studio. Then there's the cost of the musicians labor, and the cost of the studio time to come up with a finished song. This is a far cry from being "free", in fact a good production can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars in labor and studio time.

That produced song has multiple ownership rights to it. The composer and lyrist who created the music own the "intellectual property rights". In order to use a song, you need to ask for their permission. The work put in by the musicians into the recording studio made a "master recording". Whatever company or investor paid to have that done usually controls the physical right to use the recording. In order to use the recording, you need to ask them for permission as well.

Does it sound complicated yet? Wait it gets worse. Here we are just talking about the control of one song. What if you wanted to play any song you wanted to? For that the U.S. has agencies called performance rights organizations. They collect royalties due to composers and songwriters and distribute them. For a business to be able to play performances of music of any song they wish, they need to belong to ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC at a cost averaging $1000 per each organization. However, this only gives you the right for public performance or to play the music, not use of a master recording to use in a video, advertising, or other production type work. For that you would have to clear rights or permission from the owner of the master recording still.

Boy that sounds like too much to even bother with, why can't I just play my music CD's?

It's all about asking and obtaining permission. Let's put it this way. If you walked into a hardware store or equipment rental store, or walked over to your neighbor's house, grabbed a shovel and walked out, used the shovel for a few days, a few months or a year, and then brought it back and never said a word, would the owner of the shovel be too happy?

Of course not! And you shouldn't be too proud of yourself about it either.

The laws of the U.S. protect the rights of composers against copyright infringement or using intellectual property without permission. Violators can be held liable for up to $150,000 per violation for each song, plus they are also responsible to pay all of the copyright owners attorney's fees. Any smart business person would be wise to avoid that kind of liability.

What about playing the radio? Sure, believe it or not that's legal for any business with up to 2,000 square feet of space. If your business space is larger than that you are required by law to provide music by another legal means.

If you would like to review my audio catalog in search for music ready to license, click here. Contact me by email at with any questions about licensing.


Please don't hesitate to send me an email at I love to hear from people that are enjoying my music and I like to hear from aspiring guitarists.