Background Music at the Store
I recently helped install a stereo system for a retail store in Virginia. They wanted to play background music for their customers but weren’t sure what they could play. In the US, it’s illegal to play the radio or regular CDs because those songs aren’t licensed to be played for “public performance.” (UPDATE: Thanks to John Kaufeld who corrected me in the comments regarding radio play)
What happens if you play regular music CDs at your business? You might get a visit from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), or the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). One retailer I know of was fined $7000 by ASCAP for playing music which was not properly licensed.
So how do you play music legally in the public? Here are some options.
- Purchase business-licensed music CDs. Many retailers buy muzak, the horrible elevator music, because it’s cheaper to license than the actual songs. Please don’t do this.
- Get XM Radio for Business, costing $40/month.
- Download free music from Jamendo which is under a Creative Commons license. This music is uploaded by artists that are not represented by ASCAP/BMI/SEAC. I am amazed at the number of high quality albums listed on Jamendo. My Virginia client found lots of great jazz at Jamendo and will play that at their retail store.
ASCAP is Nuts
As a side note, I am all in favor of musicians getting their due. But hearing background music in a store falls under “fair use” to me. From a music business prospective, I don’t think that many people will chose to listen to music in a store as a replacement for buying music. “Hey honey, let’s go to the mall. I feel like listening to some Lady Gaga.” Hearing music at a store promotes music purchases just like hearing it on the radio.
ASCAP goes way too far. They’ve sued Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for singing camp songs. They’ve sued cell phone users for playing ring tones. They want fees from YouTube for having background music in videos. They want fees from iTunes and Amazon for 30-second song previews. That’s not just silly. It hurts the musicians.