How to Obtain Performance Music Licensing

May 25, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was honored to have a guest article published in PlagiarismToday, and greatly appreciate Jonathan Bailey giving me the opportunity to write about performance rights license. We have featured Mr. Bailey’s articles as a guest author at TCC. Here is an excerpt from the article. Click here to read the full article.

BY SUSAN FONTAINE GODWIN: Music performance rights represent a fairly simple concept, but one that is often misunderstood. Part of the confusion may emanate from the fact that “public performance” is just one of six exclusive rights controlled by a song owner. For example, the performance right is different than the right to copy or reproduce a song on your own recording, and the required licenses for these two rights are quite different. (Read more about exclusive rights in Copyrights 101)

Let’s look at some brief definitions to help lay the groundwork for understanding performance licensing. First, the legal definition of a public performance is:

An instance of music being performed “in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.”

A performance license grants permission to have these public performances, whether it is a live performance or playing of pre-recorded music.

Most performance licenses are controlled and managed by performing rights organizations or “PROs.” The three PROs in the United States are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Most countries have just one performance rights agency. Every songwriter and publisher who wants to be paid performance royalties is registered with one of these three organizations, which collectively represent more than 20 million songs. PROs collect performance license fees for a wide range of public performance, such as Internet streaming, radio and TV broadcasts, social events, coffee shops, restaurants, public buildings, stadiums and concert venues.

If you’re performing music live or playing music from a recording or streaming service, a performance license from song owners or their authorized PRO is required. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have excellent websites, where you can submit an online license application based on your type of organization or business (e.g., dance studio, church, restaurant, radio, TV station) for your specific performance uses, and make an online payment for purchase, which is usually an annual fee, unless your event is a one-time concert. You will need to go to all three PROs and get each one of the PRO’s individual licenses in order to have comprehensive music coverage.

Each PRO offers a variety of licenses, like music-on-hold, mobile and website, concert, radio, TV, general licensing for stores, restaurants, bowling alleys, and other businesses.


CCS’s Founder and CVO, Susan Fontaine Godwin is an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 30 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration and copyright management. Susan is an author and speaker and frequently writes for several Christian magazines and online publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.


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