What is a Background Music License?
Anytime a piece of music live or recorded is played in a public setting, it is legally considered a 'Public Performance'. A background music license is under the umbrella of public performance licenses, but only for pre-recorded background music, through PROs (Performing Rights Organization, which includes organizations such as SESAC, ASCAP, and BMI) that covers the royalties and copyrights for the songs played in public places within certain restrictions. These licenses make sure that artists are paid for their music being played and ensure that businesses aren’t fined or sued for illegal usage of songs (according to copyright law; you can see more information on this here: https://cloudcovermusic.com/music-licensing-guide/)
A background music license from Cloud Cover Music covers all songs played through the CCM platform, played in public areas. There cannot be an entry fee to access the area the music is being played in, nor can the music be integral to the activity taking place (such as in gym classes like Zumba or karaoke). A background music license also does not cover liver performances, cover artists, DJs, or any video recording or live-recordings with background music. In these cases, you may want to seek out royalty-free music or directly license music through a PRO.
Due to the nature of a background music license, it does not allow for song-for-song building of a playlist, nor does it allow you to make queues of songs or artists to play. Cloud Cover Music does offer many varied stations curated by our fantastic Ethnomusicologists, sorted by genre, rating, energy level, and even general mood or business type!
You can then create custom Mix Stations from these, and even search through our Station Guide pdf if you’d like to see more in depth descriptions and what kinds of artists you can expect to see on the stations. (You can also see all this information in Tune under the MUSIC tab by hovering over the stations and clicking “Preview” for each station.)
Why can’t I just stream from my Pandora, Spotify, or Apple Music, account?
Whether it’s a paid account or free, all these accounts are considered “personal use” only, and aren’t licensed for business use. Some of these also have “for Business” options as well, but they are separate accounts that require purchase and subscription separately and would be transparent about what they do and do not cover. If you are unsure if you are licensed through a “for Business” account through your music provider, you should reach out to them directly and confirm with them.
A personal use account and a business account cannot be used interchangeably and if you are caught by a PRO using a personal account at a place of business, you may be subject to large fines.
Do I need a background music license?
If you are a business with a physical, public-facing space, and playing any kind of music from any source (even a radio, TV, or a personal CD or vinyl you own) you should double-check to see whether you meet the requirements for exemption or not. If you do not meet the requirements, then you must have a license to play music in your place of business.
A background music license is ideal for places such as lobbies, restaurants, leasing offices, and many more places that would seem too quiet without any music playing in the background, but don’t require a specific playlist of songs to be played in a specific order. (If you do require a specific playlist, or need to choose song-for-song what will be played, it may be best to license these songs directly from a PRO for your use, or to check with a PRO for what kind of license would fit your situation the best!)
What is exempt from paying licensing?
If your business is broadcasting live music, karaoke, CDs, digital files, or DVDs, then you generally have to pay to use music in your business (unless you’re covered under your music provider).
There are a few exceptions, but please take note that the following exempt businesses cannot directly charge their customers to see or hear the music originating from the radio or TV, nor can the music be transmitted beyond the business establishment. They must also be sure that the music has been licensed by their respective copyright owners or PROs.
Most importantly, the music coming from a radio station or TV channel must be broadcasted by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). This limited selection can make it harder to control your music selection or music library.
These two types of exempt businesses are:
Foodservice or drinking establishments (a restaurant, inn, bar, tavern, or any other similar place of business in which the public is being served food or drink)
With less than 3750 gross square feet of space, or
With 3750 gross square feet of space or more, and Less than 6 loudspeakers (no more than 4 loudspeakers per room) and Less than 4 televisions (1 per room) with a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches.
Other establishments (e.g. a retail store, office, etc.)
With less than 2000 gross square feet of space, or
With 2000 or more gross square feet of space and satisfies the same loudspeaker and television set requirements as for food service or drinking establishments (see above).
For more information, check out Section 110(5)(B).
Can I use a background music license for my gym?
If you have a general area where the public can hang out and not pay while the music is playing in the background, you may be able to play music there under our licensing. If you just offer fitness classes like yoga or Pilates where the music is essential, then you wouldn't be covered with us.
Generally, Cloud Cover Music’s licenses cover all background music in common areas of gyms, fitness centers and trampoline parks. Common areas are generally lobbies, hallways, locker rooms, offices and general workout areas etc…
What specifically is not covered is music that is customized and selected for use in a specific activity within the premise, such as a spin or aerobics class (often being taught in a studio where the music is central or integral to the class activity).
Do you cover videos? What about Twitch, TikTok, YouTube, or the Metaverse?
No, unfortunately, we do not over any licenses other than the background music license for businesses with physical spaces. For content creators, you can use original music that is owned by you. You can use copyrighted music that you have already licensed from a PRO.
Another option you may want to try, is searching for "pre-cleared production music" in your preferred search engine online, and also check out these sites that offer services like this as well: https://www.epidemicsound.com or https://www.monstercat.com/licensing/content-creators. “Royalty-free” music and similar search terms may also give you sites that offer inexpensive or free music you can use for your content as well.
Do you license cover songs?
We do not license cover songs. In copyright law, a mechanical license is a license from the holder of a copyright of a composition or musical work, to another party to create a "cover song", reproduce, or sample a portion of the original composition. It applies to copyrighted work that is neither a free/open-source item nor in the public domain.
For mechanical licenses, you should reach out to the Harry Fox Agency. Their agency is a provider of rights management and collector and distributor of mechanical license fees on behalf of music publishers in the United States.
I want to play a specific song, playlist, CD, or set, what license do I need?
It depends! The type of licensing you need can be a little nebulous, as it all depends on the types of songs, what event(s) you’re playing it for, how you’re going to be playing it (as in, will it be live performed or pre-recorded), and will it be recurring or a one-time deal?
Because all of these questions and answers can change based on circumstances, it’s best to get into contact with a PRO directly to figure out what kind of licensing would be best for you.
What is in the Public Domain?
If there is a specific song you're looking for, you can search for it here: https://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.php If you don't see it here, then it most likely is not public domain and will require some kind of licensing to use. If you don't want to pay licensing, there are a number of Royalty Free Music (RFM) sites that provide sounds and music for free or at a cheaper rate than licensed music.
How do I contact a PRO?
You can go directly to their websites or call them to speak with them about the licensing they offer.
How do I know what PRO owns the copyright to the song(s) I want to license?
If you're looking for a specific song or artist, many Copyright Alliance members (of which BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC are) have comprehensive databases that may be able to help you find a copyright owner. You can see them all here along with more copyright information: https://copyrightalliance.org/resources/find-a-copyright-ownercreator/
Or if you want to search their repertories directly: