Let’s face the facts: music in restaurants makes the entire atmosphere and dining experience much more enjoyable! Silenced rooms leave awkward moments and turn private conversations public very quickly. If you aren’t offering music to your restaurant guests you could be negatively affecting your business. It’s really no secret – background music is essential to business.

Thanks to new technology and online streaming, it’s now easier than ever before to access all kinds of music. However, the way artists sell their music is also entirely different today than it was twenty years ago, so it’s important to understand all of the licensing laws and regulations. The restaurant industry is an easy target for copyright infringement claims, so before you hit play in your restaurant, make sure you’re fully protected.

We’ll walk you through all the licensing laws, fees, and common questions you may have about playing music in restaurants.

Music Licensing & Performance Rights Organizations

Music is such a huge part of our everyday lives that we typically think of it as being “free” entertainment. It’s actually not free, however;  it’s a commodity that’s protected by copyright law.

Performance Rights Organizations (PRO’s) are used to control public performance licenses. A “public performance” is one that happens in a public space where people gather, or it can be a transmission to the public such as TV or radio. The PRO’s role is to represent songwriters and negotiate licenses to restaurants, shopping centers, stores, bars, music venues, radio stations, and TV. PRO’s are also in charge of monitoring the spaces and making sure the organizations are following the correct rules and regulations in place.


There are four main Performance Rights Organizations in the United States that represent millions of artists and musical pieces. These are the “go-between” companies for artists and the businesses that play their music in public places. As a restaurant owner, you pay the PRO’s, and the money gets passed onto the artists for use of their work.

  • ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers)
  • SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)
  • BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)
  • GMR (Global Music Rights)

So what’s the bottom line? If you want to play music from an artist who’s a part of one of these Performance Rights Organizations in your restaurant, you need to obtain a license from them before doing so. 

Paying the Licensing Laws Fees: Penalties & How To

What Happens if I Don’t Pay?

It’s a slippery slope if you choose to not pay the licensing laws fees for your restaurant. Artists work hard to produce music, and by paying the fees you’re supporting them and allowing them to create new music. Since there are so many businesses in the U.S., some will slip through the cracks and not get caught. However, it’s a daily gamble that could cost you a ton of money in the long run.

If you’re still considering not paying, consider this as well: you could face federal penalties ranging from $750 to $150,000 if you get caught playing unauthorized music. It’s much smarter to play it safe and pay your monthly or yearly fees regularly.

How Do I Pay?

There are two main options for paying your licensing fees, so you’ll need to decide which works best for you restaurant’s needs.

1. Pay the PRO’s Directly

Choose to pay the ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or GMR directly. Each website has a list of covered music artists on their sites allowing you to play whichever artists they represent. One of the biggest downfalls to this is that you can only play approved artists from that specific company. Another option is to pay a “blanketed” licensing fee to all 4 companies, which can be pricey but would cover you from any and all types of copyright infringement.

2. Pay a Licensed Music Solution

The way this works is that you pay a music solution company a monthly or yearly fee, they provide approved music, and you can rest assured knowing that anything you play in your restaurant is completely legal and follows all licensing laws for music in restaurants. These companies provide a streaming device or system for 100% approved music. They can also tailor it to the music tastes you would like in your restaurant. It takes the guesswork and stresses off of you! These services also tend to be cheaper than going through the PRO’s, with typical prices ranging from $25-50 a month.

Common Questions About Music in Restaurants

Can I Just Use My Own (Pandora, etc.) Account?

No! The terms clearly state you must set up a specific business or legal account if you wish to play music in your restaurant. Pulling out your phone absolutely won’t cut it.

What About Live Music?

If the performers are playing their own original songs, you don’t have to pay. However, you will have to pay for any live music that’s performed that has been written by other songwriters. You’ll need the appropriate PRO’s licenses to cover your restaurant. You’ll also need certain permits depending on where your restaurant is located.

Can I Use My Own iPod using Music I’ve Paid For?

No! Under the copyright act, the mom and pop exemption (also known as the Sonny Bono Law) only applies to broadcast radio and TV in restaurants that are under 3,500 square feet. Other business types are limited to 2,500 square feet to qualify for the exemption.




If you purchase music through your phone or other devices, you’re doing so to listen to it privately. If you play music from your device, it’s considered a public performance and must be licensed.


What About Really Old Music?

If the music is before 1922, you’re absolutely fine. If it’s after this (as most music in restaurants is), it’s best to double check with the PRO’s online database to see if it’s protected by copyright or not.

Can I Negotiate with the Performance Rights Organizations?

Yes…to a certain degree. Just like other licensing laws, the amount you pay is negotiable based on many factors. Your restaurant size, how often you play music, and the number of customers you receive are all factored in. Performance Rights Organizations are willing to work with you if you’re being proactive about getting your license.

Mixhits Radio is the Music Solution Company For Your Restaurant!

Playing music in restaurants is essential to business, and it’s important that you do it right! Overall, one of the smartest things you can do is find a company that will take care of your music for you and not cut any corners. Determine what type of music you want for the atmosphere in your restaurant, and then reach out to a music solution company to find a plan that suits your restaurant, keeps you legal, and boost your customer satisfaction.

If you’re looking for the best music solution company in the business, then you’re looking for Mixhits Radio! Please contact us today to learn more about how we can find the perfect playlist for your restaurant.

Some of the world’s biggest names trust Mixhits Radio including Dunkin’ Donuts, LL Bean, Ferragamo, Ninety-Nine Restaurants, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Bad Daddy’s Burgers and more!