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A Guide to Music Licensing in the Brewery Taproom

Do you really need a license? (Spoiler: probably)

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Setting the mood with the right music in your taproom is very important. It helps new and returning patrons to understand the “vibe” and identity of your brewery, inspire creativity, and helps conversations to flow naturally. And some might say it even enhances the taste of your beer!

In fact, a recent study conducted by a Belgian researcher uncovered that those who listen to music while drinking their beer find the highest level of enjoyment in the experience. And different types of music influence what flavors people taste when drinking their beer. 

Still, there are quite a few legal ramifications that come with playing music in a place of business (even if it’s live, original music), which is why it’s crucial to understand how music licensing works before you hit the play button. So, how do you as a business ensure you’re not breaking any laws when playing your favorite tunes in the brewery taproom? Here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know.*

Because music is governed under federal copyright law, there are certain rights that the copyright owner or holder is granted. Once you’ve purchased and been granted a license, you become the holder and have the following rights:

  • The right to reproduce the copyrighted work
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public
  • The right to perform the copyrighted work publicly
  • The right to display the copyrighted work publicly

Technically, to “perform” the copyrighted work also refers to playing music in a public setting, such as your brewery’s taproom. This includes both pre-recorded music playing over the speakers as well as any live shows you may host. Now, let’s talk about licenses. 

Learning About Licenses

We’ve already established that in order to play music in your brewery (or to allow bands to cover songs), you will likely need to secure a license. But where does one procure such a license? 

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) help to protect musicians, composers, and songwriters’ intellectual property and ensure that they are properly compensated for its use. There are three main PROs that you can purchase a license from. 

These organizations closely monitor infringements, so it’s important to get set up with the right license right from the start. Getting the right licenses and maintaining them can be a hassle, but doing so can help you avoid costly fines and legal issues.

Knowing When You Need a License 

Now, there are some instances where you won’t need a license. Under the U.S. Copyright Act, a brewery can be exempt from needing a license for music played via radio, TV, cable, and/or satellite sources if any of the following things apply:

  • If your space is smaller than 3,750 square feet, which includes all interior and exterior space used for customer service, production, taprooms, outdoor patios, bathrooms, etc. — this does exclude customer parking unless it’s used for entertaining guests 
  • If your space is 3,750 square feet or more but only uses six loudspeakers of which no more than four loudspeakers are located in any single room or adjoining outdoor space

If neither of these situations apply to your brewery, you will need to secure licensing. Here are a few other stipulations that solidifies your business is in need of a copyright license:

  • If your business exceeds 3,750 square feet and you use more than six loudspeakers, with four or more located in a single room or adjoining outdoor space 
  • If you are charging a cover to enter the establishment (including for live music)
  • If you are playing hold music on your phone system
  • If you are broadcasting through more than four TVs, or via more than one TV in any one room
  • If any of your TVs have a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches

Plus, other broadcasts of licensed music will require the appropriate licenses, no matter the size of your brewery. Get more guidelines on music licensing requirements from the Brewers Association.

Types of Music Licenses Breweries May Need

There are a few different types of music licenses that a brewery owner might need to obtain in order to legally play copyrighted music in their taproom.

  • Public Performance License: This license is required for any business that plays copyrighted music over a loudspeaker system, or any other type of “public performance” of music. This would include playing music over the radio or streaming it through services like Spotify or Pandora in a public space. The main organizations that issue these licenses are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, who represent the rights of songwriters, composers and music publishers.
  • Mechanical License: This license is necessary when a brewery owner wants to make and distribute copies of copyrighted music, for example, playing music from a CD or MP3 in their taproom. This license is typically obtained from the Harry Fox Agency, which represents the rights of music publishers.
  • Synchronization License: This license is required when a brewery owner wants to use copyrighted music in conjunction with visual media, such as playing a music video on a TV screen in the taproom. These licenses are typically obtained directly from the copyright holder or their representative.
  • Master Use License: This license is required when a brewery owner wants to use a specific recording of a copyrighted song, typically obtained directly from the record label or artist representative.

Hosting Live Performances

If you’re hoping to have live music in your taproom, you are responsible for the licensing fees of the songs that will be played in your establishment. Even local bands and musicians sign up with PROs, and if they intend to play any cover songs, they will need to be covered under your license. 

PRO provided licenses cover the music itself, not the performer, so be sure to get a set list and check it ahead of the gig. Be sure to remind the band or musician that they need to stick to the agreed upon set list, because you as the business will be held responsible for any copyright violations. 

Obtaining a License

Obtaining a license can be as simple as visiting the website of your chosen PRO and selecting the appropriate license. The cost of the license will depend on a few variables, such as the size of your brewery, customer capacity, how often music is being played, etc.

Once you’ve purchased that license, you have the right to entertain your customers, guests, and employees with a large musical repertoire. But be sure to understand what music is covered under the specific PRO you’ve chosen (musicians can only sign up with one PRO), as each one will cover different music, and is not a blanket license for every song out there. 

Another option is to explore business accounts with music streaming services like Sirius Radio, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, etc. as some will include music licensing in their subscription rate for business accounts (note: this is different from a personal streaming account!). However, it’s crucial to ensure that this is the case before playing it in your taproom. Infringement penalties can be costly!

Doing Your Own Research

Before you start blasting that music around the brewery, do your own research on the license that is going to meet your specific needs. Laws and regulations can change over time, so it’s always a good idea to check with the relevant organizations and government agencies to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information. Here are some additional resources to help you determine which PRO or performance license is going to work best for your business. 

*Please note that the information in this post is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. In case of any legal issues, it’s always recommended to seek legal advice from a lawyer specialized in copyright law.

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