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Information courtesy of the National Restaurant Association


What Kind of Music Do You Play In Your Restaurant?

  • Tapes
  • Compact Discs
  • Live Performance
  • Juke Boxes
  • DVD's
  • Music on Hold
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Karaoke
  • DJ's/Dancing


Most Restaurant Operators play music in their establishments for the enjoyment of their customers. In the case of recorded music, the performance rights are generally owned by one of the performance rights societies, such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI) and SESAC, Inc. These societies offer license agreements to commercial establishments for the privilege of playing music composed or performed by those copyright owners whose performing rights these societies hold. The fees charged generally depend upon such factors as whether music is recorded or live, room occupancy and whether dancing is permitted.


Restaurateurs can avoid entering into license agreements with the performing rights societies by instead entering with an agreement with a background music provider, such as MUZAK. Such providers enter into agreements with the performing rights societies so that the restaurant operator does not have to pay a fee to the societies. The operator can expect, however, to pay substantial fees to the background music provider. Another way to avoid entering into license agreements with the music licensing society is by installing a coin-operated jukebox. The restaurant operator, however, cannot charge an admission fee to his or her establishment and the jukebox must be licensed by a licensed operator, such as the Jukebox License Office in Nashville, TN (800-955-JUKE) which involves a fee.Restaurant operators have often asked if it is possible to be licensed by only one of the societies. The answer is theoretically "yes", but this may be difficult in practice since it would require that the operator play only the music of one of the societies. Since ASCAP and BMI each have repertoire of over a million songs, it would be very difficult to play the music of only one society, whether the music played is live is recorded.If you are playing copyrighted music in your restaurant, you need to pay. The penalties for not doing so are severe. Under copyright law, however, some restaurants are exempt from paying royalties on radio and television music only. 

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