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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Spiller

Simplifying PRO Music Licenses for Restaurants, Bars, and Entertainment Venues

Updated: Dec 31

A picture of the inside of a bar and entertainment venue

Picture this: you're a restaurant owner, bar manager, or live venue operator, and you want to create the perfect atmosphere for your patrons. Music is the key to setting the mood and enhancing the overall experience. But before you start playing your favorite tunes, it's crucial to understand the intricacies of music licensing.

This blog post will be your guide through the world of music licensing for restaurants, bars, and other venues. We'll explore the roles of performing rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Global Music Rights, delve into the types of licenses available, and discuss why having an entertainment lawyer can be your best ally in navigating this complex landscape.

What are PROs?

Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) collect and distribute royalties to songwriters, composers, and music publishers when their music is publicly performed. They act as intermediaries between businesses and music creators, ensuring that artists receive fair compensation for the use of their music. Specifically, PROSs

  • License the public performance rights of musical compositions

  • Collect license fees from businesses that use music

  • Distribute royalties to the respective copyright holders

Who are the PROs?

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers):

ASCAP is one of the oldest and most well-known PROs in the United States. It represents over 750,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers. ASCAP licenses the public performance rights for a vast catalog of music, ensuring that artists receive royalties when their music is played in various venues.

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)

BMI is another prominent PRO, representing more than 1.1 million songwriters, composers, and music publishers. Like ASCAP, BMI licenses public performance rights and collects royalties on behalf of its members. By obtaining a BMI license, restaurants, bars, and venues can legally play music from the BMI catalog.

SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)

SESAC is a smaller PRO compared to ASCAP and BMI, but it represents a diverse group of songwriters and composers. SESAC offers licenses for the public performance of its members' music, ensuring they receive fair compensation when their work is played in public establishments.

Global Music Rights

Global Music Rights (GMR) is a newer player in the PRO arena. Founded by music industry veteran Irving Azoff, GMR represents a select group of high-profile songwriters and artists. It focuses on licensing its works to various businesses, including restaurants, bars, and venues.

Types of PRO Licenses

There are two primary types of PRO licenses relevant to your business:

  • Blanket License: A blanket license allows you to play a vast catalog of songs from the PRO's repertoire. It simplifies the process for businesses that want to play a wide variety of music. With a blanket license, you gain access to a vast pool of music, ensuring you're covered for most songs played in your establishment.

  • Per Program License: If you prefer a more tailored approach, you can obtain a per-program license. This type of license allows you to pay for specific performances or events. It's ideal for venues that host occasional live performances or themed music nights.

Licensing Process

The process of obtaining a PRO license typically involves the following steps:

  • Identify the PRO that represents the music creators whose works you plan to use. Common PROs include ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

  • Contact the chosen PRO to discuss your licensing needs and request the appropriate license type (blanket or per program).

  • Pay the required license fees, which are typically based on factors such as your venue's size, capacity, and the frequency of music performances.

The Importance of Having a Music Licensing Lawyer

While obtaining PRO licenses may seem straightforward, having a lawyer on your side can be invaluable for several reasons:

1. Expert Guidance

An attorney with expertise in entertainment law understands the intricacies of music licensing and can provide you with tailored advice. They can help you select the right type of license, ensuring you have the coverage you need while avoiding unnecessary expenses.

2. Handling Disputes

Issues with PROs can arise from time to time. Perhaps there's a dispute over the licensing fees, or you're facing allegations of unlicensed music use. In such cases, an attorney can be your advocate. They can negotiate with the PRO on your behalf and work towards a resolution that protects your interests.

3. Customized Agreements

If you have unique requirements or want to negotiate specific terms with the PRO, an attorney can assist you in crafting customized agreements. These agreements can address your business's specific needs and ensure that you're getting the best possible licensing deal.

Resolving Issues with PROs

Let's delve deeper into how having a lawyer can help resolve issues that may arise with PROs.

License Fee Disputes

If you believe that the license fees demanded by a PRO are unreasonable or inaccurate, your attorney can review the terms of the license and negotiate a fair fee. They can also help you gather evidence to support your case.

Compliance Audits

PROs may conduct audits to verify compliance with licensing agreements. An attorney can guide you through the audit process, ensuring that your business is fully prepared and compliant. They can also help address any issues that may arise during the audit.

Allegations of Copyright Infringement

If you're accused of copyright infringement by a PRO or a copyright holder, an attorney can assess the validity of the claim and provide you with legal options. They can negotiate on your behalf and work towards a resolution that minimizes potential legal and financial consequences.


Music is a powerful tool for creating ambiance and enhancing the customer experience in restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. However, it's essential to navigate the realm of PRO licenses to ensure that your business operates legally and ethically. Understanding the role of PROs, obtaining the right licenses, and having an attorney to guide you through the process and resolve any issues are key steps in your journey. The right legal counsel can help you maintain a harmonious relationship with PROs, protect your business interests, and ensure that the music keeps playing in your establishment.

Spiller Law is an advisor to startup businesses, entertainment and media companies, and artists. Feel free to schedule a free consultation.


Spiller Law is a San Francisco business, entertainment, and estate planning law firm. We serve clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and California. Feel free to arrange a free consultation using the Schedule Appointment link on our website. For other questions, call our offices at 415-991-7298.


The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers are advised to consult with their legal counsel for specific advice.


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