Music licensing can be a complicated subject. With all the music we hear everywhere, every day, many people don’t know you need permission to play music publicly. They think all you need to do is turn on a radio or hire a live band and enjoy the songs. But that’s not right … or fair.

Although songwriters and composers wholeheartedly want us to enjoy their music, they also want to be paid when that music is played publicly by a business that’s benefiting from it. Licensing fees keep songwriters and composers in the business of writing songs. Without these licensing royalties, they truly could not afford to continue to create music and pay their bills, especially since many of the songwriters who write the songs we love are not the artists performing them. And where would that leave us? Without the songs we love to shop to, eat to, workout to – in short, live our lives to. Ensuring that the creation of music continues is exactly why copyright law was written. The law entitles songwriters and composers to either grant permission, or not, to use their music publicly. It also entitles them to charge a fee.

One of the membership benefits offered by New Mexico Restaurant Association is a discount on music licensing fees.  Two of our associate members, BMI and SESAC, offer discounts to our restaurant members.  Contact them by linking below.

BMI – or via email at or via phone at 615.401.2873

SESAC – or via phone at 615.320.0055

Understanding the need for music licensing can be tricky.  The experts  have offered some great FAQ’s to help guide you.

What Is A Public Performance of Music And What Is The Performing Right?
A “public performance” of music is defined in the U.S. copyright law to include any music played outside a normal circle of friends and family. Songwriters, composers, and music publishers have the exclusive right to play their music publicly and to authorize others to do so under the copyright law. This is known as the “Performing Right”. This right was designed to enable and encourage music creators to continue to create music, much the same way that patents encourage inventors to invent. When you see the words “All Rights Reserved” on a movie that you’ve rented or purchased, you know that playing that movie before a public audience is prohibited. The same restrictions apply to music that is purchased, or live musicians that are hired to play in a public setting. Every business or organization must receive permission from the copyright owners of the music they are playing before playing it publicly.

What Is BMI?
BMI is a non-profit-making performing right organization that has been in operation for 70 years and currently distributes approximately eighty-seven cents of every dollar of all of the licensing fees collected to our affiliated copyright owners in the form of royalties. Our purpose is to license the music use of businesses and other entities in a cost-effective and convenient manner while protecting the performing right of BMl’s songwriters and composers. BMI, which is recognized in U.S. copyright law as a licensor of music, currently represents more than 475,000 copyright owners and their more than 6.5 million musical works.

What is SESAC?
Songwriters and publishers are paid royalties based on many factors, including state-of-the-art monitoring and computer database information.  SESAC is the first and only performing rights organization to pay royalties on a monthly rather than quarterly basis. SESAC utilizes a selective process when affiliating songwriters and publishers, resulting in a level of service and attention unparalleled in the industry. With an international reach and a vast repertory that spans virtually every genre of music, SESAC is the most innovative and technologically adept of the nation’s performing rights organizations.

We Have A License With Another Performing Right Organization. Do we need more than one?
A music license with a performing right organization allows you to perform only copyrighted music represented by that organization. It does not cover public performances of the award-winning music licensed by BMI. This is because each songwriter or composer may belong to only one performing right organization at any given time, so each PRO licenses a unique repertoire of music.

We Purchased Our Own iPod, CDs, and Gaming Software To Play. Isn’t This Our Property To Play Anywhere?

Although most people buy digital audio files, CDs, or games like Guitar Hero thinking they are now their property, there Is a distinction in the law between owning a copy of the music and owning the actual songs that are played. When you buy an audio file, software, or CD, even those specifically marketed for business purposes, the purchase price covers only your private listening use, regardless of how they are labeled. Once you decide to play any copyrighted music publicly, you need permission from the copyright owners.

Do We Need A License If We Only Play Original Music?
The term “original music” generally means musical works written by the performing musicians. That doesn’t mean, however, that the musicians are not affiliated with BMI or SESAC. This is because licensing organizations are the vehicles through which songwriters and composers are compensated for the public performances of their music. In addition, one of their purposes is to help foster the development of up-and-coming songwriters, many of whom perform in public areas such as yours. Many times, these performers are asked to play a song known by the general public that was written by someone else to add to the entertainment. This performance also requires permission.

If Musicians Are Playing Live Music, Aren’t They Responsible For Public Performance Fees?
Since it’s the organization that’s benefiting by the performance of music, management is responsible for ensuring it is properly licensed. This responsibility cannot be passed on to anyone else even if musicians hired are independent contractors.

Do We Need A License To Use Radios And/Or TVs?
Public performances of radio and TV are specifically addressed in Title 17, Section 110(5)(8) of the U.S. copyright law which states that any food service or drinking establishment that is 3750 square feet or larger, or any other establishment, other than a food service or drinking establishment that is 2000 square feet or larger, must secure public performance rights for TVs or radios if any of the following conditions apply:
For TV:

1. more than four TVs; or
2. more than one TV in any one room; or
3. if any of the TVs used has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches; or
4. if any audio portion of the audiovisual performance is communicated by means of more than six loudspeakers, or four loudspeakers in any one room or adjoining outdoor space; or
5. if there is any cover charge.

For radio:
1. more than six loudspeakers; or
2. more than four loudspeakers in any one room or adjoining outdoor space; or
3. if there is any cover charge; or
4. music on hold.

Questions?  Contact BMI or SESAC

BMI – or via email at or via phone at 615.401.2873

SESAC – or via phone at 615.320.0055