Thursday, January 23, 2020

Music Legalities

(No affiliate links were included in the writing of this blog post. None of this should be taken as legal advice. Dang it, Jim, I’m a massage therapist —- not a lawyer.)

Many of us strive to act and to run our businesses in an ethical manner by following personal and societal mores and norms. Ethics not only relate to how you interact with clients and peers -- it also can include obligations imposed by law.

The use of music in your office or massage space is governed by your country's laws surrounding copyright: protections given to authors for their original works. If you play copyrighted music "in public" without proper licensing, you could be hit with statutory damages of $750 at minimum to a maximum of $150,000 per song (depending on whether or not you knowingly/willingly violated the law).
The reason behind this being illegal is that when licensed music is played in a commercial space, it is played with the intention of creating an experience for customers that is conducive to the interests of the business (getting customers to pay money for the goods and services on offer). The business gains from the music being played. For that reason, the law says that the creators of the music should get a piece of the profit being made.
-- Can I Play Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, or Other Music Services in My Business? from Cloud Cover Music.

"But I've bought copies of my music and/or pay for a consumer-level streaming service!"

Sorry, no. You can't get around the copyright regulations if you've only paid for individual, personal services and products:
The law distinguishes between owning a copy of music, like a CD or a song saved on an iPod, and owning the rights to those songs, including the right to publicly perform them. When you purchase a CD or DVD or download an audio file, software, game or other product containing music, even those specifically marketed for business purposes, you are only buying a copy of the music and the right to play it “privately.”
... When music is streamed over the Internet, however, there is a distinct performance right with respect to the “sound recordings” of songs publicly performed via digital audio transmission. So, theoretically, streaming online music into shared spaces could also require a performance license from the sound recording copyright owners.
-- Music Licensing Basics for Apartments, by Cindy A. Tune, .PDF accessed 1/23/2020 11:00AM EST. 
There is one specific exception to be aware of:
There are exceptions to when a license is required to play copyrighted music; stores under 2,000 square feet, and restaurants and bars under 3,750 square feet, can play music over a radio, TV, or similar device [i.e. cable or satellite broadcast], but there have to be fewer than six speakers carrying the sound.
-- In-Store Music Laws in the U.S.: Licensing, Legalities, and Fines from Cloud Cover Music.
However, this exception strictly limits you to using those specific sources (radio, TV, cable or satellite broadcast) and only the music and visuals licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

For any other device or music source, you need to have a Public Performance License through one or more Performance Rights Organizations (PRO). Rather than go through the individual PROs (the costs of which can be over $1000 annually), there are services that will provide you the public performance licenses and access to music covered under those licenses. These services will cost more than your standard consumer subscriptions, but you will be able to rest easy in knowing that your butt (and your business) has been covered.

"Okay, what are my (cheapest) options?"

Here are three under $30/month services to consider:
  • Soundtrack Your Brand: high quality, wide variety, connection to Spotify and its playlists (as it was originally sponsored as "Spotify for Business"), and a free 30-day trial. After that, it's $26.99 a month.
  • Cloud Cover Music: not quite as robust as Soundtrack Your Brand, but if you're only needing licenses in the USA and Canada, the ~$17 a month price tag is a little easier to swallow.
  • SighTunes: specifically designed for massage therapists, providing 10-hours of royalty-free music, refreshed each month (so long as you're connected to WiFi... and remember to do it at the start of each month), for $9.99 a month. Plus, if you have a professional membership like ABMP, there is a discount code to take up to an additional 40% off. I have tried it... it's not my favorite due to the design of the app itself, the "blah" choices of music, and the aforementioned need to connect to the Internet before you drive out to a client's house on the first of the month and suddenly can't access the previous month's music. (ಠ_ಠ) (This may have changed since I last attempted to use it. I'm not holding my breath.)

Another option would be to actively look for music that is within the public domain (i.e. works written before copyright law was established, or the copyrights have expired/been lost, etc.), music that is considered royalty-free, or music where the copyright-holders have explicitly given their permission for public use. Artful Touch Music is one such resource:

Artful Touch Music was created for, and inspired by, the healing arts. We invite you to use this music in your professional bodywork offices and yoga studios.

These songs are effective as music therapy for all ages and are enjoyable as a soundtrack for massage therapy and yoga practice.

This music encourages relaxation, a resting heart rate, deeper breathing, a calm and centered mind, and a general sense of well-being.

-- Artful Touch

Other References:

I went down the rabbit hole so you don't have to.

"But wait! What about Pandora and SiriusXM?"

These companies are jointly owned by Liberty Media, the heads of which collectively gave $1 million to Trump’s 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee (currently under federal investigation). In 2016, Sirius moved to eliminate 80 percent of its Latin music channels. In 2017, they reintroduced Steve Bannon as a regular host on its Patriot channel until he stepped down in 2018. (Source: Pandora’s New Corporate Parents Gave Millions to Trump, GOP, Sam Lefebvre, January 2019,

Personal ethics are just as important as professional ethics. Therefore, I cannot and will not endorse these platforms.