We answer the top questions on playing music in a business.

Including, do I need a Music Licence?

Music is a key tool in all businesses. It boosts staff morale and motivation and it is a key tool in customer experience. However, playing music in a business is not as simple as pressing play as you do at home. It’s important business owners understand the legalities of playing music. Failing to have the correct license in place risks a fine, in some cases even legal action.

This post will answer the top questions asked by business owners who want to play music. It will cover:

  • Do I need a Music Licence?
  • Who operates the Music Licence?
  • Do I need a license if I only play the radio?
  • Do I need a license if I have a TV Licence?
  • What is the fine for playing music without a license in the UK?
  • How much does a Music Licence cost?
  • How long does a license last?
  • Is there a way to avoid buying a license?

Do I Need a Music Licence?

If you are playing music in your business via CD, TV, radio or a streaming service* you will need to buy a license (source gov.uk). This is because when you play music in a business it is a ‘public performance’ of the music.

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 you need the copyright holder’s permission to perform (play) their music in public. A Music Licence grants you permission on behalf of the copyright holder to perform (play) their music in public. This applies if the music is for your staff and /or customers.

* It is against the terms and conditions of most music streaming platforms to use a personal account to stream music in a business environment. Doing so is classed as commercial use and to do this you are required to sign up for a business account (source).

Who operates the Music Licence?

The Music Licence is operated by the PRS and PPL collection agencies. They work together to collect and distribute royalty payments on behalf of the copyright holders.

Do I need a license if I only play the radio?

Yes, you still need to buy a license if you play the radio in your business. Whilst radio stations pay royalty payments so they can broadcast the music, this payment does not cover the public performance of the music. This is the responsibility of the individual business owner.

This also applies if you only listen to talk shows on the radio. Music may appear in jingles and adverts played on the shows you listen to.

What if I have a TV Licence?

A TV license covers you receiving the broadcast, not the music contained in the programs and adverts. As a result, you will need to purchase a Music Licence if the TV is used on your business premises.

What happens if I play music without a license?

PRS and PPL are very proactive when it comes to checking music usage in businesses. Often visiting premises and making calls to staff to confirm if music is being played. If you’re caught playing music without a license a surcharge will be added to your invoice. The current surcharge is 50% of the annual invoice amount. In some instances, you can face legal action (Source: Trust Pilot)

How much does a Music Licence cost?

The cost varies depending upon the type of business you operate and the size of the audible area. That’s the amount of sq meters in your business customers and or staff can hear the music played.

Here’s a cost example using the smallest audible area (up to 100 sq meters) on a popular sector, shops, stores and showrooms. The total amount you pay is the combined total of the PRS and PPL tariffs.

PPL Tariff £147.91 (+vat)

PRS Tariff £180.90 (+vat)

Music Licence cost £394.57 (inc vat)

In the case of playing music without a license, this cost would increase to £591.86 (inc vat) in the first year.

*Figures correct at time of publishing July 2021.

How long does a license last?

The license lasts for one year from the day you buy it. Most business owners find they are automatically invoiced year after year.

Is there any alternative?

Alternative to the music licence

The good news is that there is music you can play without having to buy a license. Most often referred to as royalty free sometimes license free. You’re able to play this because the copyright owners are not registered with PRS and PPL.

Instead, they receive payment for the use of their work via a music licensing company. Often because they will receive larger payments than going through the traditional route.

“The quality and volume of royalty free music have never been higher. Thanks to the increased demand for it from content creators using YouTube and the likes. For business owners, there has never been a better time to use it.”

Melanie Anderson (Co-Founder Background Sounds).

Summary

  • If you’re playing popular/commercial music in your business via CD, radio, TV, or digital device you will need a Music Licence.
  • Playing music in your business without the appropriate license is copyright infringement.
  • If you’re caught playing music you will have to pay a 50% surcharge on your first annual invoice. In some cases, business owners face legal action.
  • The cost of a Music Licence depends on the type of business and the sq meter of the audible area
  • The way to play music without a license is to play royalty free music.

About us

Background Sounds is a royalty free background music provider. Specialising in delivering music solutions to small and independent businesses across the UK.


The team has worked in the background music industry for over a decade. They’re dedicated to making it easy for small business owners to play great music. From one-to-one support to advice on audio hardware the team is happy to help.