5 Biggest Questions about Playing Music in Class

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  • 5 Biggest Questions about Playing Music in Class

Originally published on 4-6-21 by Cory Sterling, founder of Conscious Counsel, on the Conscious Counsel website. Republished with permission. Five minute read.

Music can increase motivation and add a spark of fun to anything. The music you play in your business is the soundtrack of your customers’ experience. In this blog post we explore the legalities of using music in wellness classes: what is a copyright, do I have the right to play music on my premises, how can I legally play music in my classes and can I play music online?

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a collection of rights that an artist has to their work. The work can be a song, movie, software, or photograph, among other mediums. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, procedures, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, systems or methods (though you can protect these through patents or trademarks). Copyright is automatic meaning an artist does not have to file anything to have these rights. In fact, the work doesn’t even have to be published to have copyrights. 

Copyright grants creators the sole right to produce or reproduce any substantial part of the work in any form, to perform the work in public or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part of it. The creator retains moral right in the works even after he sells the copyright, the buyer cannot distort, mutilate, or otherwise modify the work in a way that is prejudicial to the creator’s reputation or honour.

Copyright is a type of intellectual property protection provided to original literary, musical, dramatic or artistic works. An author whose work is copyrighted has the right to prevent others from reproducing their work or copying any substantial portion of it. A copyrightable work is protected by copyright laws the moment it is created and fixed in a material form. Although registering your work with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) is not mandatory it can be beneficial.

Copyrighted property, like all property, requires permission from its owners for its use. Copyrighted music belongs to the songwriters who create it and that is why in order to play their music in your business, you must, by law, obtain permission from the copyright owners or their representatives, such as performing right organizations like ASCAP (“American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers”), BMI (“Broadcast Music, Inc.”), SOCAN (“Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada”), Re:Sound and SESAC (“The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers”).

Can I play music from online streaming companies like Spotify?

Please never, ever do this! Streaming sites such as Spotify, Google Play Music or Apple Music cannot be used in commercial settings as their license only covers private(!) use. In a business, playing music using Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, or Amazon, goes against the terms and conditions of those companies because the license granted is for personal use not commercial use. In order to avoid hefty fines (we’re talking $5,000-100,000 USD depending on the artist). it is important for your business to obtain the proper licenses to play music on your premises.

Can I play any music on my premises?!

Yes! Just because you can’t use Spotify, it doesn’t mean you can’t play music. You just need to get permission (or the ‘right’) to play it. The (subscription) price covers only the right to personally own the music or download. 

The right to play a song publicly is not included with the purchase of a song or a download.

Cory Sterling

There are two main ways (plus a bonus) to get the right to play a song:

  1. Pay a performing right organization, or
  2. Pay a licensed music solution, like CustomChannels.Net., or
  3. Bonus: Find an indie creator you love and pay them directly for the right to play their music.

Why is it like this? Because performance royalties are often the primary source of income for songwriters who don’t earn a living on stage in the way a recording artist does.You need permission from the authors of the music in order to play their work in your studio or gym. If you are a business, you must obtain a license in order to play the radio, stream music, play music through a stereo, use background music, or even use call waiting music on your business phone!

If any copyrighted music is played in a commercial premise, the business must hold the appropriate permissions. In other words, if you’re using music in your classes without a license, you could be exposed to a copyright infringement claim and sued for damages (bad stuff). 

Streaming music in a commercial setting can get you in big trouble! Stick with using properly licensed songs.

What if I have paid a performing right organization?

ASCAP is a membership organization of more than 800,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. U.S. copyright law requires you to obtain permission from music copyright owners to play their music in your facility. Instead of reaching out to hundreds of thousands of music creators yourself, a single ASCAP license agreement gives you permission to play music from any ASCAP member. ASAP license fees are based on the size of your business and how you use music. Although ASCAP is the oldest and largest performing rights organization in the world, it doesn’t cover all artists. You cannot use any music under SESAC, BMI, etc.

 Further, once you use music to accompany aerobics or other instructional classes, your performance of music falls outside the scope of coverage afforded by your commercial music service agreement and you must obtain a BMI license to cover your music performances. 

PS. The business is responsible for ensuring that the music played on the premises is properly licensed. This responsibility cannot be passed on to anyone else even if the instructors hired are independent contractors.

How can I legally play music?

To play music legally in your business, you can contact your local collecting societies such as ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN, Re:Sound, and SESAC. However the easier way to go is to use a service that will grant you the right to use their music in a commercial setting. You won’t be able to play the top 100 but you can rest easy know that the artists are properly compensated and you’re following the rules. Here are a few we love:


You can play music on your commercial premise and in your online classes so long as you have the right authorization with the appropriate licenses. The easiest way to do this is to use royalty free music or pay for a service!

This blog was published in full and with permission from Conscious Counsel, which provides legal counsel to the wellness community.Cory Sterling, founder of Conscious Counsel is the blog’s author.

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