Home Wine Business Editorial Hospitality Play On: The Current State of Music Licensing at Wineries

Play On: The Current State of Music Licensing at Wineries

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A streamlined, transparent and accountable process for licensing music is the only way businesses and songwriters alike can continue to sustainably bring music to the public. 

By Tara Good

 

Music licensing is a perennial challenge for wineries. Not only are the laws regulating music complicated but, with the proliferation of licensing organizations, the cost of licensing music is rising. For almost a decade, WineAmerica has been helping wineries navigate these challenges as well as working to persuade Congress to pass meaningful reform to reflect the needs of small businesses and, most importantly, protect the jobs of musicians across the country.

What is Music Licensing

Songwriters rely on collective licensing organizations (performance rights organizations, or PROs) to be paid for the use of their music. It comes as a surprise to most people that it is the business hosting the music that is required to pay these licensing fees, not the artist performing the music. This is as true for a concert arena hosting Beyonce as it is for an individual singing Bob Dylan songs at their neighborhood winery. PROs collect fees from businesses to pay the potentially millions of artists they represent. 

Who are the PROs

Once there were three major PROs: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). Since the 2017 Second Circuit ruling on determining the viability of “fractional” music licensing, the industry has seen a proliferation of PROs, including Global Music Rights (GMR) and AllTrack. 

What does this mean for wineries? When a song has multiple songwriters, a business owner is responsible for paying a licensing fee to each PRO representing those songwriters. This begs the question: how does a business, or anyone, figure out which PRO represents what songwriter? 

Unfortunately, there is no good answer. ASCAP and BMI have collaborated to create Songview, a searchable database of 20 million songs. If a business owner, or the musicians they hire, take the time to ensure all the music they perform is 100% covered by ASCAP and BMI, and the business holds those two licenses, no other licenses are needed. If music is played that is not entirely covered, the business becomes liable for copyright infringement.

How to License Music

Licensing music is like driving a rough road a short distance.

PROs say that properly licensing music is as easy as purchasing a license. The problem is, each PRO calculates its licensing fee differently. This leads to confusion, often with businesses feeling they’re being misled or scammed. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to licensing music.

    • Do respond to a PRO when they contact you by phone or email. 
    • Don’t respond rudely to a PRO representative when they contact you. If you feel that a PRO representative is behaving in an unprofessional manner, notify your local wine association or WineAmerica. Numerous states have passed laws regulating PRO’s behavior and they could be breaking that state’s law.
    • Do ask for a “rate sheet.” Some PROs have winery-specific licenses.
    • Don’t pay amounts quoted by the PRO without doing your own calculation. If you receive what looks like a bill, it is an estimation. All music licensing is a self-reporting process.
    • Do pay for what you need. Ask if the PRO offers seasonal licensing. Or if you only have music once or twice a year, consider taking out a single usage license. 
    • Don’t pay for the following: Private events such as weddings. Music licensing only applies to music that is enjoyed by the public. Streaming music: If you purchase a business streaming service, that music is already covered.
    • Other options: Small businesses can play the radio without the need for licensing. Music outside of copyright (life of the songwriter, plus 70 years) does not require a license.
  • When in doubt, reach out to WineAmerica with your music licensing questions.

WineAmerica’s Work on Music Licensing

WineAmerica continues to educate lawmakers as to the challenges businesses face when licensing music. Between rising costs, confusing licenses and PROs’ sometimes threatening bedside manner, many wineries have opted to cancel their music program altogether. This is especially distressing to musicians who rely on gig work to pay their bills. A streamlined, transparent and accountable process for licensing music is the only way that businesses and songwriters alike can continue to sustainably bring music to the public. 

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On March 27, 2024, WineAmerica members are invited to participate in a Zoom session with WineAmerica’s Vice President of Development, Tara Good, to learn about the current state of music licensing. Not a member? Consider joining today.

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Tara Good

Tara Good is vice president of development for WineAmerica (WA), the only national wine industry association in the United States. WA is a 500-member strong organization that encourages the growth and development of American wineries and winegrowing through the advancement and advocacy of sound public policy. Membership is encouraged to support the important work of WA, which benefits all U.S. wineries. Go to https://wineamerica.org/ for more information.

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