MUSIC LICENSING IN THE USA


What is Music Licensing?

Music licenses are the primary way artists can receive royalties for their music, by giving legal permission to someone who’d like to use their work. In general, there are seven types of licenses that someone can use for various purposes. They are: synchronization license, mechanical license, master license, public performance license, digital performance license, print rights license, and theatrical license.

However as instructors, we are only concerned with three of them. Specifically we need...

  • Public Performance License (PPL License):
    This license is perhaps the most common form of music license issued today. While ‘performance’ may be a limiting term, it applies generally to any broadcast of an artist’s work in a physical space. This refers to gyms, studios, parks, parking lots, and your drive way. Performing rights organizations (PROs) such as BMI, SESAC, and ASCAP generally manage public performance licenses and issue music royalties to artists on a per-use basis.

  • Digital Media Performance License (DPL/DML License):
    This newer type of license applies to any transmission of an artist’s work using the public Internet, mobile wireless communications, and data networks. This refers to Websites, Third Party Site Embedded Video Player, and Streaming Applications such as Zoom, Dacast, Twitch, Vimeo, ZIN Studio, etc. In short, this covers you in digital world. Performing rights organizations (PROs) such as BMI, SESAC, and ASCAP also manage digital performance licenses and issue music royalties to artists on a per-use basis.

  • Synchronization License (Sync License):
    This method of licensing refers to music that is going to be paired with some form of visual media. For us this applies directly to "On-Demand" recordings and it is the reason ZIN Studio only allows Approved Music to be used for Pre-Recorded Classes.




What kind of music can I use without a license?

Depends, as not all Music is License-Free / Royalty-Free.

  • License-Free (Royalty-Free) Music
    You may use royalty-free music found on various websites with their approval which may require some form of payment to purchase the song.

  • ZIN Studio / ZIN Now
    Without a license, you can only use songs in the ZIN Studio Pre-Approved List for your live streams and pre-recorded classes as long as you are ZIN. This also includes any music labeled with and as these are ZIN exclusives and Zumba Originals.

  • All Others
    For all other music you WILL NEED a DPL or PPL in order to use it.




But Zumba says I can use any music I want in my live stream!

Yes it does BUT read the ZIN Studio FAQ's. It clearly states "...you can use any music you want in a ZIN Studio™ livestream class as long as you have obtained the necessary public performance license(s) from the Performance Rights Organization(s) located in your country."

If you do not have a music license, you can only use songs listed in the ZIN Studio Pre-Approved List for your live streams and pre-recorded classes as long as you are ZIN. This also includes any music labeled with and as these are ZIN exclusives and Zumba Originals.




Does my Public Performance License cover my virtual classes?

NO! As described above Public Performance Licenses (PPL) are not the same as Digital Performance Licenses (DPL). A PPL covers you in the physical world, the DPL covers you in the digital one.




Does my Digital Performance License cover my recorded classes?

MAYBE! For recorded classes you will need a Digital Performance License (DPL) and may be required to have a Synchronization License (SL) as well depending on the PRO.




What are the penalties for not having a DPL when streaming?

If you get caught using music in your streams, and you are not licensed by the Performance Rights Organization (PRO) be prepared to pay from to $200 - $150,000 (USD) PER SONG.

Without a License you are committing Copyright Infringement which is a Federal Offense. Further, you will lose in Court as they would have video evidence of you teaching to the music so DON'T DO IT!

    The legal penalties for copyright infringement are:

  • Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits.

  • The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed.

  • Infringer pays for all attorney’s fees and court costs.

  • The Court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing acts.

  • The Court can impound the illegal works.

  • The infringer can go to jail.




What are the costs for Digital Performance Licenses?

As of this publication (1/1/21), costs are as follows.

  • ASCAP - New Media License
    $266/yr. (min) + required reporting of total # of students, sessions, and income generated. This is made in quarterly payments.

  • SESAC - Internet Performance License
    $678/yr. (min) + required reporting of total # of students, sessions, and income generated. This is made in semi-annual payments.

  • BMI - Digital License
    $381/yr. (min) + required reporting of total # of students, sessions, and income generated. This is made in quarterly payments.


TOTAL MINIMUM COST = $1,325 per year.
Actual cost is total amount of income generated x a percentage rate of income generated.




Do I need licenses from all three PROs?

While you can get away with using just one PRO you will be limited to songs ONLY in their repertory and not all artists, songwriters, and songs are with the same PRO. There are even some artists who are exclusive to a specific PRO. For example, if you only get a license from ASCAP, you will not be able to play any music from J. Balvin who is a SESAC artist.

If you get all three PROs, almost all of the music released in the US is covered.




How do I get a Digital Performance License?

Here are the links and names for my personal contacts at the big 3 PRO's.

  • ASCAP
    Jessica Nolan – jnolan@ascap.com

  • BMI
    Violet Cieri – vcieri@bmi.com

  • SESAC
    Jesse Rosas – jrosas@sesac.com