Everything You Need to Know About Music Licensing for Your Radio Station

Posted by
Dylan Doughty


Running your own radio station is an exciting venture that allows you to share your passion for music with a wide audience. However, when it comes to playing copyrighted music, it's essential to understand music licensing to avoid legal issues and ensure artists receive fair compensation. In this blog post, we'll cover everything you need to know about music licensing for your radio station.

  1. Types of Music Licenses

There are three main types of licenses that radio stations need to be aware of:

a. Public Performance License:

  • This license is required for playing music in a public setting, including radio broadcasts.
  • Organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC represent songwriters and publishers and issue licenses to radio stations.

b. Mechanical License:

  • This license is necessary if you plan to reproduce, distribute, or sell recordings of copyrighted music.
  • Obtained from the copyright holder or a music licensing agency.

c. Synchronization License:

  • Needed when you want to use copyrighted music in conjunction with visual media, such as commercials, TV shows, or videos.
  1. PROs (Performing Rights Organizations)

PROs play a crucial role in music licensing. They collect fees from radio stations and distribute them to songwriters and publishers. The major PROs in the United States are:

  • ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers)
  • BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)
  • SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)

It's essential to establish agreements with these organizations to ensure you have the rights to play their catalog of songs.

  1. Licensing Agreements

To obtain the necessary licenses for your radio station, you'll need to negotiate agreements with the relevant parties, including PROs, record labels, and individual artists. The terms of these agreements may vary, but they generally specify:

  • The scope of music usage (e.g., terrestrial radio, internet streaming).
  • Payment terms, including licensing fees and royalties.
  • Reporting requirements, which often include submitting playlists and logs.
  1. Reporting and Documentation

Accurate record-keeping is crucial to remain compliant with music licensing regulations. You should maintain detailed playlists and logs of the songs you play, including information like song title, artist, and airplay time. This information is essential for calculating royalties and ensuring proper compensation to artists and rights holders.

  1. Royalty Calculations

Royalties are fees paid to songwriters, publishers, and artists for the use of their music. These fees can be complex to calculate and typically depend on factors like your station's revenue, audience size, and the number of songs played. PROs often have their own formulas for determining royalty payments.

  1. Digital Streaming and Online Radio

If you plan to stream your radio station online, additional licensing considerations apply. Services like SoundExchange handle digital performance rights for artists and sound recording copyright holders. You'll need to secure the necessary licenses and report your streaming data accurately.

  1. Seek Legal Advice

Navigating the world of music licensing can be complex, and the legal requirements may change over time. It's highly advisable to consult with legal experts who specialize in music licensing to ensure that your radio station complies with all applicable laws and regulations.


Understanding music licensing is essential for running a successful and legally compliant radio station. By obtaining the right licenses, establishing agreements with PROs, keeping accurate records, and seeking legal guidance, you can ensure that your station not only delivers great music but also respects the rights of artists and creators while avoiding legal troubles. Stay informed and keep the music playing!


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