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Dance Studio Owners - Do You Need A Music Use License?

This is a simple question to answer. YES!

Hopefully, you already knew the answer, but I've talked with several teachers/studio owners who were unaware. Even worse, some who were aware claim, "It's too expensive!" so they continue to skirt the law until they get caught. Unfortunately, that risk could cost them thousands of dollars per song.

So, what is it that you actually need for music use licensing? Today I will explain the "whys" and "how-tos" to answer questions and help guide you along the path and avoid copyright infringement penalties.


Why does music use licensing even exist? Copyright laws and music use licensing exist to protect an artist's work. Similar to how you don't want anyone copying your choreography, music artists don't want their music spread and altered to their disadvantage.

There are two ways you can get permission to use an artist's work.

  1. Ask their permission directly

  2. Obtain a music use license from the agency that represents the artist

Typically a dance classroom uses music from several artists. Obtaining a music use license with an agency is easier and more efficient. Registering with an agency will also provide you with a variety of song choices from thousands of artists.

What do I need it for? When you're in a commercial setting and broadcasting music, whether it be for background noise, classroom exercises, or a performance, you must obtain a music use license to give artists monetary credit for their work. Basically, you are purchasing the rights to use music in a setting where multiple people can enjoy it.

But I already purchased the song. While it's not boldly advertised, when you purchase music or use it on services like Spotify, you are doing so for personal use only. You are literally paying for yourself to use the music. Not, yourself plus 20 other people in the room. Music use licenses are designed for artists or producers to get their rightful compensation in commercial settings.

A more common example of this practice is when you buy software for a new computer. Companies (like Microsoft Word) give you the option to buy their products for personal use at a reduced fee or for business where multiple users can use it.

I'm an educator. I'm exempt due to fair use laws. Not exactly. Unless you are teaching about the music specifically, you're not using the music for educational purposes. As a dance teacher, you primarily use music to enhance your teaching. Sure, there might be a few days when you work on rhythms and timing, but your main goal is to teach dance, not the music. Thus, you're not exempt.

The actual exemptions:

  1. If you produce the music or have live accompaniment, you do not need the license.

  2. If you are a non-profit, performances as part of face-to-face teaching activities are exempt.


What are the options? You could go to individual music labels and purchase music use rights. However, that would be time-consuming. The best thing to do is go to an agency. There are several options out there depending on the country you're in. The three major companies to consider are:

  • American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)

  • Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI)

  • Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC - European agency that gives royalties to ASCAP & BMI)

  • Entandem (Canadian agency serving both RESOUND & SOCAN)

  • Phonographic Performance Limited & Performing Right Society for Music (PPL PRS Ltd. - United Kingdom agency servicing both PPL & PRS for Music)

If you're in the United States, the best and easiest practice is to get both ASCAP and BMI licensing (unless you want to spend your valuable time researching which company has the song you want to use).

Types of licenses:

  1. Public Performance - Don't let the title fool you. Any music played outside a your friends and family circle is considered a "public performance" and therefore needs a license. It covers your physical classroom, waiting room and any performance you might have. You need it if you are using other artist's music and receiving profit in any way.

  2. Sync License - Are you offering classes virtually? With some agencies, moving from a physical location to a virtual atmosphere requires a different type of license. A synchronization license covers streamed/virtual media. Contact your agency to verify you're coverage.

How much does it cost? That is one question I cannot answer. Price depends on either the number of people hearing it (student population) or square footage of the space. Check out these links to help determine what is most accurate for your studio:

It's so expensive! You're right. It can be, especially if you don't plan for it. However, if you make a plan, it's easy to manage. Here are a few examples of how to make it work:

Let's say you have 100 students and your cost for licensing was calculated to be $1,200 annually. That's $12 per student per year. Some studios put this cost into their administration/enrollment fee. Another option is to break up the fee into your monthly tuition costs. If you have a 35 week school year, it calculates down to 34¢ /week per student ($1.36 /month). The potential benefit of putting the fee in tuition cost is that if a student attends more than 1 class a week, you actually earn money back.

Regardless of the method you chose, the cost is manageable and necessary. People are employed exclusively to visit studios and schools to verify their licensing. Don't let them catch you misinformed. The best practice is to contact an agency and get a quote for your space. Then, treat it like a heating bill and plan ahead. Ultimately, I'm not a professional in copyright law. Check out the resources below for more detailed information on what is best for your dance studio.


1 comment

1 Comment

Unknown member
Mar 16, 2023

Music is an integral part of my life. I'm also thinking of opening my own dance studio. I dream of running my own blog and social media pages with my dances, and facebook promotions will help me get more views and followers.

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