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Do DJs Need a Music License?

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Being a DJ is a great way to perform and enjoy music while sharing it with an audience. However, you can’t always get a computer and songs and start DJing. You need to make sure that you don’t break any rules or laws.

DJs need a music license to play certain songs in public. Sometimes, venues will cover the music licensing fees, but a DJ will have to cover those costs when playing at public events outside of clubs. Luckily, a DJ doesn’t need to contact individual artists for a license.

Many DJs can go their entire careers without worrying about getting a music license. However, if you want to grow your career and perform in different places, you will need to license the music that you want to use.

What’s a Music License?

A music license is an agreement that allows a DJ or other music user to include a specific song in a public performance. Some people use music licenses for films, but you also need one when DJing in public.

You should also have a music license if you plan to release a mix online for a profit.

Music licenses permit you to use the songs that they cover, and you may need multiple licenses. There are three major performing rights organizations (PROs) that license the rights to music under copyright.

You can use your license to play or alter the music when playing it for others.

While you may not face consequences for playing music without a license, it can come back to bite you. If you play music without a license, you may have to pay a fine and pay for damages for the copyright owner.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry so that you can continue to play music without breaking any laws.

Copyright laws vary around the world, but most recent music has copyright protection. If you want to use a song in your setlist, you need to make sure you can use it.

Sometimes, a club or venue will have a license you can use, but you may need a license for other events.

When Do DJs Need a Music License?

Venues that work with a lot of DJs and musicians will typically have a music license that can cover all performers. However, you should never assume a venue has one or that you can use it.

You will need a music license anytime you want to share your DJ sets with the public and you don’t have the protection of a club.

If you want to perform at a music festival, a park, or another venue without any music staff, you should have a music license. You will also need a music license if you plan to release a DJ set online.

It doesn’t matter if it’s on your website or a platform like YouTube.

At best, the copyright owner could ask you to take the set down. And at worst, you will have to pay a hefty fee. If you’re unsure about whether you need a music license, ask the venue you’re playing at.

And if they don’t have anything, you’ll know to get your own license.

You can also avoid the need for a license completely by writing and recording your own tracks. You’ll be the copyright owner, so you can do whatever you want with the music you write.

Even if you want to release the set online, you won’t need a music license.

How to Get a Music License

Getting a music license can seem like a scary and complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be. The easiest way is to work with an organization that partners with individual artists.

While you can contact songwriters and singers, you may not be able to get through.

An organization can protect you and the copyright owner since you’ll have a more official agreement. You can follow the organization’s policies for paying for the license and putting up any royalties that you owe.

Depending on the music you want to play, you may need to work with multiple organizations. If you know an artist and can contact them easily, you may be able to get direct permission to use their music.

Either way, make sure you have a legally binding agreement so that the artist can’t sue you for using their songs.

Select Your Playlist

Before you attempt to get a music license, you should decide which songs you want. Consider which artists you like and what audience you’re playing for.

The age and demographics of your audience can help you decide which songs you want to use in your set.

  • Think about your favorite songs that would appeal to your fans and that you want to include. You can consider all songs from one artist or some, and you can play songs from multiple people.
  • When creating your playlist, consider which songs will go well together. In case you can’t license one song, you should be able to readjust your set list to fit.
  • You may also want to list out more songs than what you need. Then, you will still have enough music for your show if you can’t get the rights to some of them.

Choosing your playlist means that you can target your music licensing search for those songs and artists. Unfortunately, DJs rarely, if ever, use a general music license.

When you get a license, it covers you for that artist and sometimes a single song. You can change your playlist, but make sure you check the rights to any new songs that you add.

Research Performing Rights Organizations

Once you have a good idea of the setlist to use for your next gig, you need to research the popular performing rights organizations or PROs.

The three big PROs include American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC).

Each organization covers different artists, and some may cover different songs. You can contact each PRO to see which songs and artists they work with for music licensing.

Then, if one group covers all of the songs you need, you won’t have to deal with the other two.

However, you should be prepared to work with all three PROs. Even if you don’t need help from one now, that may change in the future. As you do your research, ask about royalties and license costs.

If you are willing to swap out some songs, you may be able to get a better deal with another PRO. Consider how important certain songs are so that you can get a music license that’s worth the price.

Contact the PRO or Artist

A PRO is the best way to license music from the biggest musicians and singers. You can contact one or more organizations instead of trying each individual artist.

If you want to include a lot of variety in your sets, you can save a lot of time and money this way.

  • You can contact ASCAP to get information on how to join as a music user. Once you join, you can get answers to specific questions on licensing.
  • BMI offers multiple ways to contact them so that they can answer your questions better. Then, you can get answers more quickly.
  • SESAC offers licenses for a variety of businesses, and you can get a license online.

If you know a local musician and want to use their songs, you can contact them directly. Some smaller songwriters may not work with one of the big PROs, so you’ll need to work with the artist.

If you decide to do this, make sure you and the artist sign a contract that includes the terms of your agreement.


A music license is essential for DJs who want to use music from other singers and songwriters. The license allows you to use the music in a public performance, and it tells you how you should pay for the rights to a song.

But consider if you need a music license before you go through the trouble to get one.