Music Licensing

Music licensing fees are a necessary operating expense overlooked by many low power groups.   It would be impossible for song writers and performers to individually collect royalty and copyright payments from broadcasters and others using music.  This problem has been solved by the three major music licensing organizations: the American Society of Composers, Artists, and Composers; Broadcast Music Incorporated; and the Society European Composers, Artists, Publisher collectively represent the majority of professional musicians in the United States.  Blanket annual license fees solve the time consuming job of tracking and reporting each individual song placed.  

Current 2013 LPFM Rates  (Total $718)

ASCAP - One Lincoln Plaza, NY 10023
800 99ASCAP   Fax: 212 621-6646

BMI – 10 Music Square East; Nashville, TN 37203-4399
800 258-5813 or 615 401-2000

SESAC – 55 Music Square East; Nashville, TN 37203    
800 826-9996  

As soon as you sign-on your station, have each organization send you their application forms.  Concentrate on the portion related to blanket fees for LPFM stations.  (Annual fees for major market commercial stations are greater than the cost for all equipment for your  station!)  Payment of the annual fee is pro rated based on the number of months left in the year at the time.

Radio stations get music from many sources – free CDs and tapes from famous and unknown performers.  Normally the artist wants air play, not a check from you!  You might buy music at a store, download from the Internet, or people might give the station music from their personal collection.  Always check the music label to see if it is licensed or check the artist databases from the Big Three, updated weekly.  Any time you use unlicensed music it is wise to contact the artist.  If your station has a web site (it should) you can offer to give their contact information on your site and a hyperlink to their site.  On the other hand, if someone pays you (cash or gifts) to play anything, you must acknowledge this with on-air “underwriting announcements” or you could go to jail for violating the Payola Law!  

To Request Current Music Licensing Procedures and Fees contact:
ASCAP: 800 99-ASCAP or  
Regional office contacts may be obtained from
: 800 826-9996 or

CCB cannot guarantee the current accuracy of the personal comments below, made several years ago by LPFM operators 

Question: Are current LPFM music licensing fees based on negotiations by LPFM organizations?
Answer (Bryan French): You have it right there. The fees were based on an earlier negotiation. When the first LPFMs went on the air in 2002 negotiations were still going on. The LPFM fees are very generous when compared to a 100w Class A or higher NCE station. BMI has been very generous to LPFM stations. BMI fees to full service NCE stations is based on how many people age 12+ are in the 60dBu coverage area. ASCAP NCE fee is $250, but they created a tiered service for LPFM based on ERP. I guess the reasoning is if you can afford a more powerful transmitter you can afford a higher fee. SESAC NCE fee is $98, they weren't as generous, but when you only represent 750,000 works $80 wasn't a bad fee. 

A station is responsible for obtaining broadcast rights for music not represented by the Big 3. Most of the contracts we have were very simple, the publishers/composers/artists just simply want to be asked so that they can put your station on the promotional material mailing list and to keep track of what stations they are on. One particular artist that we have a contract with only wants his music on independent NCE stations. The Big 3 don't do this - they make a title available to all stations.

It depends on if the music is owned or copyrighted. If the song book you are using is a typical hymnal there is probably tons of expired and non-copywright
music in it. Look for things like "Traditional," dates prior to 1899, or if you know the actual composer on the music and that person has been dead for 75 years.  Any of that music can be used all you want without a fee.

Generally any music prior to 1975 which wasn't renewed when the Federal Government took over musical copyrights is public domain. However, prior to 1975 music copyrights were issued by states. So research is involved to determine if the work is under a copyright in your state. 

Question:  Should LPFMs stations attempt local "market based" negotiations?
Answer (Randy Dunn): I was first taught to negotiate with these guys by a big manager in Clear-Channel communications.  He owned radio stations on his own and also negotiated for Clear-Channel in a few medium markets.  His entire concept was to push them right up to their limit.  It actually worked with the commercial FM I was involved with in the 1980's.  They tried to collect $2500 per year (ASCAP) for three years we were on the air and ignored them; when we sold the station our lawyer wrote a check and wrote a "contract" on the back where they endorse it stating that we were paid in full by endorsing and cashing this check.  The check was for $500.00, we never heard from ASCAP again and BMI didn't get anything.

We never even heard from SESAC. My friend with clear-channel's opinion of SESAC was that they have a few Christmas songs---so what, let them sue you over playing ten of their songs--the judge won't be very happy.  I am NOT saying to do this, but I think that negotiation is a good way to go.

Yes, you are right FM stations may reach more than 1000 people, but here is how I arrived at this figure, and when you are dealing with ASCAP do NOT brag on the number of listeners you have.  Moan and groan about the LACK of listeners you have.  A radio station that is low power covers a town with a population around 30,000 or so with a grade-A signal.  It will reach out further than that, but use the calculated numbers.  Now, let's take a town that has 7 commercial stations in town and 5 more coming in from a bigger town.  Now we split our 30,000 up among 12 stations and 1 LPFM.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  It is NOT to make an LPFM station feel bad about its number of listeners, but it is about negotiating.  

Also, the listeners you do have do NOT listen all the time, they may listen for twenty minutes as they drive to work.  They aren't going to listen very long in a car without running out of coverage area unless they are doing errands inside the Grade-A signal area.  So, easily we can say this station has less than 1000 listeners at any one moment in time and may only have 50 or less after midnight.  Potentially, you do reach 30,000 folks, but you can bet that all thirty thousand are not tuned in to your station at the same time 24/7 or even for one single hour in a 24 hour day during your highest rated period.  Even if your coverage should cover 100,000 folks, then potentially there will be more stations competing which may even hurt you more than in a smaller town where there is little competition.  

Not only are you competing with the other FM's and AM's in town and around town you are also competing with CD's and cassette players and NOW satellite radio.  Plus, many of those just never turn on their radio period.  I'm simply doing this exercise to show how you can show BMI and ASCAP --- "why should I pay you $200 bucks a year when your charging the 100,000 watt station across town $2000.00 a year -- which is a realistic price for a small market class C who has negotiated their fee somewhat."   Just an idea -- think about it!