Do DJs Have To Pay For Their Music? - DJ Music Geek

Do DJs Have To Pay For Their Music?

In the DJ-ing world, there are lots of aspects one must take into consideration. One of them is staying legal regarding copyright and their use of music. As many DJs do not play their music but mix popular songs into one track, they need to be very careful as not to violate the copyright laws.

So, do DJs have to pay for their music?
Absolutely. DJs have to purchase the singles, albums, tracks and anything else that they plan to alter and include in their mixes. However, besides this legal purchase, they may or may not need a specific license that allows them to play copyrighted music in front of a large crowd. Several countries impose this law, making DJs pay a fee for this digital license, and others do not, as the location and associations responsible for the even have to pay them instead.

In UK, Canada, Finland, Italy, and several other countries, the law is very specific about the type of payment DJ need to make to acquire the digital license. This fee qualifies them to play, copy and alter tracks from any copyrighted material, including CDs, vinyl, cassettes, digital recordings, and other media. They can also legally copy these to a digital audio player, hard drive, mp3 player, etc… In these countries, DJs must acquire this permission before starting their professional career that implies using copyrighted music for their mixes.

When it comes to the US, DJ’s don’t have to pay for this permit to play the music. Of course, they still need to keep it legal and purchase all the tracks they plan to use, but there’s no need for the digital license. Venues such as restaurants, halls, or clubs, are the ones who pay for the DJ’s rights to play music. There are the so-called Performing Rights Organizations, in short PROs, that act like a middle man between the music producers, songwriters, artist, and the venue that wants to play their music. In the US, such organizations are the ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc… After they pay their fees to the music’s respective owners, the venues are now allowed to play it for the crowd. When a DJ works for such a place, they are also automatically allowed to play these tracks without paying any fee.

In other words, DJs in the US are not required to have BMI or ASCAP licenses to perform, as the club or even they are playing at is responsible for paying those fees. However, some venues demand membership fees from the DJs, and one cannot play there unless they pay that fee and are licensed to play the copyrighted material.

Regarding self-employed DJs, many people are confused into thinking that they fall into the second category. However, even if you’re self-employed, and you make a living off mixing at different events such as weddings, the organizers of the even should have paid the royalties before employing you. You should check with the organizers of the even beforehand to make sure that you won’t be playing the music illegally.

If a DJ in the US plans to play music outside of a licensed venue, they will be held responsible for the royalties and other fees that would otherwise be paid be the venue. In this case, they even risk a lawsuit from BMI and other similar organizations.

To sum it up, yes, DJs do pay for their music in one way or another, however they will usually make it all back pretty easily. All of them have to purchase or download the music they plan to mix legally, and some countries even require them to have a separate digital license that allows them to play copyrighted material for the crowd. In the US, such royalties are the venue’s responsibility, and, in most cases, the DJ doesn’t need to worry about paying for this license.

DJ Tom

DJ Tom has over 20 years of experience in the Disc Jockey profession. Living and breathing mixing culture, Tom is an expert in everything DJ. Music is the heart and soul of any good party and when DJ's do their job properly, they can make any night feel magical. When it comes to DJ equipment, Tom has tried almost all of it and has an in-depth music and staging knowledge.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 12 comments
Avatar for Martin

Very useful article, it’s hard to come across this sort of stuff on the internet. Also I might add that using Spotify music to mix is illegal in most states, although I’ve seen people do it but I’d personally refrain from it

Avatar for Thien

so, as a DJ in the U.S , we just need to pay for the songs/music to download, and we can legally use it for our gigs? Please provide more informations needed for obtaining license for DJ. THanks

Avatar for Ruell

Hi, great information. I wanted to know how I can get permission to use the songs I want to add to my music mix. I want to distribute my mix and they require having the permission first. Is there one place I can go to get permission for the use of what ever music that is out for sale? I bought the music I want to mix. Is that enough to sell my mix?

    Avatar for aj

    No, just because you bought the CD/digital license to listen to, that doesn’t give you the right to turn around and sell the music as your own. You can pay to play it but not resell it. When you purchase a CD, MP3, or digital file you are paying to obtain it and listen to it whenever you want, you are NOT buying their licensing and publishing rights just because you bought a CD…

      Avatar for Francis Moore
      Francis Moore

      These copyrights are rediculous, i am advertising these tracks i use by simply playing them. certainly not playing them as there my own.

      if i can pay a license or so ething i would pay it. its a joke now as sone djs get away with it and good home based djs have tgere broadcasts either deleted or muted.

      i want to continue and prepared to pay for the right. if anyone knows how these other djs get away with it here in australia, please let me know asap

Avatar for David Ardiente
David Ardiente

How about for facebook live sets? How does a DJ use copyrighted music on his facebook live sets? Is there a payment arrangement for facebook to do this?

Avatar for Bob

complete rubbish, in the UK as a DJ you do not need any kind of license to play music in a bar or club or any place else, that is about the most stupid thing i have ever heard.

    Avatar for Jools

    Bob. Since facebook has introduced new music laws regards playing music via a live stream as a pro DJ or not from oct 1st 2020……does this mean that as I live in the UK I can still go ahead and not be banned or prosecuted and dont need a licence in the UK to share say an hour of me playing my 60s northern soul vinyl records live on Facebook to all…?????

Avatar for Dan

I was just asked to provide sound and possibly some music this upcoming weekend with very short notice for a event at a county fair/Art and Fashion Show. With this being my first time doing something like this is special I should know or do before the event other than whats in your article? In Michigan, Do I need to get permission to play music I have legally purchased from store or can I just play them off my computer?

Avatar for James

[…] you want to DJ somewhere without a license, you’ll need to pay the royalties. Even if the law doesn’t specifically require you to pay, someone has to cover […]

Avatar for Johnny

I karaoke at one place, a dive bar. Most amount of people there are 45-75 years old. 15 to 30 people is the maximum capacity. A neighborhood bar. No cover charge. The bar claims to pay the ascap bmi dues via the digital jukebox. If, it has never happen, but if we would have a pack house. It would be 45 people. Do I the kj need a license?

Avatar for Greg

No one is addressing this question…
Yall say the venue pays the PRO, the royalties… well do they have to ask a performing DJ beforehand what songs theyre gonna play so they can pay the appropriate royalties? Or is there just a basic license you pay that covers anything played?


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