There is a lot of confusion and a tremendous amount of misinformation out there on how to get a DJ license.
Becoming a DJ or playing music as a bar, restaurant, or club whose intellectual property belongs to another artist needs to be carefully considered in order for you to maximize your profits, protect yourself from making very costly legal mistakes, and ensuring that you are always thinking two steps ahead of making a plan up front and sticking to it.
Follow these simple steps in order to quickly, and with only a bit of initial effort, get a DJ license so that you can focus your energy on what you love: dropping beats and growing your name in this industry.
Step 1: Hire an accountant
If you are NOT making more than $8-$10,000 you can skip this section. For those of you that plan on far exceeding $10,000 in revenue from your DJ career, and if you have not done so already, the first thing to do is hire an accountant.
This might set you back $100, but it will potentially save you thousands of dollars of mistakes, missed tax deduction opportunities, and protection of risk and liability for you and your business.
Accountants are trained specialists when it comes to structuring your business for maximizing your potential earnings by claiming deductions and providing you with expert tips on keeping your hard earned cash.
An accountant will discuss your financial goals, advise you on what type of corporation to set up to protect your money from the government biting a huge chunk out of it, as well as instruct you on what type of transaction could be itemized as part of your business including: equipment, web-site hosting and associated expenses, travel expenses, mileage, music licenses, clothing for shoes, cleaning, insurance, and a lot more.
Note, if you are running your business from home, you can claim many home expenses as deductions as necessary to run your business, saving you even more money!
Step 2: Compile a Master List of Songs and Artists you plan on Playing
As a DJ, restaurant, bar, or club, you will need to ensure you have defined what artists, songs, playlists, or styles you will represent at your venue based on the market you are playing for. Having a set with a specific list of songs is important for a number of reasons:
- You are playing other artists’ music and they must be compensated for their work
- But do you need a license to DJ? The answer is, it depends!
- Ensuring you have the appropriate licenses in place to avoid fines and potentially costly legal issues:
Step 3: Get familiar with performing rights organizations (PROS)
PROS are businesses that are designed to represent musicians, artists, and songwriters by protecting their right to be compensated for having their music played in public.
The three PROS in the US that deal primarily with music that is played in public are:
- ASCAP The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). In 2012 ASCAP collected over US$941 Million in licensing fees. In 2013, membership represented over 460,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers. For more information visit ascap.com/
- BMI Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) collects license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers, and publishers. In 2015 BMI collected over $1.013 billion in licensing fees and distributed $877 million in royalties to its members. For more information visit bmi.com/
- SESAC It used to be called Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) but is now known exclusively as SESAC, unlike BMI and ASCAP is a for profit PRO that retains an undisclosed amount of royalty income instead of distributing these profits to its members. The SESAC is highly exclusive and does not allow open membership . For more information visit www.sesac.com/
Anytime music is played in a public venue, the artist and production company are entitled to compensation for their music being performed.
Note: it is the establishment in which the performance is taking place, NOT THE DJ, who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the PROS.
What this means for you: If you are a DJ and are playing at a restaurant, bar, or club, the venue will be responsible for having all professional licenses in place with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Any non-compliance will be directed towards the venue and NOT YOU as the DJ playing the music.
Step 4: Get a Music License with the PROS
(If you are a DJ, you can skip this step!)
If you are a restaurant, bar, club, or public venue that want to figure out how to get DJs to play at your location, cover yourself completely by visiting each of the PROS websites listed below and fill out an application for a professional DJ license.
- ASCAP License: ASCAP’s website has an online tool for obtaining a license. Their website lists several methods of applying and obtaining a license for your business. For a full list of ASCAP-licensed songs and repertory search visit: https://www.ascap.com/ace
- BMI License: BMI offers the ability to license for DJs to play music for most businesses and organizations online. Choose your business type and click “Apply for a License”, then enter your Username & Password, which are provided for you on your correspondence from BMI or by calling a BMI representative. Once licensed, you can also pay your fee and manage your account online. You can also call BMI directly at (888) 689-5264 to license. For a full list of BMI-licensed (over 12 million) songs visit and repertory search: http://repertoire.bmi.com/StartPage.aspx
- SESAC: In order to get your SESAC license, you will have to be approved on an exclusive basis. SESAC has world’s fastest growing musical repertory. They offer licenses for every business type. Obtain a license now. For more info, you can email [email protected] or call 1-800-826-9996. For a full list of SEASAC licensed songs visit and repertory search: https://www.sesac.com/Repertory/RepertorySongList.aspx
Step 5: Obtain a Digital Software License Depending on what Country you are playing in!
If you are transferring any music from vinyl, cassettes, and CDs or downloading music onto a hard drive, a music license may be required but the requirements vary greatly by country – DJ license UK, DJ License Canada, DJ License Finland among others!
If you are using a DJ Software such as Serato DJ with a DJ Controller such as a Gemini G4V, Numark Mixtrack Pro 3, or Pioneer DDJ-SB2, the following resource can be used to determine the appropriate agencies and licenses that need to be obtained:
1. Licensing in the UK:
- Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL)
- The Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS).
- ProDub license covers licensing for both organizations!
2. Licensing in Canada
- Audio-Video Licensing Agency, Inc. (AVLA) is required for reproducing sound recordings for the purpose of public performances (AVLA)
- Obtaining a license can be accomplished through the following organizations:
- Canadian Professional Disc Jockey Association, Inc. ((CPDJA)
- The Canadian Disc Jockey Association (CDJA), and Canadian Alliance of Professional Entertainers (CAPE).
Recognizing that the licensing system is overly complicated and unfair to DJs, in some Country’s such as those listed above, the DJs are effectively double paying for the right to play music for public performances.
It is important to comply with the requirements listed above and obtain all professional licenses to avoid paying fines or being caught and placed on the radars of any of these organizations.
Playing vinyl or physical CDs do not require these additional licenses as the music has not been downloaded to an electronic medium in these cases.
The costs which typically run on an annual basis and govern a fixed quantity of downloads per hard-drive, these also vary by country. Review the website listed above for additional considerations and make sure you are covering yourself.
By taking the necessary steps to structure your business carefully, knowing how to get a DJ license and answer the overarching question of do you need a DJ license to play any song you want in a public venue without the risk of being fined or getting into legal trouble.
Being a knowledgeable DJ or hosting venue, you can rest easier knowing that you have set up your business for maximizing profits, avoiding being shut-down and ensuring future growth of your business.
If you are a large scale DJ service or company that plays at non-traditional clubs, bars, or hotels, that are not set up with the necessary licenses, you can follow all the steps listed in this article to obtain a license, advertise your services as having these licenses, and create a competitive advantage over other DJs by being informed and ensuring you have covered all of your bases.