A cake from frostings and the answer to why cant you sing happy birthday

Why cant you sing happy birthday in many bars and venues?

June 15th, 2015 Posted by Music Business For Dummies No Comment yet

Why cant you sing happy birthday in many bars and venues?
A Dear Abby Style letter from Scared in Schenectady….This is the answer to the question why cant you sing happy birthday

Why cant you sing happy birthday in a coffee shop???

(note this has legally changed since this blog was posted)

Dear Music Business Cat and SSA Music,
Why cant you sing happy birthday in a coffee shop???

I just opened up a coffee shop in my hometown. If we know that it is a customer’s birthday we give them a free latte and muffin and the staff will gather around and sing “Happy Birthday.”

One of my lawyer friends told me that I’m asking for big trouble by doing this and that I can be sued for singing that song. Can my coffee shop REALLY be sued for singing or playing the “Happy Birthday” song? Why cant you sing happy birthday in my coffee shop or many other venues or bars?

Scared in Schenectady

Why cant you sing happy birthday response from Music Business Cat and SSA Music

Dear Scared,

To somewhat oversimplify things, yes you can. Ok, the chances that there’s going to be a lawyer at your door ready to hit you with a lawsuit before the candles get blown out are rather slim, but you can’t just use music in your business without following the rules.

But, why cant you sing happy birthday in a business?

Well, whether you play a cd, stream from the internet, or someone plays music live, those are all considered “Public Performances” since your coffee shop is recognized as a place of public accommodation (just like a bar or restaurant).

The law states that any public performance of a copyrighted musical work must be licensed and a royalty paid to the songwriter and publisher. Since you can’t possibly know who or how much to pay for each and every song, the law also created organizations to handle all of this for you.

These are called “Performing Rights Organizations.” Maybe you’ve heard of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC? These three organizations issue licenses to shops like yours that allow you to legally use music in your business.

Why cant you sing happy birthday? Because you need the licenses

Because each of the organizations represents different music, a business that wants to use music must get licenses from all three organizations. The cost of the licenses is based on what kinds of music you want to use (live, recorded, streaming), how often, and the physical size of your business. If the size of your business is under a certain threshold, and you meet a few other conditions, you might even be exempted from paying any fees at all!

Getting your business properly licensed isn’t really a very difficult process. Each organization has the information you need on their websites: http://www.ascap.com/licensing/licensefinder , http://www.bmi.com/licensing , and http://sesac.com/Licensing/Licensing.aspx . If need assistance, you can call on my consulting partners at SSA Music Publishing who can guide you along for a nominal fee and read about copyrights and licensing in Music Business for Dummies, from Loren Weisman.
the amount of time it took to write he book that covers why cant you sing happy birthday .
Why Cant you sing happy birthday? Because you need a license!

Music Business For Dummies
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Loren Weisman

Business Advisor, Speaker & Author Loren Weisman organizes, optimizes and implements individualized branding, marketing and content plans for start up and established businesses as well as individual clients and entrepreneurs.

For more on Loren’s consulting, coaching, assisting, advising & speaking options, visit:
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Why Cant you sing happy birthday? Because you need a license!

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