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Do You Need a License to Be a DJ? Secrets Uncovered

By Ferdi Vol
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Over the last few decades, one of the hottest career choices among Millennials around the world is DJing. In fact, the general layperson assumes DJs to be free souls that express their musical creativity without them being shackled by the chains of bureaucracy. Many think becoming a DJ is as easy as downloading a few songs, buying a new controller, and just looking cool while they twist and turn knobs. But that is not the case though. Now, have you ever wondered if there are legal requirements to be a DJ? Djing is fun and everything, but do you need a license to become one?

And the answer is that if a DJ is going to be mixing in public places, then a license is required for the performance to take place. If he doesn’t have one, the DJ is putting himself at risk for legal action.

However, if the event is private, then no legal permission is required, and the DJ in question can play any song that he wants without a problem. So if you are a bedroom DJ and the only audience appreciating your mix is your set of stuffed toys in the corner, you won't have any issues!

Joking aside, there is a special reason why this license is required, and it doesn’t have to do with insurance in the general sense of the word. If you would like to know more about DJ licensing and why it’s legally required for us DJs to have one for playing on specific venues, please read on!

Why It’s Legally Required to Get a License to Be a DJ (For Most Cases)

As I mentioned above, we DJs require a license to play in public venues. And the name of the particular license is called a Public Performance License. This is actually a license that not only DJs need to have, but also any kind of singer, dancer, or anybody using music that is copyrighted, which will include 99% of the songs playing on the radio. 

The license is required because obviously, songwriters and artists need to make money from their work. Since the process of contacting every single songwriter and artist to pay royalties for their music would be cumbersome or even impossible, the payment is instead directed to a Performing Rights Organization or PRO

The purpose of a PRO is to collect royalties on behalf of the corresponding songwriters and musicians. In essence, they work as a middleman between the song’s performer and the creator, assisting in the cash flow, while at the same time charging a small fee for operational upkeep.

However, if you are going to be playing on a public venue like a club, whether you need the public performance license or not will depend a lot on the specific place that you are playing. Many clubs in bigger cities tend to purchase the license themselves for their club. I mean, it makes sense because the DJ is going to be playing music provided by the venue, essentially meaning that the DJ doesn’t need one for that case.

Now, if you were to bring your own music from your home on a USB to play in the club, then you technically will have to pay for the license. Keep in mind that this is just theoretical. Because it can be pretty hard to enforce, performing right laws aren’t always respected. Just keep this in mind if you are going to be playing in a high-end venue like a very popular club in a major city.

Also, as long as the event is public in nature, you have to pay for the license if you have a DJing business and provide your services to house parties and other smaller events. Because anybody can enter these events (usually as long as they pay for their entrance), the event is classified as public and so performance right laws apply. 

Weddings are an interesting case. They are technically private because they are obviously invitations only and there are several guests expected, but I have actually heard of some DJs paying for their license before playing there. If this is your case and you are unsure of whether you should get the license or not, I would recommend that you actually do so to avoid trouble with the law. It’s very affordable anyway.

How To get a Performance Rights License

If you are reading this article, chances are that you have an event incoming and aren’t sure where to actually get the license necessary to play there. If you aren’t sure if you should be getting the license or not, please read the paragraphs above so that you can be better informed.

If you concluded that you need the license, the process to actually get it is very easy. The only things that you need to do are:

Contact a PRO

The first step to acquiring the license is contacting a PRO, or performance rights organization. In the United States, there are currently 4 major organizations of this kind: BMI, SESAC, ASCAP, and SoundExchange. Keep in mind that depending on your music repertoire, you might have to choose more than 1 license in order to cover all the music that you are going to be playing.

Choose what type of organization you are

The second step is choosing what type of organization or business you are. Most PROs will have a specific category for DJs, but not all of them though. If you own a DJing business, then you are most likely going to have to choose “event company”. If none of these is the case, I would recommend that you choose “musical event” instead.

The PRO will ask you more questions so that they have more information on which license is the right fit for you. After this, 2 things might happen: you can either pay online to get the license, or you can print the license and hand it in to the nearest office of the PRO of your choice. (NOTE: keep in mind that if you are going to be playing on a club, it’s highly likely that the venue has already paid for the license in the first place. The license will also cover any artists playing on their venue. In short, if this is the case, you do not need to acquire the license in the first place.)

Acquire license

As I mentioned above, this step might vary a lot depending on which PRO you are working with and how they work. In most PROs though, you have the option to pay the license online. If you choose the correct option, the license shouldn’t be more than 50 bucks or so. If it’s significantly more expensive than this, there’s the chance that you are choosing the wrong license and calling customer service might be warranted. 

The other option is downloading the license and sending it to the Pro's offices either physically or by fax. There might also be a form involved. If so, simply fill it up with the information that they are asking and then send it back. After a few working days, the PRO in question will send the certified license back to you.

A podcast about the DJ license

If you want to have some more in-depth information about the DJ license you can watch the video below to get some great information.

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About DJ Pro Tips
DJ Pro Tips is a website that has the goal to make you a better DJ by providing useful and accurate information.
About the Author
Ferdi Vol is a DJ for several years and is here to share his passion with you.
About Ferdi Vol
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