Music licensing for your online fitness classes should be simple, right? With the closures and class-size limitations brought on by the coronavirus, YMCAs and fitness centers across the globe are scrambling to leverage online fitness as a way to keep their members engaged and healthy. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. As market expectations change, centers that offer their members a great virtual experience will thrive. Those that don’t will fall behind.
So, again, you’d think getting the right license to use music in your streaming or online videos would be straightforward. But, it’s far from it. Many centers have had videos pulled down by YouTube or Facebook because they were using copyrighted music without the proper licensing.
So how do you properly license your music for streaming or online videos? Is your ASCAP or BMI license enough? Or do you need another license? What kind of penalties are there if you do the wrong thing?
If these are questions you’ve been asking, you’re in luck. In this post, I’ll give you a simple breakdown of everything you need to know about music licensing for your online classes. Then I’ll run through a few equally simple steps for getting your classes streaming with great (legal) music. You’ll be confident that you’ve got it right and won’t have to worry about getting shut down by Facebook or YouTube or subjecting your facility to hefty fines.
In-Person Music Licensing
Most fitness facilities have been using popular music in their group fitness classes for years. The process is really pretty simple: go to an organization like ASCAP or BMI, pay them an annual fee, then play away without a care in the world. Since you use these licenses every day for group fitness, they should also apply to the same classes you stream or have available online, right? Wrong! The moment you start streaming or offering that class on the web, you’ve moved to a new domain of licensing.
Here’s a quick breakdown. The fee you have been paying to ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC all these years has given you a Public Performance License (PPL). This license allows you to play copyrighted music in person, online, or over the radio. If you have a PPL, it covers you for all the classes in your fitness facility. So, rest easy! But that’s not all you need to know.
Online Music Licensing is Different!
Since it covers music played online, it seems as though your PPL would also include any streaming or on-demand classes. But it doesn’t. The problem lies in the fact that you are now broadcasting your content synchronized with copyrighted music. When a video plays with music in the background, this requires a Synchronization License (SL), which grants you the right “to synchronize the musical composition in timed relation with audio-visual images on film or videotape.”
As the words “film or videotape” suggests, this is an antiquated system initially designed for producers to obtain the rights to play copyrighted music in their movies or TV shows. Outdated as it may be, the license still has teeth. In fact, it was the basis of the $150 million lawsuit the music industry filed against Peloton for its use of popular music in its training videos. Peloton recently settled the suit for an undisclosed (and no doubt very LARGE) amount of money.
A Surprising Lack of Music Licensing Agencies
The problem with Synchronization Licenses is that there are no central music licensing agencies, such as BMI or ASCAP, that grant them. The government does not regulate them (as it does the PPL licenses), so there’s no requirement for published pricing. Synchronization licenses must be negotiated directly with the artist or record label. To complicate matters even more, multiple publishers may hold the rights to individual songs. For instance, eight different publishers hold the rights to Beyonce’s “Hold Up.” To use that song in a video production, a business would have to gain permission from each of these publishers.
Here’s the Bottom Line
So, what does that all mean for you? The bottom line is that Synchronization Licenses are out of reach for individual fitness centers. Even large organizations have a great deal of difficulty negotiating these licenses for the latest songs (as is evidenced by the Peloton lawsuit).
As the demand for virtual fitness grows, I have no doubt that a music licensing company similar to ASCAP or BMI will be created to make purchasing SLs more accessible. (It may take government regulation to make it happen). Until that time, the only viable option for fitness center is to use royalty-free music for any classes or coaching you plan on streaming or making available online.
Here’s a Great Alternative… But Be Careful
Fortunately, several subscription services offer high-quality, royalty-free music specifically designed for group fitness classes. But, before you start downloading, just a quick word about these sites. First of all, royalty-free music is not free. It’s music that artists have made available in a convenient way to purchase the licenses you need in a single place.
Also, just because music is listed as royalty-free doesn’t mean you can use it any way you want. The music is licensed for specific uses. Some sites offer just music for in-person classes. Others just allow streaming, but not on-demand video (videos that are available any time online). Some will not let you use their music for videos for which you charge a fee. So, before you subscribe or buy, be sure that the specific use you have in mind is covered in the license you are purchasing.
Finally, be sure to look for sites that offer a subscription package rather than just licensing individual songs (which can run from $50 – $150 per song!) Subscriptions are always the cheapest way to gain access to the music.
Sites Designed for Online Fitness
Here are a few sites that offer a good selection of music that would be great for your fitness applications. The subscriptions at these sites cover usage for in-person, livestreaming, on-demand, and videos for which you charge, so you will be covered no matter how you use it. Best of all, they are not that expensive! You can subscribe to get unlimited music on any of these for less than $50/month.
Royalty Free Fitness Music ($49.95/month, $480/year)
Sound Stripe ($252/year)
Epidemic Sound ($49/month or $299/year)
TakeTones ($39/month or $228/year)
This is just a sample, and there are a growing number of additional sites offering royalty-free music. Before you buy or subscribe, again, you must be sure that they are licensed for synchronization in video production.
You’re a Music Licensing Ninja!
So, congratulations, you are now a royalty-free music ninja! You know everything you need to know to offer a great workout and group fitness videos without worrying about being taken down by YouTube or Facebook. Feel better? Now go on and dream big. Start creating content you know will engage your members and help them live healthier lifestyles no matter where they are!
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about engaging your members with virtual fitness, check out our webinar, Solving the Virtual Puzzle: How to Create Virtual Programs that Engage Members and Drive Revenue on Thursday, August 6 at noon EDT or Tuesday, August 11 at 3:00 PM EDT. We’ll run through everything from what your members really want to how to produce a high-quality video on a small budget.Follow us: