Grinding out the miles and knocking out a hard workout is often made much easier with some tunes. Music can make workouts even more fun, provide motivation or even a little distraction. You can even search for beats per minute (bpm) and compilations for different kinds of exercise. Some fitness modalities offer music that goes along with their classes. But as a personal trainer and fitness professional, can you play music during a client session, legally speaking?
You see there is a difference between a client playing music they have purchased or streaming for themselves, and you as a professional playing music for your clients and/or staff.
Here’s how it works. If music is played in your gym or workout space for clients or staff; for example, through radio, TV, or electronic means (a Bluetooth speaker, a CD, or even your phone) or at live events, it meets the definition of “public performance.” What this means is that to play music, legally, as part of business – even if it not a product you sell – you need a license.
It is important to note that buying music files does not automatically extend a public performance licence. Furthermore, if you make a copy of a piece of copyright protected music (like a mix CD), you will need a “mechanical rights” license.
You do not need to obtain a license if you are only making personal use of the music, that is, if you play it only for yourself (for your own workouts or in your office), however you may need a license to play music in your home gym or studio space, if you have an employee, contractor, or meet with clients there. The reason you can turn on the radio and enjoy music in your home and car without an additional license is because the radio station has a broadcast license that enables you to enjoy the music on your radio for free.
A music license can grant you the permission from the copyright holder to “perform” music in public in accordance with the Copyright Act 1976. There are a number of companies who allow you to purchase an annual license to play music in public Determining which agency is responsible for your licensing depends on the country you live in and the kind of music you are looking to play. Some of these agencies offer a specific license for fitness professionals to utilize music in their business.
In the UK, you may need a PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) licence if you play recorded music in public. PPL collects and distributes money for the use of recorded music on behalf of record companies and performers. You will also need a PRS for Music licence to legally play recorded music in public.
Let’s be very clear: you will need a license to play music via CD or recorded electronic means in a gym setting (or any workplace).
Why can’t I just turn on the radio?
You might be able to if your workplace meets some very specific conditions: a license is not needed for radio, streaming or television transmission on business premises if the performance is by means of public communication, is under 2000 square feet, uses a limited number of speakers or televisions, and if the reception is not further transmitted (for example, from one room to another), and there is no admission charge to hear the music. You could have a radio in each room as long as the total workplace is not more than 2000 square feet, and not need a music license.
This means that you cannot have a transmission system, including bluetooth, that transmits that radio signal to speakers in different rooms without being in possession of the appropriate license.
Physical Gym Space
The Music in the workplace license offered by ASCAP is based on physical locations. As managed above, many of the agencies also offer a specific license for gyms, and fitness professions. If you are unsure if that is sufficient, the Music in the workplace license is likely the appropriate one to secure. This kind of license would cover all use of music in your business (excluding selling products that include music) – including on hold music, and music in your gym, workout room, office or waiting area.
But, as explained above you may not necessarily need to secure a public performance license if you business premises meets the specific size and speaker configurations and you are not using music in your workplace other than turning the radio or television on.
If you are a licensee for a specific fitness modality or class, you may find that you are also given a license to play a specific set of music. You will need to review your specific license documentation to establish the rights and responsibilities of playing music in this context.
On-location fitness classes and personal training
What if you train clients outside or on location? The general rules for licensing of music in public places indicate that public places of any size that play radio or TV broadcasts are exempt from paying fees if they use no more than six external speakers (not more than four speakers in each room) for playing music. Be aware that public places that play CDs or hire live musicians (including those that play cover songs) are still subject to paying licensing fees. Review the agency descriptions for licenses for fitness professionals to make sure that the license will also cover on-location training.
What does this mean for your fitness business?
If music is part of making your fitness business a great experience for your clients, then making sure that you obtain and maintain the appropriate music licenses is part of running a successful business. As with all types of licenses and liability reduction strategies, start by evaluating how you utilize, or wish to utilize, music in your fitness business. Then seek out the possible licenses that will allow you to use music in the way that you would like. Consider the cost of the license as a cost of doing business and speak with your accountant about its deductability as a business expense.