Many types of small businesses — retail shops, restaurants, salons, and gyms, to name a few — rely on music to create the right ambiance for customers. Of course, not everyone’s MP3 collection is large enough to handle eight or more hours a day on rotation.
Streaming music services can give you online access to the tunes you need to set the mood at work. But note that you will need to pay licensing fees for commercial use.
For streaming music services that don’t offer their own commercial licenses, you are legally obligated to pay a licensing fee to the copyright holder, BMI or ASCAP. These fees are often minimal: For instance, a fitness club [PDF] with 400 members that uses music for group exercise classes would pay just $28.40 per year to play music copyrighted by BMI. You can find information about the appropriate licensing fees here and here. If you don’t pay for a commercial license and you’re caught, you could be fined thousands of dollars, depending on the size and nature of your business.
Here are a few of the major players in streaming music.
1. Pandora — Pandora uses custom algorithms to find hundreds of artists “similar” in some way to an artist you like. For example, if you’re looking for smooth jazz to ease your salon customers into their massages, try a Sade station. Want to get your gym customers hyped up for a cardio session? Try Pandora’s custom cardio station, or create your own, using your favorite Black-Eyed Peas song to get the right tempo. A Pandora commercial license is available for $24.95 per month.
2. Spotify – This Swedish startup has one of the largest catalogs of streaming music available online. Best of all, you can stream entire albums as well as individual songs or playlists. Check out the What’s New section to see which recent recordings are available for streaming, or search for your favorite artists by name to add their tunes to your playlist. Spotify has opened its application programming interface (API) to outside developers, so you can also use related apps like ShareMyPlaylists to find and download custom playlists that other Spotify users have created. Like Pandora, Spotify also maintains stations based on certain artists. An “offline mode” lets you download and play music even without an internet connection. You can also import your own collection and access it from the cloud at any time. Commercial licenses are not available.
3. Rdio – Rdio offers many of the same features as Spotify, plus a more intuitive interface. However, there are no third-party apps available to enhance the Rdio experience, and it doesn’t allow you to upload your own files to the cloud. Commercial licenses are not available.
4. Google Play Music All Access — Like Spotify and Pandora, Google’s new music service offers streaming across desktop and mobile devices. Unlike its competitors, however, it does not sync with streaming entertainment players, such as Sonos and Roku, which are important if you want to stream music in a public space. Commercial licenses are not available.