Ever sing karaoke at a restaurant or bar in Massachusetts? It probably was a fun time, wasn't it? I bet it wasn't for the owner if they weren't licensed.

Karaoke Is Often Highly Illegal In Massachusetts Bars


A friend of mine who owned a restaurant in western Massachusetts once told me he got whacked for either playing unlicensed music for the public or hosting karaoke, I forget which. What I won't forget is the fine. He told me it was in the thousands! I was blown away. It actually makes sense though once he explained it to me.

You need a license from a PRO (Performing Rights Organization) in Massachusetts


Unfortunately for you, the artist who you are trying to emulate needs to get paid, or at least their publisher does.

Indeed, music and karaoke licensing in the USA are complicated. And yes, you do need to obtain a license to have karaoke in your bar or venue. Actually, you need to have a license to play background music or host dance nights, live music or DJs at your establishment. -singa.com

There are 4 main PROs

  • ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)
  • BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.)
  • GMR (Global Music Rights)
  • SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)

According to the US copyright law, a music “public performance” refers to any music played outside one's normal circle of friends and family. When talking about public performing rights, we most commonly talk about the PRO's (Performing Right Organizations) who govern these rights.

Obtaining a license/Penalty for Infraction

If the owner of the restaurant or bar obtains a license your absolutely fine, however, if you get caught, the penalty can be pretty stiff.

With each musical composition used illegally, the bar or venue will be fined between $750 to $30,000.

The size of your venue that is hosting karaoke or live music, how often you host, how wide you catalog of music is will determine how much a license will cost you and how PROs you need to obtain licensure from.

They Will Send Narcs Looking for You


How my buddy got caught was that an representative from one of the four PROs was in his establishment undercover and cited him for the infraction.

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