Broadcasting and Royalties

Broadcasting and royalties

Whether you're just starting out with your online radio station or are expanding the music library for your weekly program, it's important to know what's going on with artist royalties. The world of royalties can be confusing at times, how and when does a radio station need to pay royalties?

Royalties and Performance Rights Organizations

Performing rights are royalties paid to songwriters and composers whenever one of their songs is performed (played) in public, broadcasted on radio / television, in clubs, in restaurants, in bars - anywhere music is played in public. These rights are collected by Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), but only for composers and writers that are connected to them. These organizations also give out licenses to radio stations so that they can airplay that music. The reoccurring fee of this license is distributed to the composers and writers of music that received airplay. This can happen because the PRO has an agreement with writers and composers to collect these royalties on their behalf.

“But I get offered free music from record labels all the time” you might say. “Surely, I won't have to pay royalties on those tracks!?”. Wrong. A record label, radio promoter or artist might offer you their music 'free', meaning that you don't have to pay for that release itself, but this does not mean you do not have to pay royalties for airplaying it. That are two completely separate matters. If a composer / writer is connected to a PRO, you are obligated to pay royalties for their tracks, no matter what the situation might be. Free “for promotional use only” releases are not by definition royalty free.

The same rule holds up when you buy a release on iTunes and when an artist submits music to you online or via e-mail. 

  Possibly you also need to pay neighboring rights to the performers. This depends on the country you’re broadcasting from. Inform with the PRO in your country. 

How to avoid paying royalties

It is possible to run a station without having to pay a single cent for royalties. The only legal way to do this, is to only airplay “royalty free music”. Royalty free music is truly royalty free if all the composers/writers of a song are not connected to any PRO and they have given the station permission to airplay their work. This way there is no PRO involved to ask for funds on behalf of the composers as they have never been granted permission by anyone to do so. Be careful though, as there are a lot of releases available online that are labelled royalty free even when they're not!

How to obtain a radio license

The way royalties are managed means you can play 100% royalty free music to avoid having to pay royalties. Although this is certainly possible, it limits the scope of music you can play and it comes with a lot of hassle (checking whether a track is truly royalty free and getting the permission of each composer & writer in order to airplay it). 

For most a license is the most sensible way to go. To obtain a license you can get in touch with the PRO in your country. There are some online services that act as an intermediary between you and a PRO and this could make a radio license less expensive.

With a license it will be a lot easier to create a varied playlist and/or to build a large music library for your presenters to choose from.

How to get music for your radio playlist

For high quality “free” (NOT Royalty free) and “for promotional use only” music, you can use iPluggers. Access to our music library is free of charge for radio stations, offers you access to releases in all genres imaginable and we'll also keep you updated on new releases that become available.

Next to obtaining high quality music for your playlist, you can request interviews with artists. 

To access iPluggers and download high-quality music for your playlist, sign up for a radio station account.

We hope this post shines some light on the world of royalties. Whether you're just starting out or have been in the radio biz for decades, we'd love to hear your thoughts on paying royalties. Share them with us below!  


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