There are several concerns which need to be addressed when planning an event where music will be required.

Whether a garden party, where recorded music will be played, or a DJ giving a live performance, or even a music festival, you will have to consider whether or not you have the appropriate permission to use the music.

In addition, you will need to consider the environmental impact of noise pollution on the community around you.

These considerations should be factored in to your event planning as early as possible in order to avoid disappointment, delay, and a court visit.

Music licensing for events

By virtue of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, you must seek a copyright holder’s permission for each instance of copyrighted music you play in a public space. As you can imagine, that would be quite unworkable in practice if you wanted to play a variety of music.

Luckily for us, there are licensing companies – PPL and PRS for Music for example – who will provide licenses for the majority of popular music and which one you require will depend on the type of event you wish to plan.

In some instances you may require licenses from both providers – For example, the PPL license covers recorded music and video being played in public and they collect on behalf of record companies and performers. However, PRS for Music is more concerned with collecting on behalf of songwriters, composers, and publishers.

The difference between the two is the production of the recorded music and video – this stage requires the involvement of more expertise and that brings with it royalty payments.

Although you will be covered for the majority of music and the one (or two!) license for all approach does save a lot of time and effort when it comes to live performance – it’s important to note that in some circumstances – such as in the instance of dramatico-music works (operas, musical plays, pantomimes, revues) and ballet – you may need different licenses or may need to go through the arduous task of seeking each copyright holder’s permission.

For most events, PRS for Music and PPL will probably provide the majority of your music-licensing needs. Prices will vary depending on factors such as number of attendees, duration of the event, duration of the license, and size of your organization. You will need to relay all these details to the respective organizations in order to assess the financial impact on your event.

Noise pollution

Although you’ve taken care and attention to ensure you’ve gained the permission of all copyright holders, through licensing or otherwise, you will need to consider the environmental impact of the music you wish to play.

The first and most important thing to mention is that staff at your events should not be exposed to sound levels greater than 85 dB for any prolonged period. As such, staff should be provided with appropriate equipment to ensure that no damage is done to their ears.

Similarly, you should remind patrons, by using signs, that you are playing music greater than 85 dB and that such a level of sound can cause damage to their hearing.

The above factors should be considered as part of your health and safety plans and appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that these factors are made a priority.

Noise pollution is a statutory public nuisance. That’s not a personal dig at music gigs, that’s its formal name. Although there are many statutory public nuisances, the one that we are most concerned here is noise and vibration caused by music at events.

As part of your event planning, you will need to consider the wide-implications that playing music will have. It is good practice to check noise levels at the boundary of your event under different conditions and different times of the day and to ensure that music operations are controlled and monitored by some delegated person.

You will need to involve your local council and environmental health department to consider the wider implications and to seek an environmental permit where you feel that the noise may become a problem. Both local councils and environmental health departments have the power to shut your event down even if they only anticipate your event will cause noise pollution.

It is best to err on the side of caution and, like with licensing under the licensing act, involve your local council and environmental health department than to regret it later after a complaint has been made!

Points to take away

1. In the United Kingdom, you need to obtain all copyright holders’ permission before you can use their work.

2. Luckily, music copyright and royalties are regulated through (primarily!) two license providers. They cover most uses when it comes to events like festivals, bars, clubs, pubs, and other events.

3. In order to play music that is recorded, or display music video, you will need both licenses. You may only need one to play live music.

4. In order to use dramatico-music works or ballets, you will need to seek individual copyright owners in most instances.

5. You should take care and attention to ensure the safety of both your staff and patrons from loud noise. You should warn patrons as best you can, but ultimately they’re responsible for the choices they make.

6. Noise pollution is a statutory public nuisance. You should speak with local councils and environmental health departments where you think there might be an issue with noise.

7. Failure to do so could mean your event is a very quiet affair.


Craig Ineson is a law graduate of the University of Liverpool, current student of international business law at master’s level, a passionate restaurant reviewer, and experienced content writer.
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