What license do I need with perfomers at my event?

April 2, 2013

Dear Music Lawyer,

I am doing a class project and we get to create our own event with no budget. For our event we are having a 21st birthday party take place at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, Massachusetts, and we are having performers come. I was wondering if we "hired performers" like Jay-Z if he would need a special license to come perform where the event is being held. Or how that would work?


Dear Melissa,

Although not typically required, you are wise to have a signed performance contract with any performers at your "event," especially superstar acts like Jay-Z. The performance contract should specify, among other things, the following:

  • date/time/location of the performance
  • time for load in, soundcheck
  • travel/transportation/lodging arrangements (if necessary)
  • performance fee (if any) and when the fee is payable
  • equipment: what you are providing, what the performer needs to bring
  • cancellation clause: when can you and/or the performer cancel? (pay special attention to any fees that are still payable if the event is canceled)
  • special terms: e.g., meet and greet session before/after the show; permission to record and/or live stream the event (may require exclusivity waiver from Jay-Z's record label)

In addition, if using a venue that's open to the public, make sure that the performance venue has a valid public performance license from ASCAP, BMI, and/or SESAC that covers the musical performance. The good news is that Hard Rock Cafe is an established music venue so they should have the proper licenses in place from all three societies, but it's still good to confirm.

TIP: If you are using a venue without a public performance license, you or the venue will need to obtain single event licenses from the performing rights societies that control public performances of any songs that will be performed (i.e., ASCAP license needed to publicly perform songs in ASCAP catalog, BMI license needed to publicly perform songs in BMI catalog, etc.). Contact the societies to determine exact pricing. To minimize cost, you could try to limit the set list to all songs from one of the societies (e.g., only ASCAP songs for the show so you only need an ASCAP license).

Best of luck to you!

—Amy E. Mitchell

AskaMusicLawyer.com is maintained by experienced Austin music lawyer Amy E. Mitchell. Please feel free to ask any music law related questions. You will be notified by email when your question has been selected for response, and the response will be posted on this site.

Please note that no responses are guaranteed, and responses provided on this site do not constitute legal advice and may be edited or removed at any time. The purpose of AskaMusicLawyer.com is solely to educate and inform musicians and music professionals about legal issues in the music industry. Accordingly, any posted responses are merely intended to give you general legal insight in order to point you in the right direction.