With spring (slowly but surely) coming up, you know what that means – festival season is here. Thousands of musicians will come to Chicago to perform at various venues and concerts – anyone from solo acts, to world famous stars. If you are a smaller act, chances are you may play a cover song here or there – no big deal, right? Well actually, depending on who owns the rights, this could be a major issue. Before signing your music performance contract here are a few things to look for:

Does the venue cover all the rights?

If you are playing cover songs – from Michael Jackson, to Michael Bolton – you need to know if this music is covered by the venue. Failure to do so can cost you in the thousands of dollars. When reading through your music performance contract, the main verbiage to look for is something along the lines of, “venue has paid all licensing ASCAP and BMI.” ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers – one of the standard places that allows you to lease music. BMI stands for Broadcast Music, Inc. – another advocacy group whose main goal is to bridge the gap with artists and their intellectual property, with businesses or venues that want to play their music. Before your band signs a music performance contract, ensure that the venue is covered by either of these organizations.

Where do I find the who owns the rights – and what’s next?

If the venue where you are playing does not have licensing protection of BMI or ASCAP, then you can always search to see who owns these rights. There are a few websites that allow you to search for licensing – BeatPick, Songfile, and YouLicense – these sites allow you to search music by both Artist or Title, and see  to whom the specific rights belong. From here, you can reach out to whomever holds the rights, and purchase them on a temporary basis (called a license). They usually have standard fees and costs, however the costs are ultimately up to the rightsholder.

Fun Fact: During Mitt Romney’s Presidential run, his campaign was served with a Cease and Desist letter from the rock band Silversun Pickups when they used one of their songs at a campaign event in 2012. While simply playing music as background music may seem innocent enough, you need to make sure you have done your licensing prior to doing so.

How much can penalties cost?

If the venue does not cover your song, you can expect to be required to pay anywhere from $750 – $30,000. However, if willful infringement is shown, the penalties can be very, very steep – up to $150,000 per infringement. This means if you play 10 cover songs that are not licensed, you could wind up in the hole for $1,500,000. Long story short – do not mess with infringement.

It’s important to thoroughly understand any contract before signing it, and those for music festivals or concerts are no different. Ideally your band will have a manager whose duty this is – but even better would be to have an attorney to read over any contract. Small details that may seem insignificant at the time can always come back to bite you.

This information has been prepared by Blaise & Nitschke, P.C. for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.