Music makes fitness fun, but it can get you in trouble if you don’t understand music licensing. If you use music while you’re getting paid then tune in and turn up the volume! Here is a brief overview of what every group exercise instructor and personal trainer should know about music.

1st P – Publishing Rights (sometimes called mechanical rights) is licensing for who writes the lyrics and music on paper. There are numerous Music Publishers and each song is controlled by one of them, for example, Sony/ATV, Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner/Chappell.

2nd P – Performance Rights (sometimes called master use rights) is licensing for who performs the music (what most people understand). Hey, this is an Ed Sheeran song or a Coldplay song. They perform the song. Also, if a new artist sings an old song, they are now the performer, but publishing still remains with the original person who wrote it. There are numerous Music Labels that represent singers and bands, for example, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

3rd P – Public Airwaves Rights (sometimes called public performance rights) is licensing to play music in the open for multiple people to hear. Why is this an issue during a group exercise class, and was never an issue at the beach with my friends? Because now you are earning money while playing the music you choose as an integral part of your work. Radio stations pay this licensing fee to broadcast music on their channel. But I assume you do not want to tune into a radio station for your classes since you don’t know the music order and don’t want the commercials.

Officially speaking, music licensing is the licensed use of copyrighted music. Music licensing is intended to ensure that the owners of copyrights on musical works are compensated for certain uses of their work. Just like you want to be compensated for your work as a GroupEx Instructor or Personal Trainer. So, now that the 3P’s are defined, what can you do?

If you play CDs for clients and/or classes…

The music CD’s you own were purchased with a personal license for the first 2 P’s. You still cannot legally play them without the appropriate licensing (the 3rd P).

If you download music off the internet…

There are websites where you can download music and create your own music mixes. These sites may or may not have licensed the publishing and performance rights. Even if you pay a fee for those songs, that may only be for mixing, access or convenience, not for licensing. Find reputable websites that do properly license music. However, the music industry monitors their music, so the first 2 P’s are usually less of an issue…or should I say, most probably already taken care of.

But again, downloading licensed music has NOTHING to do with playing that music in the open, for multiple people to hear. The bigger issue is when you are playing and listening to the music in your classes. You should have the proper license to blast your music as loud as you want in every environment.

When you teach your classes, ask the gym or studio if they pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC licensing fees (in the USA). There are other/different performance rights organizations outside the USA. (Similar to Music Publishers and Labels, music/songs are controlled by one of these agencies. Knowing which one is an exercise on Google.) If the gym or studio does pay these licensing fees, then you should be covered, but only in that specific gym or studio.

If you give your classes or train clients outside, like public parks or beaches, there is probably no entity paying for the public airwaves rights, so you are responsible. Same goes for indoor locations that do not normally play published music, like hotel conference rooms or public schools. You will be responsible for obtaining the rights. It may be complicated or expensive, so consider your music choices.

If you’re filming workout videos with music….

If you have recorded your class, and you want to put in online or sell it, you will need a music synchronization license, meaning, you are combining (or syncing) your video with someone else’s published music. This is a bigger topic than this article is intended to cover. But again, just because you bought a song, doesn’t give you rights beyond simply listening to it for your own enjoyment.

You have rights also. Focus on making your classes as fun as you can; that is your main job. You won’t go to jail on your first music offense, but just be aware. Protect yourself. Similar to your liability insurance, which you may never need to use, using properly licensed music is the right avenue to go.

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The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as legal justification. Music rights and licensing is a complex issue and the above article is only an introduction. You should consult with an attorney knowledgeable in music rights and licensing if you have any specific questions or issues.

Matthew Feldman

Matthew Feldman is president and CEO of GymLynx, Inc., an online marketplace where fitness trainers and instructors can browse, compare and rent space by the hour from gyms and studios, for personal training or group classes. Whether for physical, recreational, emotional or spiritual activities, no memberships required. To join for FREE or for more information, go to