Okay, so you’ve finally realized that it’s not cool (or legal!) to play Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or other consumer-based music services in your business. It’s time to get legit and bring on a purpose-built music for business service that covers all of the required licenses from the Performing Rights Organizations (PROs, including ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR) and provides professional playlist curation in one package. You may be worried about whether any low cost music for business options are available. The good news is that there certainly are, but it’s worth taking a minute to review the state of play in music for business, so you can make the best decision of the offerings out there.
The Disruption of Music for Business
Just a few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for small businesses to pay $75, $100, $150 or more per month for a rather basic, licensed background music service. For years, big music outfits like Muzak and DMX (both now owned by industry giant Mood Media) were really the only game in town, able to dictate market rates and contract terms (often, five-year, auto-renewing, no-cut arrangements) without much competition to keep them honest.
In the early 2000’s, startups like Custom Channels came on the scene and began to disrupt the status quo with new streaming technologies, customizable playlists, lower monthly fees, personalized service and no long-term contracts. Since then, even more competitors have sprung up, offering retail and restaurant businesses an ever-wider array of service options and price points.
The Emergence of Low Cost Music for Business Services
Music for business is a service with a lot of cost baked in. The music in your business requires a special license from the PROs, and your music-for-business provider is paying those licensing fees on behalf of your business. These special licensing requirements are why music-for business services cost more than “consumer” music services like Spotify, Apple Music, or SiriusXM.
It used to be that the cheapest business music services saved on music licensing costs by offering limited music libraries featuring lesser-known artists and cover versions of popular songs instead of the original recordings. Some of those services still exist, but changes to music licensing laws swept in with the DMCA of 1998 made it possible for new competitors to get into the music-for-business market with the same or better access to major-label music that the “big guys” enjoy. Suffice it to say, the days of one-size-fits-all music for business services are over, but there are a still few things even low cost music for business services should absolutely provide: blanket licenses from the PROs, which give them access to millions of songs including major artists and releases across many different genres of music; “business friendly” playlists with songs screened for offensive lyrics and content; full licensing of music streamed to your business, saving you from the time and expense of negotiating and complying with myriad PRO licenses on your own or risking potentially huge liability for copyright infringement for playing music without a license.
Every industry has its low cost providers designed to appeal to the budget-conscious customer, and the music for business space—in spite of those baked-in costs—is no different. For this article, we will offering a comparison of three low cost music for business providers: Cloudcover, Rockbot and SoundMachine.
If you are looking for the cheapest possible music solution that also includes major label songs and artists, Cloudcover may be worth considering At prices as low as $17.95 per month for their basic “Music” level plan ($16.16 when paid annually), Cloudcover is among the least expensive licensed music service available anywhere. The price of Cloudcover’s basic service barely covers music licensing—almost always a music-for-business provider’s most significant cost—so there’s clearly little room in the margins for other facets of the service.
Pricing: Cloudcover charges additional fees for their “Manage” plan which adds enhanced, multi-location player management and monitoring ($22.90). You can also upgrade to Cloudcover’s “Message” plan for $29.95 per month if you want to upload your own messages to play between the songs. There’s no discount for extra zones at the same physical address; each zone requires a full “Music” subscription ($17.95).
Music: Cloudcover offers an impressive list of 150 “stations”. The majority of the stations listed are very narrow genres (e.g. the list includes four different stations of Halloween music, six “kids” stations, and a variety of other niche or specialty styles). A handful of the stations are ready-to-go “blends” that feature larger libraries curated for specific businesses such as “Upbeat Restaurant”. This Spotify-esque way of dividing styles into narrow categories offers a lot of options, but it can be challenging to manage if you’re always needing to combine multiple stations in order to get large enough playlists so as to avoid excess repetition. Cloudcover lets you remove songs you don’t want to hear, but you can’t add specific songs or artists to a station or mix. An “Enterprise” custom programming option is available for businesses with 100 or more locations.
Equipment: Cloudcover customers can choose from a variety of playback options including a mobile app on a phone or tablet, a web browser on a computer, Sonos Wireless speakers, or Cloudcover’s proprietary “Cloudbox”, which they sell for $84.50.
Pros: The price – it’s hard to find a cheaper solution. Basic solution for budget-conscious businesses that know what kind of music they want and are interested in building and maintaining their own “mix stations.” A large variety of niche stations means you’ll probably find one or more that are right for your business environment and vibe. A solid web-based control and scheduling interface can manage one or multiple locations.
Cons: There’s limited ability to control the exact “weight” of each style in the mix and limited ability to modify the pre-set stations beyond removing songs you don’t like. This means that finding the right mix can involve a lot of trial and error, especially if you are mixing more than one or two stations—which you will want to do to minimize repetition.
Best For: DIYers for whom price is the primary consideration. You may not get the level of playlist customization and music curation expertise that you can get with more full-featured services, but Cloudcover certainly covers all of the bases for many businesses at a price that is hard to beat.
Rockbot came on the scene in 2009 to bring new technologies to the age-old background music business. Their early focus was on “Rockbot Request”, a unique feature where where guests can use a proprietary mobile app to request music to play while visiting your store or restaurant—think of a jukebox, but from a cloud-based playlist controlled by management. Most businesses, though, will probably be more interested in their basic Rockbot Music service.
Pricing: While not as cheap as Cloudcover, Rockbot does offer a their base “Rockbot Music” package for as low as $29.95/month on a month-to-month plan (you can save $60/year if you commit to an annual plan). Businesses wanting to try the “Request” feature, which includes social media integration, will have to shell out $79/month ($49/month when paid annually). Other add-ons include Audio Messaging (+$10/month, bring your own audio messages) and support for digital signage that can display what song is playing and other visual advertisements (+$10/month, bring your own video screen).
Music: Rockbot, like most streaming services, has access to millions of tracks from the complete repertoires of the PROs and uses AI to intelligently improve the playlist as you give the system feedback on your music. Rockbot claims 300+ stations to choose from or you can build your own by uploading Spotify or iTunes playlists. As with most services, you can ban songs you don’t want to hear anymore, create and schedule multiple playlists and turn “off” explicit lyrics to avoid F-bombs and such.
Equipment: Rockbot’s proprietary media player can be purchased for a one-time cost of $149. Alternately, you can use a PC, tablet or other mobile device for playback. Rockbot is also available on Sonos wireless speakers. Like most streaming services, setup is fast – often 5 minutes or less – and self installable by store personnel. The Rockbot player includes a playlist of locally stored, failover music in the event of an Internet outage (OK, Internet outages are not very common these days, but it’s a feature that some businesses might find comforting).
Pros: Rockbot is a AI/tech-driven platform focused on music delivery to the hospitality industry. Their app-based “Request” functionality is a unique offering in the space and may be of interest to businesses that want to create an interactive music experience with their guests. Rockbot’s slick web and app-based music and player management tools allow you to control the music at multiple locations remotely. At their base price-point, Rockbot represents a good value relative to similarly-priced services with far fewer features such as SiriusXM for Business or Pandora for Business (we’ll review those in another blog soon).
Cons: Rockbot – as its name implies – leans heavily into technology for the selection and management of music, which may not be appropriate for all businesses. Drawing from such a large pool of potential songs and without the discerning ears of a human curator at the controls may result in playlists that the ‘bot’ likes but aren’t designed specifically with the needs of your business in mind. Beyond the basics, the add-ons (such as messaging, request, and digital signage) can drive the price into the price range of more premium services like Custom Channels.
Best For: Techy DIYer’s that are interested in working with a cutting-edge technology platform to work hands on with creating music playlists or exploring advanced interactive features such as the Request feature mobile app.
Soundmachine is a relativey new player in the U.S. market. They recently announced a partnership with the namesake of the once-maligned file-sharing website Napster to bolster their music programming options in the States. Based out of Barcelona, Spain, the company has been serving the European market since 2008 and claims “10,000 locations across several countries, with customers including large retail, hotel, restaurant, and coffee shop chains, and thousands of medium to small businesses.” While Soundmachine doesn’t have a U.S. headquarters, they are representative of the flexibility of tech businesses that can operate world-wide with little more than a website and a UPS Store mailbox.
Pricing: Soundmachine’s base “Business” plan starts at $29.95 pay-as-you-go monthly ($26.95 per month when paid annually) for a curated selection of 75 stations. You can move up to “Business Premium” for $34.95 per month ($31.95 annually) which gets you unlimited stations and access to millions of songs through the Napster music algorithm platform.
Music: Soundmachine does not let you see or hear examples of their music on the website, but you can sign up for a free trial to check out either service. Soundmachine offers both “algorithmically generated” and “human curated” stations. They also offer custom music programming services through their Enterprise solution. Soundmachine’s Business Premium level taps into Napster’s algorithmically generated playlist service. This may provide a lot of choice and flexibility (ala Spotify) but may also require a lot of management and oversight by you to get the right music mix and ensure all songs are appropriate for business (most consumer services like Napster and Spotify do not screen music for appropriateness in businesses beyond the blunt “explicit lyrics” tool). Business that want a safer, more simple choice may lean towards the human-curated Business plan. All plans include music licensing for the U.S. and Canadian PROs. If you are outside the U.S. and Canada, you’ll need to get your own public performance licenses from the applicable PROs in your country of operation.
Equipment: Soundmachine’s services may be played back in your business in a variety of ways including your own PC or Mac via a web browser, mobile app for phones and tablets, Soundmachine’s proprietary hardware player, and an assortment of third-party hardware devices including Sonos Wireless speakers. There is no price available on their website for their own hardware player (call, chat or email for pricing).
Pros: Option to choose a collection of human-curated stations at or take a deep dive into the world of Napster-generated playlists that you can manage yourself. Lots of playback options that don’t require you to buy their hardware. Decent, mid-range price point.
Cons: You will definitely need to try before you buy, since Soundmachine’s website and marketing materials are very sparse in terms of communicating what kind of music and styles they offer. The algorithm-driven Business Premium service may serve up a lot of songs that are not appropriate for play in businesses since few algorithms can screen for content beyond blatant curse words. Soundmachine’s offerings may not have unique quality over other companies that are more established in the region and at a similar price-point.
Best For: SMBs that need a simple music solution and for whom saving $5 or $10 per month over a more full-featured U.S. music-for-business service is important. Also good for music geeks that want to manage their own playlists and do their own song screening from Napster’s vast library.
Summary: Do You Have to Find a Low Cost Music for Business Service?
As a business owner, you have many more choices for reliable, legal, music-for-business services than most businesses did 10 years ago. While all three of the companies in this comparison are good examples of low cost music for business providers, even the best services needn’t cost an arm and a leg. Depending on your number of locations and your desired level of customization, the price range for the majority of music for business services in the U.S. is about $25-$50 per month. Even at the higher end, a great music for business service is hardly a budget-breaker for most businesses, especially those where the perfect music mix is a key part of their customer experience and their brand.
Custom Channels is a premium business music streaming service that specializes in human-curated, professional playlists that are always on-brand and appropriate for businesses. This extra attention to detail can cost a few dollars per month more month than the companies we’ve outlined here, but some businesses find the extra care pays off when it comes to getting a consistent, high-quality soundtrack for their business. You can learn more by contacting us online or calling (303) 444-7700 for a free music consultation.