Okay, 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. One that covers all of the required licenses from the Performing Rights Organizations (PROs, including ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR). A service that 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. They were able to dictate market rates and contract terms (often, five-year, auto-renewing, no-cut arrangements). There was not much competition to keep them from being unchallenged.
Startups like Custom Channels came on the scene in the early 2000’s. They 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. Hopefully, 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 money on music licensing costs. They did it 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. Then, changes to music licensing laws swept in with the DMCA of 1998. This federal act 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 heritage companies.
What Every Music Service Should Provide
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. Among those are blanket licenses from the PROs. This gives them access to millions of songs including major artists and releases across many different genres of music. Another essential is “business friendly” playlists with songs screened for offensive lyrics and inappropriate content. Also, full licensing of music streamed to your business. That licensing saves 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. The music for business space—in spite of those baked-in costs—is no different. For this article, we offer a comparison of three low cost music for business providers: Cloudcover, Rockbot and SoundMachine.
Cloudcover – Low Prices ‘r’ Us
If you are looking for the cheapest possible music solution that also includes major label songs and artists, Cloudcover may be worth considering. Prices are 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. That is 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.
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. That’s for businesses that want to upload their 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).
Cloudcover offers an impressive list of 150 stations. The majority of the stations listed are very narrow genres. 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 larger 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 repetition. Cloudcover lets you remove songs you don’t want to hear. However, 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.
Cloudcover customers can choose from a variety of playback options. Choices include a mobile app on a phone or tablet, a web browser on a computer, Sonos Wireless speakers, or Cloudcover’s proprietary “Cloudbox”, which sells for $84.50.
The price. It’s hard to find a cheaper solution. It’s a basic solution for budget-strapped businesses that already 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.
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. This is especially true if you are mixing more than one or two stations. That’s something you will want to do to minimize repetition.
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 – Artificial Intelligence Comes to Background Music
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”. It’s 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.
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).
Rockbot, like most streaming services, has access to millions of tracks from the complete repertoires of the PROs. Rockbot uses AI to intelligently improve the playlist as you give the system feedback on your music. They advertise 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.
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. While Internet outages are not very common these days, it’s a feature that some businesses might find comforting.
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 control of the music at multiple locations remotely. At their base price-point, Rockbot represents a good value relative to similarly-priced services that have far fewer features such as SiriusXM for Business or Pandora for Business.
Rockbot, as its name implies, leans heavily into technology for the selection and management of music. That may not be desirable or appropriate for all businesses. The service can draw from a large pool of potential songs without the discerning ears of a human curator at the controls. Consequently, it 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 range of more premium services like Custom Channels.
Techy DIYer’s. People that are interested in working with a cutting-edge technology platform. People who like to work hands-on with creating music playlists or exploring advanced interactive features such as the Request feature mobile app.
Soundmachine – New Kid on the Block
Soundmachine is a relativey new player in the U.S. market. They have 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. They claim “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.
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). That plan gets you unlimited stations and access to millions of songs through the Napster music algorithm platform.
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 but may also require a lot of management and oversight by you to get the right music mix and to 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” label. 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. Businesses outside the U.S. and Canada will need to get their own public performance licenses from the applicable PROs in the country of operation.
Soundmachine’s services may be played back in your business in a variety of ways. That includes 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.
The 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 purchase of their hardware. Decent, mid-range price point.
You will definitely need to try before you buy. Soundmachine’s website and marketing materials are very sparse in terms of communicating exactly 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. 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 U.S. and Canada and at a similar price-point.
Small and medium size businesses that need a simple music solution. Businesses 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: Must You Find the Lowest 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. All three of the companies in this comparison are good examples of low cost music-for-business providers. But even the best services needn’t cost an arm and a leg. Depending on the number of locations and the 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 superior music-for-business service is hardly a budget-breaker for most companies. That’s especially true when the perfect music mix is a key part of the customer experience and 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 more per month than the companies we’ve outlined here. Yet some businesses find the extra care and attention to detail pays off to get 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.