Karaoke has always been a popular entertainment choice in the UK for its vibrancy and profitability. According to a study, karaoke can increase footfall to a hospitality venue by 40%. London is reported to have 68 dedicated karaoke bars – you can easily find a buzzing karaoke bar in every area of the city. What's more, many restaurants and pubs are sound-proofing rooms at their establishments for singing purposes.

But before you jump head first into throwing karaoke parties, let's talk about the legal side of the karaoke business – the licences you'll need to host karaoke commercially. Simply put...

First things first, karaoke songs are not original recordings of the songs but reproductions produced by karaoke companies and producers. For a detailed explanation of how karaoke songs are made, check out this informative blog post by Luca Gargano, a musician, veteran KJ and Director of the world renowned Karaoke World Championships.

You can easily get access to licensed karaoke tracks with service providers like Singa Business whose catalogue has over 80 000 songs across different genres and languages. If you are to hire a KJ, make sure that their content is legal, too.

Fort Wayne Music Festival, shooting from the pit. 

Follow me on Insta @zvessels55

By law, you cannot play karaoke tracks from Youtube or from your normal karaoke discs for your karaoke nights at the bar or business establishment. Those are for your private usage only.

wWith the legal karaoke content taken care of, let's move on to the second matter: the public performing rights for bars, pubs, restaurants and venues.

Public performing rights for bars and venues

According to the UK copyright law, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, permission is needed from the copyright holders – generally those who create, record and publish music – in order to play or perform music in public (broadly, this means in any other context than a domestic one).

In the UK, PPL PRS is the organisation that oversees music licence fees for most artists. Bars as well as venues must pay for a licence to offer karaoke (categorised as live music event) at the establishment - TheMusicLicence.

Based on a venue’s square footage and other factors like if it is a single unit versus multiple unit operation, the number of nights karaoke is run, and so on, PPL PRS will calculate your licence fee.

TheMusicLicence also allows you to legally play background music for employees or customers in your business through the radio, TV, other digital devices and live performances.

Previously, businesses and organisations had to obtain separate music licences from PPL and PRS for music. However, they have now come together to form PPL PRS Ltd and launch TheMusicLicence. One contact. One invoice. One licence.

Is karaoke expensive for bars, pubs and venues then?

While bars, pubs and venues will need to pay extra to have karaoke legally at their place comparing to offering just background music, the costs are outweighed by the benefits.

Customers are demanding nowadays, and offering them background music alone won't cut it. Karaoke is a trendy, easy and cost-effective entertainment option (when done right). It draws people in earlier, encourages them to stay longer and spend more on food and beverage.

Karaoke nowadays are far from the sad and cringey experience you might have from your memories.
singa on a television

More importantly, paying your PRS PPL licensing fees will save you from costly legal fees for copyright infringement later on. Court cases through PRS PPL have been known to rack up millions of pounds and drive many bars out of business. With each musical composition used illegally, the bar or venue will be fined. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are properly licensed for any music use taking place at your business or organisation. Do you want to risk it?

Respect the artists, stay on the right side of the laws, and enjoy your karaoke!

Disclaimer: This article isn’t legal advice. Please talk to a solicitor for the sake of your business.