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Hiring Musicians for a Pub or Small Venue

The Live Music Act and licenses, rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland and use of incidental music.

Last updated: 05 April 2022

The Live Music Act 2012, and its extension in 2015, mean that many small venues can now put on live music without a music licence (this does not apply to PPL and PRS licences, which venues will still need).

Venues are able to put on live music under the terms of the Act if:

  • They are based in either England or Wales.
  • They have an alcohol licence. In some circumstances an alcohol licence may not be required. Contact the MU for advice.
  • There will be fewer than 500 people in the audience (for amplified music).
  • Where unamplified music is being performed, there is no audience limit.
  • The performance of live music will not take place between the hours of 11pm—8am.

Live music in Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Live Music Act 2012 does not apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  • You are able to put on live music in Scotland if you have a liquor licence, and have indicated in your operating plan that you will provide live music.
  • Venues in Northern Ireland can put on live music if they have an entertainment licence.

It’s essential that artists work closely with venues to create as many mutually beneficial and successful shows as possible. It’s no secret that musicians often struggle to find sufficient paid work, but the Live Music Act offer a real antidote to the current challenging times.

Kelly Wood,  MU Live Performance Official

If the music is incidental

In addition to the exemption detailed previously, you will not need regulated entertainment on your licence if you want to have music as part of another event, and if the following conditions apply:

  • Music is not the main, or one of the main, reasons for people attending the premises.
  • Music is not advertised as the main attraction.
  • The volume of the music does not predominate over other activities, and can be described as ‘background’ music.

A study for PRS for Music reports that bars putting on live music see an increase in ‘wet sales’ of 44% over the weekend, peaking at 60% on Friday and Saturday nights. Pubs that feature music are on average three times less likely to close than those that do not. 

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