Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."
As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.
Q: Why do I need a music license in the first place?<p>"Anytime you're playing a piece of music, the artist is owed something from that," says Salter, "in the same way that studio owners get paid to deliver their artistry to students." The price you've paid to download a song from iTunes, to belong to a streaming-service subscription like Spotify, or even to own a CD doesn't mean you own the right to play a song publicly, says Jodie Thomas, executive director, corporate communications, of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), one of the largest music-rights organizations in the U.S. "The price only covers the right to own the CD or download or subscription," she says.</p><p>As a studio owner, you've probably purchased public-performance music licenses for your year-end recital through organizations like BMI and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). (You don't need to purchase a license for every song you use, of course—but you need licenses from both BMI and ASCAP, as together they represent most copyrighted music in the U.S.) But have you thought about whether you're covered in your virtual classes?</p><p>"The dance-studio license doesn't include streaming," says Thomas, "as it's a license for physical locations." A separate sync license—legal permission to use an artist's copyrighted music in video or via streaming—is typically required for virtual content.</p><p>As the situation is constantly evolving, it is best to contact BMI directly if you have questions about how your license applies to virtual classes. "BMI has been working with business owners since the onset of the pandemic to ensure they can operate their traditional brick-and-mortar businesses online," says Thomas. "We work closely with each individual case to help secure the most appropriate license needed." BMI, for example, has been working with business owners since the onset of the pandemic to ensure they can operate their traditional brick-and-mortar businesses online.</p>
Q: OK, so how do I get a music license?<p>Easily, actually—by completing an online licensing form from BMI.com and ascap.com, with information about your studio's enrollment and class types offered.</p>
Q: How much does a music license cost?<p>It depends on how many students take class per week at your studio. For example, in BMI's contract, which is available online, studios with 60 or fewer unique students per week would pay a $177 annual fee, whereas a studio with 375-plus students would pay $933 per year.</p>
Q: Aren't I protected by fair use?<p>Under the U.S. Copyright Act's fair-use doctrine, only the use of copyrighted material for nonprofit education is generally justified. As a for-profit business, you're ineligible for fair use.</p>
Q: I have a commercial music service agreement. Does that cover my use of music in classes, too?<p>A: No. A commercial music license only allows you to play background music—in your lobby or dressing rooms, for example—and does not cover the use of music in performance or classes.</p>
Q: Is there any way for me to operate without a music license?<p>Yes, though it will require some creative thinking. "If a studio doesn't have a music license with BMI, instructors can play royalty-free music, where the music is created and licensed specifically for, say, fitness instructors," says Thomas. "Generally, these tracks include music 'beats,' not common or popular music." </p>
By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.
Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.
Racial equity work is ongoing.<p>King began his presentation with a powerful disclaimer: "I'm not a magical negro. I don't have all the answers. I'm not going to have the answers to end racism in a two-hour webinar." Workshops like Dancewave's are important first steps, but they aren't a one-off solution.</p>
It includes examining your own biases and blind spots.<p>King pointed out that, as teachers, we are the gatekeepers of knowledge and should examine the ways in which we've been complicit with systemic racism. It can be as simple as taking notice of who you're inclined to call on in class or as complicated as uprooting deep-seated organizational structures that promote inequity.</p><p>King urged educators to take a close look at who their organization has centered and who it has othered. Even something like language can be a barrier: He used the word "elite" as an example of a word that could be potentially exclusionary.</p>
It requires continuous self-education.<p>Dance educators should also invest in their own personal anti-racism education. "Pursue learning opportunities. Seek new ideas that check your biases. Get out of an echo chamber," said King.</p><p>In addition to attending events like Dancewave's webinar, familiarize yourself with books such as <em>How to Be an Antiracist</em>, by Ibram X. Kendi, or Nyama McCarthy-Brown's <em>Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World. </em>King also recommended the following Instagram accounts: <a href="https://www.instagram.com/sonyareneetaylor/?hl=en" target="_blank">@sonyareneetaylor</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/rachel.cargle/?hl=en" target="_blank">@rachel.cargle</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/browngirlcurator/?hl=en" target="_blank">@browngirlcurator</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/atabey.rev/?hl=en" target="_blank">@atabey.rev</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/therealrynnstar/?hl=en" target="_blank">@therealrynnstar</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/thenapministry/?hl=en" target="_blank">@thenapministry</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/theconsciouskid/?hl=en" target="_blank">@theconsciouskid.</a></p>
It can be collaborative.<p>Having the opportunity to divide up in breakout rooms and connect with other workshop participants demonstrated that sometimes getting out of your echo chamber can mean simply talking to your fellow colleagues or even your students.</p><p>King suggested getting students involved in equity work by giving them a project that addresses a class, student or school need. If you choose to delve into sensitive territory with students, make sure there are support mechanisms in place for them.</p>
It can be an embodied experience.<p>Dancewave's workshop included movement activities, which provided an additional layer of fun and embodied understanding. To warm up, we had to respond to an action command, such as "jump," with its opposite action, such as "crouch." This exercise in challenging assumptions was surprisingly difficult, and would be great for K–12 students.</p><p>Later, we reconnected with our breakout groups to create short movement phrases based on implicit bias. The activity provided a visual component to a heady concept and inspired both an individual deep dive into our personal biases and a collaboration to create our final dance.</p>
It should be specific to your students.<p>King encouraged educators to take a step back, look at how your students learn, and analyze whether what you're bringing is actually relevant to them. For example, if the majority of your students' only dance experience is with cultural social dances, consider inviting them to teach those dances to one another in groups rather than jumping right into pliés and tendus. King also encouraged giving students ownership of the class by inviting dialogue and investigation.</p><p>"Consider your curriculum, the artists you bring into the spaces and the leadership opportunities you bring to your students," he said. "Are you bringing in people who look like the students you're teaching or share their background? Be intentional about that."</p>
Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.
According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.
Timothy Norris, courtesy of Ford Theatres