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Where Do Radio Stations Get Their Music & How Much Do They Pay

how much do they pay

Radio stations have a variety of ways they can get their music.  They can either produce their own music, obtain music from record labels, or use royalty-free music.  The cost and process for obtaining music vary, depending on the method a station chooses. 

Let’s explore the details.


How Radio Stations Acquire Music

Radio stations can choose to either produce their own music, obtain music from record labels, or use royalty-free music. We outline the three options in more detail.

1) Producing their own music: Some radio stations have in-house producers who create or commission music specifically for the station to use. This is usually done for news programs, morning shows, or other specific segments where music is needed. The cost of producing music in-house varies, depending on the experience of the producer and the quality of the music being produced.

2) Obtaining music from record labels: Record labels are companies that produce and promote artists’ recorded music. They typically own the copyrights to the songs they release. Radio stations can obtain music from record labels in a few ways:

  • Buying CDs or digital downloads: This is the most direct way for a radio station to get music from a label. The radio station pays for each album or song they receive this way.
  • Getting promo copies: Labels send promotional copies of new albums or songs to radio stations in hopes that the stations will play them on the air. These promo copies are free for the radio station to use.
  • Signing up for a music service: Some labels make their music available to radio stations through subscription-based music services. The radio station pays a monthly or yearly fee to have access to the label’s entire catalog of music. This can be a cost-effective option for radio stations that play a lot of different types of music.

3) Using royalty-free music: Royalty-free music is music that has been created without the need to pay royalties to the creators. This type of music is usually created by independent artists and made available for others to use for free or for a small fee. Radio stations can find royalty-free music online from a variety of sources.


What Are the Costs for Radio Stations to Acquire Music?

The cost of acquiring music for a radio station depends on the method the station uses to obtain the music.

Produce your own music: The cost of producing music in-house varies, depending on the experience of the producer and the quality of the music being produced. An in-house music team consists of experienced professionals and can cost a radio station upwards of $1,000 per hour. Timewise, it takes about 10-20 minutes to produce one minute of high-quality music.

Therefore, your cost for in-house music production would be about $100-$200 per minute of music.

Obtain music from record labels: The cost of buying CDs or digital downloads from a record label depends on the price set by the label. Radio stations usually pay a monthly or yearly fee to subscribe to a music service from a label for unlimited access to their catalog. The price of these subscriptions can range from $50/month to $5,000/year.

Use royalty-free music: Royalty-free music is usually free or available for a small fee.  The price of the music depends on where you get it from and the popularity of the artist. For example, an unknown artist on a small website might charge $5 for a song, while a famous artist on a large website might charge $500 for the same song.

Radio stations typically acquire music by using a combination of the methods described above. The exact mix of methods will depend on the type of music the station wants to play, the budget, and the preferences of the staff.


Music Rights Paid by Radio Stations

Radio stations typically pay fees to two groups for the right to play music on their stations: performance rights organizations (PROs) and record labels. PROs collect money from radio stations and other music users on behalf of the songwriters and composers who created the music. In the US, there are three main PROs: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. Record labels collect money from radio stations on behalf of the artists who recorded the music.

In most cases, the artist does not receive any of the money paid by the radio station directly. The artist’s share of the money goes to their record label, which then pays the artist an agreed-upon percentage of the label’s earnings (known as a “royalty”). The royalty rate is set in the contract between the artist and their label.

Radio play can be a significant source of income for some artists, especially those who are popular in a certain genre or region. For example, country music radio stations in the US play a lot of music from independent artists who may not be well-known nationally, but are very popular in their local markets. These artists can make a good living from the royalties alone that they earn from radio plays.



Radio stations obtain music to play on air in a variety of ways. Once you establish your radio station identity, you’ll know where to best source your music. Knowing how and where radio stations get their music helps entrepreneurs better understand the business.