You don’t need to worry, but you may need a license: It’s required any time popular music is played publicly (beyond family-and-friends situations), regardless of whether it’s music you’ve purchased or music broadcast over the radio. There are some exemptions, but most don’t apply to the typical fitness center setting.
Whoever owns the business is responsible for licensing, so if you’re employed by a gym or are an independent contractor at one, it’s the gym’s responsibility to acquire licenses from performing rights organizations—ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. The gym’s fitness manager may want to check your playlist to be sure the gym has proper licenses.
If you own or rent your workout space, you must obtain the licenses. Each rights organization uses different criteria to set fees, from the number of students to how the music is used (instructional enhancement versus background), but they’re usually low. Licenses can’t be transferred—if you own a facility and also work in other gyms, those facilities need licenses too. For more information, visit the websites of the performing rights organizations: bmi.com, ascap.com, and sesac.com.
EXPERT: Claudia Friedlander, DMus, NASM-CPT, (claudiafriedlander.com) is a New York City voice teacher who emphasizes fitness to help students sing everything from opera to death metal.