Background Music for Museums and Exhibitions

Background Music for Museums and Exhibitions

This article explores the importance of background music in museums and exhibitions. It discusses how music can enhance visitors' experience and create a specific atmosphere. We also dive into the legal considerations before using background music in this setting.

Museums are often seen as sterile places where silence is golden, and speaking loudly or excessively animatedly is frowned upon. However, such restrictions on sound, and the fact that museums are often housed in old buildings, make them seem cold and unwelcoming.

A museum that doesn't have a musical component can seem dry, impersonal, and alienating.

Music can help to evoke emotions, and museums can use this to engage people in their exhibitions.

The Role of Music in Museums and Exhibitions

The Role of Music in Museums and Exhibitions

Music must fit the nature and context of the exhibition. It should help visitors understand the subject matter and feel connected to it.

Consider what kind of atmosphere you want to create. Light classical music may be appropriate for a gallery showing old master paintings but wouldn't work well at an exhibition about rock stars or sports heroes.

If you're planning a temporary exhibition, make sure the music will be appropriate for your audience. For instance, classical music might not be well received if you're exhibiting punk rockers or Goths.

Use music that reflects the subject matter and time period of the objects in your museum. Music can help visitors understand and connect with certain eras.

Legal Considerations

1. Copyright Ownership

Copyright Ownership

Determine who owns the copyright of the music before being used. If a composer creates the music, then they usually own the copyright. However, if the music is created for a specific purpose, such as for a film or a commercial, then the copyright may be owned by the producer or the company that commissioned the music.

2. Licensing


Several licensing options are available for using background music in museums and exhibitions. The most common options include the following:

  • Public Performance License (PPL) – This license is required for playing music in public places, such as museums and exhibitions. PPLs are typically issued by collecting societies, such as PRS for Music in the UK and ASCAP and BMI in the US.
  • Mechanical License – This license is required for reproducing music, such as when creating an audio or video recording of an exhibit.
  • Synchronization License – This license is required for using music in a video or multimedia presentation.
  • Royalties – When using licensed music, royalties may be required to be paid to the copyright owner or their representatives. The amount of royalties paid depends on various factors, such as the license type, the duration of use, and the number of visitors.
  • Fair use – Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows using copyrighted material for different purposes, such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. However, fair use is a complex and often controversial area of copyright law, and it is important to consult with legal experts to determine whether the use of music in a museum or exhibition qualifies as fair use.

Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC)

Mechanical Licensing Collective

This organization was established under the US Music Modernization Act of 2018. The MLC is responsible for administering mechanical licenses for digital uses of musical compositions by digital service providers (DSPs). DSPs are companies that provide music streaming and download services, such as Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

The MLC collects and distributes mechanical royalties for digital uses of musical compositions by DSPs.

Digital Service Providers must obtain mechanical licenses for the musical compositions they use on their platforms. The MLC provides a central licensing database and collects fees from DSPs to pay mechanical royalties to songwriters and publishers.

Establishing the MLC was intended to simplify the licensing process and ensure that songwriters and publishers receive fair compensation for their work.

Digital Service Providers Worth Trying Out

Soundtrack Your Brand

Soundtrack Your Brand 

It provides music for various commercial and public settings, including museums and exhibitions.

Soundtrack Your Brand's music catalog includes a diverse range of genres and styles, from classical and instrumental to modern pop and rock. The company works with music experts and curators to create playlists that are tailored to specific settings and events.

For museums and exhibitions, Soundtrack Your Brand can provide music that complements the theme or subject matter of the exhibition. For example, if an exhibition focuses on the history of jazz music, the service can provide a playlist of classic jazz tracks. Alternatively, if an exhibition is designed to create a calming and peaceful atmosphere, Soundtrack Your Brand can provide a playlist of ambient and instrumental music.

The service is designed to be easy to use, with a user-friendly interface that allows users to select and customize playlists according to their preferences. Soundtrack Your Brand also offers advanced features, such as scheduling and automatic volume adjustment, which can help manage music in a busy public setting.


SoundCloud overview

Museums and exhibitions can use SoundCloud to create customized playlists that fit the theme or mood of their exhibits. For example, an exhibit showcasing contemporary art might feature a playlist of electronic and experimental music, while a historical exhibit could have a classical or orchestral music playlist.

SoundCloud allows users to search for specific tracks or browse playlists by genre, mood, or theme. The service also offers features such as automatic crossfading between tracks, which can provide a seamless listening experience for visitors.

In addition, the platform offers detailed analytics that provides insights into audience engagement and behavior. Businesses can track metrics such as plays, likes, reposts, and downloads and use this information to optimize their content strategy and reach a wider audience.


An exhibition that tells an engaging story will be far more effective than one that is plainly educational and focused on data and facts rather than the human element.

Music is designed to be memorable, so it's the perfect complement to exhibits encouraging interaction between the audience and the subjects they are learning about.

Incorporating music into an exhibition or museum space is an excellent way to enhance this experience.

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