Among the exclusive rights granted to the owners of most copyrights is the right of public performance. As discussed in the Primer on Music Performance Licenses (Sound Recording), the public performance right for a sound recording is only available for music transmitted digitally or by satellite.
But wait, a song is comprised of multiple elements which may each be entitled to separate and distinguishable copyrights. The sound recording that captures a performance of a song is entitled to relatively limited copyright protection since there is not a full performance right. However, the underlying musical composition including the lyrics are entitled to full copyright protection, including the full performance right.
So, the sound recording is only entitled to a limited performance right while the underlying musical composition is entitled to a complete performance right.
When Congress granted the limited performance right in the sound recording, it created a compulsory license to make it “easy” to use the music. There is NO compulsory license for the performance of the underlying musical composition.
Because there is NO compulsory license available for the performance of the underlying musical composition in a sound recording, people and companies that use music in a way that qualifies as a public performance have to obtain a license from the owner(s) of the copyright in the musical composition.
It would be impossible for every potential user of musical compositions in public performances to get licenses (i.e. permission) from every copyright owner.
Yet there is NO compulsory license for the performance of the underlying musical composition. So what is the producer of a Singing Christmas Tree to do?
The vast majority of owners of copyrights in musical compositions in the United States are aligned with one of three performance rights organizations (a “PRO”): The American Society of Composers and Publishers, Broadcast Music, Inc. and SESAC. Each PRO is authorized and entitled on a non-exclusive basis to negotiate blanket performance licenses with end users to perform any of the songs in its catalog.
Like other parties who perform music publicly, the producer of a Singing Christmas Tree should obtain a license from EACH of the PROs to ensure that each of the songs the choir sings is properly licensed. By the way, I have had to obtain licenses for Singing Christmas Trees and parking lots too!
As there is no compulsory license for the public performance of the underlying musical composition, users who have to obtain licenses negotiate the rate with each PRO.
For More: A Primer on Music Performance Licenses (Sound Recordings)