The owner of the copyright has the right to grant permission for any public performances (including broadcasts) which do not qualify for any exemption as defined in Section 110. Ownership of the copyright begins with the composer, but the composer may have transferred ownership or contracted certain licensing rights to a publisher. Given the myriad ways in which a composition can be performed in venues worldwide, various conventions -- and corresponding collection agencies -- have been established to assist in the administration of these rights. The conventions for licensing performances of music depend on whether the composition is non-dramatic or dramatic.
Dramatic works. Operas, ballets, and musical theater works are dramatic works; in music business jargon the right to perform them is referred to as a "grand" right. Permission to perform any dramatic work must be obtained directly from the copyright owner or its licensee, which is often the publisher that sells or rents the performance materials. [Footnote: American musical theater works are, in most cases, handled differently. The publishers who print the music (individual songs, selections, or piano-vocal scores) usually do not have the right to license performances. The right to license amateur, professional, and LORT (League of Resident Theatres) productions is usually assigned by the authors to an agency such as the Rodgers and Hammerstein Theater Library, Music Theater International, Tams-Whitmark, Samual French, etc. Most authors reserve the right to license "first-class" productions (Broadway, national tours, and similar venues) as well as the use of a dramatic property in television, films, and other audiovisual media.]
Non-dramatic works. Because it is impossible for any composer and/or publisher to monitor all performances of their compositions in all media (in concert halls, clubs, on radio, television, in movies, elevators, jukeboxes, etc. -- anywhere that music is consumed in public), performing rights societies have been formed to license performances of copyright-protected music. The performing rights societies in the United States are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. When a composer or publisher becomes a member of a performing rights organization, the organization is granted the non-exclusive right to license non-dramatic performances on behalf of the copyright owner. This is also called a "small" right. A request for permission to perform a non-dramatic work should be made to the applicable performing rights society. The repertory controlled by ASCAP & BMI can be searched on their respective web sites.
The right to record non-dramatic works is governed by a compulsory license outlined in 17 U.S.C. 115. These licenses are available at a statutory rate, and include the right both to record the work and to arrange the work "to the extent necessary to conform it to the style or manner of interpretation of the performance involved," so long as the fundamental character of the work is not altered. However, the arrangers in such cases cannot claim copyright for a derivative work. Because of the formalities involved, it is often easiest to request a license through a mechanical license clearinghouse such as the Harry Fox Agency.