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Royalty Free Hold Music: It’s Not What You Think It Is


Should I pay for hold music or use “royalty free” hold music?

All that glitters is not gold, and when you see the word “free” be very suspicious. That’s good advice for businesses and call center techs in search of hold music. The idea of royalty free hold music is misleading in many ways. Here are some tips for avoiding a big disappointment, including poor music quality and possible legal issues.

Buying royalty free? You might not be in the clear.

You may not realize it, but when you go looking for a sound recording you wish to play on your phones, you are entering into agreements with several entities including one or more of the following: Composer, Artist, Sound Recording Owner, Publisher. Copyright law addresses the rights of all of these roles. Two or more of these entities could be the same person, but often it is a mix of several individuals and corporations.

To say that you’re getting a royalty free hold music track is to ignore several of the entities mentioned above.

The music industry comprises several distinct categories of interests, including
(1) songwriters and music publishers;
(2) recording artists and record labels; and
(3) the music licensees who obtain the right to reproduce, distribute, or publicly perform music. Some entities may fall into multiple categories.

Congressional Research Service

If you were to sit down at a piano this evening and plunk out an original tune, you are automatically the sole copyright owner of that song. Let’s say you make a recording of your original song and your friend pays you a dollar to make a copy, and you promise not to charge any more in the future. You just made a royalty-free music sale. But your friend did not buy the song itself, because you automatically retain the copyright. By that definition, there is no such thing as “copyright-free” music.

Another right you didn’t give up is your Performing (or Performance) Rights.

Learn more about Hold Music Licensing


For Phone-On-Hold Music, You Need The Performance Rights

Performance Rights are retained by the sound recording owner, who has the right to charge for any public use of their work. Music is played in a restaurant or on your phone system constitutes a performance. When you purchase a so-called royalty-free hold music track you’ll often see a phrase in the fine print intended to inform you that public performances of the song are not included in your purchase price: “this license does not include public performance rights“.

So where can “royalty-free” music be used? One popular source of “royalty-free” tracks states (in its lengthy terms and conditions agreement) you may use the music, “in online streaming Websites and social media Web advertising (including as part of pre-roll advertising) and in Podcasts.

Music on hold is not mentioned and is likely is a violation of the agreement. Our suggestion is to avoid the so-called royalty-free solutions altogether. Whatever source of music you’re using, it’s a good idea to check the fine print.

A public performance also occurs when music is transmitted to the public, via radio, TV broadcasts, digital service providers, and any other means… [such as phone on hold ].

BMI – What Is A Public Performance

Why Risk Your Reputation?

The world’s largest publisher of music is Universal. A division of Universal Music curates extremely high-quality music for use in tv, film, video, and other productions. Easy On Hold has worked with Universal for a decade to source the best-sounding music tracks for businesses and call centers that need hold music. Many providers of “royalty free hold music” offer repetitive, synthesized tracks that sound second-rate (or worse). With longer hold times, your business can’t afford to play music that will turn off—and turn away—customers.

The Best Hold Music Is Licensed

Rather than paying extra fees, navigating complicated contracts and completing reports for performance rights organizations, use the Easy On Hold Music Service. You don’t need to understand US Copyright Law, because we do. Your licensed music will sound better, and you’ll sleep better knowing you made the right decision to go with a licensed rather than “royalty-free”.

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