licensing music

Music Licensing in the Modern Era: A Comprehensive Guide 

Original Article “Everything You Need to Know About Music Licensing” by Juli Durante, published May 9, 2013 

In today’s digital age, music licensing has become increasingly complex, with various platforms and mediums to consider. Navigating the intricate world of music rights can be daunting, but understanding the basics is crucial for businesses and individuals alike. This comprehensive guide will provide you with the knowledge you need to ensure compliance and avoid costly legal consequences. 

What is Music Licensing? 

Music licensing is the process of obtaining permission to use a specific piece of music for a particular purpose. Every license agreement outlines the terms and conditions under which the music can be used, including the duration, mediums, and limitations. At its core, a music license is a contract that governs the legal use of a copyrighted musical work. 

Types of Music Licenses 

  • Synchronization Licenses: Required when incorporating music into visual media, such as films, TV shows, videos, or advertisements. These licenses allow you to synchronize the music with visual elements. 
  • Public Performance Licenses: Essential for businesses that play music in public spaces, such as restaurants, retail stores, or events. These licenses grant permission to perform or broadcast music publicly. 
  • Mechanical Licenses: Necessary for reproducing and distributing physical or digital copies of a musical recording, such as CDs, vinyl, or digital downloads. 
  • Broadcast Licenses: Required for broadcasting music on television, radio, or online streaming platforms. 
  • Limited Term Licenses: These licenses grant the right to use a specific piece of music for a predetermined period, often used for marketing campaigns or temporary events. 
  • Royalty-Based Licenses: These licenses require payment of royalties based on the usage or sales of the music, rather than a fixed fee. 

Creative Commons and Digital Platforms 

Creative Commons licenses have become increasingly popular, especially among independent artists and content creators. These licenses allow creators to specify how their work can be used, modified, or shared, often for non-commercial purposes. However, it’s essential to carefully review the terms of each Creative Commons license to ensure compliance. 

Digital platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and TikTok have implemented content identification systems to detect copyrighted music used in uploaded content. While some platforms may allow limited use of popular music for promotional purposes, it’s crucial to understand each platform’s policies and licensing requirements to avoid potential legal issues. 

Credible Sourcing and Licensing Services 

Reputable music licensing services, such as Musicbed, Epidemic Sound, and Artlist, offer a vast collection of pre-licensed music for various commercial and creative uses. These services provide a convenient and legal way to access high-quality music while ensuring compliance with copyright laws. 

Additionally, it’s essential to consult credible sources, such as professional organizations like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, to stay up-to-date with the latest developments and best practices in music licensing. 

Music Licensing and Message-On-Hold: Finding the Right Tune 

While you can’t legally sync popular artists like Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, or Taylor Swift into your on-hold messaging, your Message-On-Hold provider can provide a vast library of pre-licensed music specifically curated for on-hold use. Bid farewell to the days of generic “elevator music” – today’s on-hold music libraries encompass a diverse range of genres and themes to suit every taste. 

However, the key to an engaging on-hold experience lies in selecting background music that resonates with your callers, not just your personal preferences. You might be the world’s biggest fan of Mozart’s symphonies or Metallica’s heavy riffs, but your callers may have entirely different musical inclinations. The ideal on-hold music complements your messaging without overshadowing it, creating a harmonious and enjoyable experience for those on hold. 

By leveraging your Message-On-Hold provider’s expertly curated music libraries, you can strike the perfect chord with your callers, ensuring a professional and memorable on-hold experience while staying compliant with music licensing laws. 

The Importance of Compliance 

Using unlicensed music can result in severe legal consequences, including hefty fines, lawsuits, and damage to your reputation. Businesses and individuals must prioritize compliance with music licensing laws to avoid these risks and operate ethically within the boundaries of copyright protection. 

By understanding the nuances of music licensing, staying informed about the latest developments, and utilizing credible sources and licensing services, you can ensure that your business or creative endeavors remain legally compliant while effectively leveraging the power of music. 


1. Understanding Music Licensing: Music licensing is essential in today’s digital age, governing the legal use of copyrighted music across various mediums and platforms. 

2. Types of Licenses: Different types of licenses exist, including synchronization, public performance, mechanical, broadcast, limited term, and royalty-based licenses, each serving specific purposes and usage scenarios. 

3. Creative Commons and Digital Platforms: Creative Commons licenses offer flexibility for creators but require careful attention to terms. Many digital platforms have specific policies and content identification systems regarding copyrighted music. 

4. Message-On-Hold Music Selection: While popular artists may not be legally available for on-hold messaging, curated libraries from Message-On-Hold providers offer diverse options. Choose background music that resonates with callers’ preferences while complementing your messaging. 

5. Importance of Compliance: Prioritize compliance with music licensing laws to avoid legal repercussions, including fines, lawsuits, and damage to your business’s reputation. Stay informed and use credible sources to ensure ethical and legal use of music in your projects. 


Why do I need a music license? 

A music license grants you legal permission to use copyrighted music for specific purposes, ensuring compliance with copyright laws and avoiding potential legal consequences such as fines or lawsuits. 

What happens if I use unlicensed music? 

Using unlicensed music can result in severe penalties, including legal action, fines, and damage to your reputation. It’s essential to obtain the necessary licenses to avoid these risks. 

Can I use popular music in my videos, advertisements, or Message-On-Hold program without a license? 

No, using popular music without a license is illegal and can lead to copyright infringement. You must obtain synchronization licenses to use copyrighted music in visual media like films, TV shows, videos, advertisements, and even your on-hold messaging

How do I know if a song is copyrighted? 

Most songs are copyrighted by default once they are created and recorded. It’s safest to assume that any music you come across is copyrighted unless explicitly stated otherwise. 

Can I use royalty-free music without a license? 

Even royalty-free music typically requires a license for certain uses. It’s crucial to review the terms of the royalty-free license to understand your rights and obligations fully. 

Are there any alternatives to traditional music licensing for small businesses or content creators? 

Yes, Creative Commons licenses offer alternatives for using music under specific terms and conditions set by the copyright holder. Additionally, some digital platforms offer libraries of royalty-free music for certain uses. 

What about music licensing for my Message-On-Hold programming? 

Rest assured, when partnering with a reputable Message-On-Hold provider, the music utilized in your on-hold programming is fully licensed for this specific usage. While syncing popular artists’ music may not be possible due to copyright restrictions, curated libraries offered by professional Message-On-Hold providers ensure compliance with licensing regulations. This ensures a seamless and legally sound on-hold experience for your callers, free from the risk of copyright infringement. 

licensing message on hold music

Permission to Use Music – On Hold

We often get inquires about using popular music on hold. Of course, you can certainly use whatever type of music you want on hold, but be warned you must have proper permissions and licensing. Music licensing is no joke! I’ve taken the time to share a guide of what is required to play music on hold. In this case I’m theoretically (and befittingly)  trying to get the rights to the song “On Hold” by The XX.   If you never heard it, here’s a link to the video where you can check it out! Step One- Find the Rights to the Song

licensing message on hold music

Myths & Misunderstandings About Music on Hold Licensing

Myth: “I can use this music for free because I found it on the internet”.

licensing music resources

Everything You Need To Know About Music Licensing

Everything You Need to know about Music LicensingI’ve spent some time educating you regarding the risks of using the radio as your Message On Hold programstreaming internet radio like Pandora in your store or facility, and including popular music in your online ads. And in general, I just warn you that it’s illegal and can end up costing you big bucks if (when) you get caught. Music licensing has many layers and variations, and can get pretty complicated. But if you know what to look for, it doesn’t have to be.