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

Step One- Find the Permissions Holder

Before we start, we need to find who holds the copyright/publishing/performance rights to this particular song. I went to the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers…one of the performing rights societies)  website and input the information for the song in a search field that shows the writers, performers, and publishers. Below is a quick picture of what the result looks like.


Step Two – Locate Publisher

Publisher contact information was provided, so I called them and spoke with someone regarding what the costs for on hold usage would be. This proved to be a dead end, since I wasn’t able to speak with a “live” representative.  I did some additional research to determine how long it would take to procure the rights and landed on the Publisher’s website, where I found the statement below:

“Licensing requests should be directed to your local (Publisher’s) office. To find details of the office in your country please click here. If you are in the US and would like to license the master recording of the publisher’s artist please contact the copyright and licensing division for further information.

If you would like to obtain rights to use a song or lyrics from a song that is administered or published by the Publisher you should contact the (publisher’s) Film & TV Licensing department via thePublisher’s website by selecting the “license music” tab. If you are unsure whether the Publisher is the proper contact for your request, information on a song’s publishing company is usually found on the album’s packaging.”

Step Three – Contact Publisher

I visited the Publisher’s website. I didn’t see any licensing tabs as instructed, but scrolled down to the footer where there was a link “License Request”. Once clicked, I found a form that was to be completed and submitted.

There was some helpful information directing me to the proper licensing/usage category, such as: “broad theatrical rights including home video, television shows, TV commercials, radio commercials, streaming use on the internet, film festivals, and in-house videos (e.g. trade show, conference, and corporate meetings).”

I submitted the information at 11:42 Eastern time on 3/8. Now we wait…..

At 2:41 on the same day, I received a response from the Publisher’s licensing team. I was told to reach out to the “PRO” of the song. Naturally, I had to look up exactly what a “PRO” is. According to Wikipedia a “PRO” is “A performance rights organization (PRO), also known as a performing rights society, provides intermediary functions, particularly collection of royalties, between copyright holders and parties who wish to use copyrighted works publicly in locations such as shopping and dining venues.” Below is the email I received.


My next step was figuring out who at the performance rights organization (PRO) to contact. I ended up on their licensing page. It said in the FAQ section that I should contact my “local PRO licensing manager.” I googled licensing of the specific PRO and found a complex webpage. The page listed types of industries. I clicked the link in the box for “General Business – Learn More.” It sent me to a page with another form to complete. I input similar information and received an error saying “Please enter valid Business Information.” There was information at the top of the page for a phone number to call, or there was an option to chat online. I started chatting, but unfortunately the experience was unsatisfactory, so I decided to call. I got right through to a live individual who was very pleasant (and, believe or not, the same person I had been chatting with!). What they shared with me was not what I wanted to hear.

They said the PRO- performance rights organization could not provide licensing for only one song. The PRO only provides blanket licensing for multiple songs. I was told by the member of the PRO that the publisher had made a mistake and must have assumed we were looking for a blanket license.

Obviously, not a simple process. I replied to my friend at the publisher and explained what I had just heard. I then received an automated response that said the following (with the exception of removal of numbers and links):


If you are contacting us from outside of the United States, please visit the PUBLISHER website for a list of the Publisher’s global affiliate offices to contact the appropriate office for your licensing query:

If you are contacting us from within the United States only and require immediate assistance, please contact the Publisher’s U.S. office front desk:


(1) If you want to license a composition for use in your production, two (2) permissions are required:

(a) From the record company. This information may be found on the CD/album; and

(b) From the music publisher. Please note that UMPG may not control 100% of the composition. To confirm music publishing information for the composition, you can contact …..

(2) Due to the large volume of requests, please allow 2 – 4 weeks for a response. We will respond solely to all U.S. directed queries in the order in which they were received.

Thank you for your cooperation.


Step Four – Work Out Licensing Details & Pricing

On 3/9 I received a response to my email from the publisher. They let me know that they could assist me. I replied and let him know what my mission was. I told them I was doing research for a client interested in using a particular song. The publisher wanted to know further details to provide an accurate quote, but warned me that the licensing would be expensive. Next, they asked for detailed information about type of company and their call volume.  Once the additional details were provided, they would then tell me the cost of the licensing.

Receiving licensing information is not as simple a process as one might think. Much research goes into determining who owns the rights to the music, how to contact them, and what the terms and costs are.  As described the process became even more complicated due to misinformation and complex procedures and navigation.  On top of that, I spent a day’s work chasing down contacts that turned out to be less than useful.   In the end, the experience consumed much more time than I anticipated, and proved to be financially unfeasible.



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