Recently on the Asterisk Users Mailing list, there has been an interesting discussion going on about the use of hold music. This of course, stemmed from the recent release of the Nine Inch NailsGHOSTS” album, which included a “free " version. The question was asked if the user could run this on hold music on his commercial PBX system without running into trouble from the record companies, or the RIAA.

Not that I’m a lawyer or anything, far from it, I still thought someone should bring up this point as many individuals, soho’s and businesses are now running Asterisk or otherwise Opensource VOIP PBX systems in their offices, what are they to do for Hold Music?

The options, while limited, are fairly good, this being the Internet age and all. There are just a few things we have to keep in mind when selecting the music for our system.

  • Will this be for testing/personal use?
  • Will this be for Business use?

If you answered yes for business use, then there are some other questions to consider as well.

  • Are you charging for people to hear the music? IE: If the user has to pay 90$ for a support call, are they put on hold during the call and listening to the music? Thus, helping pay for it?
  • How many times, and when will the music be played?
  • Will you need prompts recorded as well to play during the music?

There are probably more things you’ll want to think about as a business, but they would vary from business to business, the above is by no means a complete list.

So, basically, if you are using the PBX for personal use, (ie, you’re the only person that hears the music, period). And, you also own the actual cd, tape, etc of the music you are playing, then there is no issue as to what hold music you use.

If you are using the PBX for home use, as in, to replace the telephone companies voicemail and save the 10$/month or whatever, and you leave your on hold music facing the world, then technically you must own the distribution rights for the music. Personally, (IANAL), If you own the cd, and you’re just using it on a minimally used home phone line for friends and family I don’t think the RIAA will be all over you, but who knows.

Now, if you’re a business, what are the options?

  • Well, first you must take into the above, and any other considerations before selecting your on hold music. There are two organizations that basically control the hold music you hear on many phone systems. This music ranges from basic song sets, custom radio “dj” prompts recorded etc. You hear this when you call any major company for the most part. These licensing organizations are the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music International). There are some other players out there, but these are the dominant players in the market.
  • You could always use standard, often seen as boring (but, in my opinion still great music) public domain concert works. You’ll probably want to send them a note if you are an organization similar to IBM or Microsoft in size.
  • You could hire a friends band or an electronic composer to create hold music and pay one time fee for this type of service, or barter if possible.
  • You could use any freeware use MOD’s or S3M’S, XM’s from the art scene. Just convert them to your native PBX sound format and you’re good to go.
  • Contact the authors of OpenSource games that you like the sound track to and ask if you can use them for your on hold music. Many of them will probably let you do it for free, or very low cost.
  • Flat out purchase it from services like Sound Dogs or Free Play Music.
  • Download it for free from companies that have already converted it for you to usable files with asterisk. These will almost always be classical, and infact the only example I found was signates free music on hold.
  • Search the Creative Commons Site, and ensure to select “Search for works I can use for commercial purposes”. Then select OWL as the free music search.

These options also work for home personal use, but the same usage restrictions would apply (theoretically) if it’s accepting incoming calls from people and played to them.

The thread on the mailing list that I originally started this article about finally ended with this comment.. which you should keep in mind too.

But, just to clarify, please remember that using music as MoH is considered a “public performance”, and if the pieces in question do not include a buyout license *for the performance rights* (not just synchronization rights for the recordings, as many “buyout production libraries” do, then you *still* have to have ASCAP or BMI licensing to use them. –jra

Let me know of any other ideas in the comments. I’d be interested in hearing your solution for music on hold.