The Most Overused Piece of On-Hold Music in History?

When I started to look into this topic I immediately found this piece of on-hold music. As soon as I heard it, I recognised it, I am sure you will too. I recall hearing this piece of music on hold when phoning a number of large companies.

Note About this Video: This is not my video. There are many videos showcasing this music, but I decided to use this one as the composer of it actually left a comment about his process of producing it.

You can also buy this piece on Amazon

What is this music?

The creator of it has remained elusive over the years, but information about him can be found online. The piece is called Opus No 1. It was written by Tim Carleton in 1989 and recorded onto a 4-track tape recorder by his friend Darrick Deel.

In the 1990s, Tim got a call from Darrick who got a job at Cisco. He asked Tim if Cisco could use the piece of music as their default on-hold music. Tim agreed and the rest is history. However, Tim did not earn anything from it.

Cisco used it in their IP phones and it is in more than 65 million devices.

Interestingly, reading through the replies to Tim’s video comment, it appears that Cisco has a non-exclusive license to use it. In theory, with Tim’s permission, this means that other companies could use it too.

Why not just use mainstream music?

In short, to avoid expensive music licensing.

There is always a temptation to use mainstream music that everybody recognises. However, with copyright laws, any company doing this would have to pay a license to use the music. This can be costly, especially if you wanted to distribute it as hold music in a telephone system. I cannot imagine the cost of including something like an Ed Sheeran song in 65+million telephone systems. It would be huge.

For this reason, original music by independent composers tends to be the go-to solution for many companies. This is referred to as stock music or royalty-free music. The composer creates music and charges a one-time fee for its use (typically around $30).

1990s on-hold music

Back in the nineties, there was not a lot of choice for stock music. Cisco benefited greatly from Tim allowing them to use the piece of music in their device.

Clearly, a lot of companies have since used the music on hold (and many still do). Perhaps to avoid having to look for an alternative or pay license fees. Or perhaps they just really like it, the piece certainly has a large following.

Should you use this music?

If you have a Cisco system I imagine it would be tempting to use the default hold music settings. Personally, I think it is one of the better on-hold pieces I have heard. Considering the tech of the day, Tim did a great job composing and performing it using the now-classic DX7 synthesiser.

However, I don’t think it is a good idea to use music that everyone else is using. I’m not sure why companies spend so much time, money and effort to differentiate their corporate branding only to overlook their sonic branding. Why would you want your company to sound like other companies?

I think your music choice should be as unique as possible, just like your company. Granted, it is inevitable that someone else may use the music, but there are many choices nowadays.

The man behind Opus 1

It’s been fascinating learning the background behind this music, and it’s something I did not expect to find interesting. I’d like to share an excerpt from an interview I found with Tim on This American Life Podcast. Click here to access the full story or listen to the excerpt clip here.

Source: This American Life Podcast

On Hold Music Options

There are a lot of royalty-free music options online. With the on-hold packages we provide, these are our options.

Opus 1 – I have attempted to contact Tim via his YouTube comments to see if this is possible. But, I am awaiting his reply.

Stock Music – We have a variety of on-hold music to choose from on our website. We have limited the selection because many customers of ours don’t want too much choice. It can be overwhelming.

Additional Library – We also have a library of music we own if you do want more choice. We can use this music in your package too.

Exclusive music – If you want music exclusively for your company, we have a couple of options. These include leasing music and custom written music tailored to your brand.

Mainstream Music – This is an option, however, it will cost you an additional amount of money. In this case, you would have to contact PRS for music to arrange a license.


If you have enjoyed this post, have an opinion on the music or anything on-hold related, please feel free to share and comment.

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