Hold (the) Music!

This morning as I brushed my teeth, I could hear soft music while my wife surfed on her iPad nearby. It was a catchy keyboard instrumental, the kind of tune to put a bounce in your step. Not twenty seconds later however, there was a bit of silence followed by the same melody all over again. By the time I flossed I’d heard this “song” five or six times through and it was getting annoy-oy-oy-ing.  Then it hit me.  My wife was on her iPad – yes – but she was also on hold.

Elevator Music. Lift Music. Piped Music. Muzak. Call it what you want, but my unofficial survey says hold music is not the satisfying little concert it was designed to be.  How many times have you heard, “Thank you for your patience… one of our representatives will be with you shortly…” followed by the same cloying music over and over and OVER again?  You pull out your teeth (I mean, your hair) because “the representative” will NEVER be with you (let alone “shortly”).  More to today’s point, the persistent music-on-hold (MOH) doesn’t lighten your mood, and, it’s an insult to technology.

MOH had the best of intentions when it debuted in 1962.  Like many products MOH was invented by accident, when the phone lines of a small factory accidentally picked up the music of the radio station next door.  MOH appealed to businesses because customers stayed on the line longer if offered music over nothing at all.  Hold music also found an audience in places where people tended to gather, like elevators, waiting rooms at doctors’ offices, and airport boarding lounges.  You should agree; music beats silence any day (in other words, something is better than nothing).  It’s just, the “something” should be a whole lot easier on the ears.

I have a personal connection with hold music.  Years ago, it was a part of my responsibilities as the switch programmer for a long-distance phone company.  If you call customer service today – any customer service – oftentimes “events” happen before you’re connected to a real person.  How many times does the phone ring before someone (or something) answers?  Are you offered a menu of choices to route your call to a specific department?  Would you prefer a callback instead of waiting on hold?  A behind-the-curtain person programs these little events and that person was me.  I also chose when to offer you hold music.

Mercifully, my long-distance company subscribed to a professional hold music product, which meant calls to our customer service were offered pleasant, non-repeating tunes.  You might have to wait fifteen or twenty minutes but at least you wouldn’t get a mindless tune, slowly eating away at your brain cells.  Unfortunately, my company was the exception.  Professional hold music isn’t cheap (thanks to copyright law) and most companies don’t care enough about their customers to pony up.  So, you get “catchy” keyboard instrumentals instead.  Even worse, you get the endless loop of tape-recorded music (a tape recording!), including the hiss and pop of too many plays.  Like I said, an insult to today’s technology.

You might disagree about the loss of brain cells. “Not ME, Dave; I don’t get hold music stuck in my head“.  Okay, but listen to the following YouTube audio and then reconsider.  This ditty may be the most famous music-on-hold specimen of them all; the so-called “Opus Number One”, composed by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel and incorporated into every single Cisco phone system.

The days of hold music are numbered (and thank heavens they are) because the days of live customer service are numbered too.  Today’s customer service has you self-diagnosing through torturous “interactive voice response” (IVR) menus or by scrolling online through endless lists of FAQ’s.  But MOH still has its place at other tables.  The sophisticated InBody body composition scale at my fitness club offers MOH while you stand there getting your vitals measured.  Our Samsung washer and dryer play the same happy [irritating] little tune after every load is done.  And elevators aren’t going anywhere (except up and down).  You’ll still hear plenty of Muzak on elevators.  At least today’s smartphones help riders escape their awkward proximity to strangers.

The next time my wife is subjected to hold music, I may have to move to another room to brush my teeth.  Then again, maybe it’s not so bad.  You can now buy toothbrushes with built-in hold music while you brush (lasting exactly two minutes). This would be detrimental to my dental hygiene. I might tear my teeth out before I even get to the flossing.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #15

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

At long last, our piano has a keyboard! Bag #15 – of 21 bags of pieces – added the final key to the right side of the board for a “grand” total of twenty-five.  Then the whole assembly slid into the piano frame smoothly, as if closing the drawer to your bedroom dresser. The piece of the black frame running the length of the board just below the keys secures everything into place.

As a part-time perfectionist, I’m a little bothered by the fact the piano keys don’t rest at a uniform height across the board.  You can see one to the far left sitting a little higher than his neighbors while one to the far right sits a little lower.  Removing the keyboard at this stage in the performance is easy, so I might see if I can level things out.  Or, I’ll just make peace with being a little “off-key”.  Maybe.

Running Build Time: 11.6 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Ives’ The Unanswered Question. Leftover pieces: 1 tiny green square.

Conductor’s Note: Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question is one of the most creative classical pieces you’ll ever hear.  It’s a “dialogue” between a trumpet and four flutes.  The trumpet asks the question, “What is the meaning of life?“, and the flutes try in vain to answer, a total of six times.  The flutes get more and more frustrated (and the music more disjointed) every time the trumpet repeats the question.  The Unanswered Question concludes with the trumpet asking its question one last time.  Now that you know the story, listen to the short piece through the following video.  It’s only six minutes.  The Unanswered Question was the perfect choice for today’s topic.  After all, how many times do you call customer service only to come away with… an unanswered question?

29 thoughts on “Hold (the) Music!

  1. More and more I find myself using on-line customer support tools on websites. In many cases I find I can get what I need without actually calling anyone and needing to be on hold. I remember a couple of decades ago working for a VoIP startup company where we were designing a class 5 switch (we ran out of money and failed). One of our first problems was the tendency for the switch to drop calls that had no audio. One engineer argued that we didn’t need to fix it because everybody used MOH. Our customer didn’t agree and threatened to send a list of small companies that didn’t use MOH. We had to fix it.

    and yes, the keys not being the same height would bug me too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. During my telecom programming years (mid-1990s) IVR/ACD software was in its infancy, and it took a lot of fine-tuning to make the caller experience a satisfying one. I also recall bringing down the entire system a time or two (not intentionally) and having our call center agents wondering what the heck just happened. It was fun to be at the controls, as long as I didn’t make too many mistakes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The hold music from the IRS will forever haunt me! I will say I had to call Delta this week to change my last name on my flight ticket (would love to be detained in London maybe, but probably shouldn’t risk it) and their hold music was very relaxing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah right, the whole “change the last name”. You should blog about it once every last name change has been completed, so my daughter can learn from you once she ties her own knot. Yes, don’t mess with customs authorities – you want to enjoy your trip, after all. And no surprise to read Delta uses acceptable hold music. We’ve been very happy with them our last several trips (which is more than we can say about American).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will say the name change is a lot less stressful than I thought because you can only change one thing at a time. Now I feel like it’s whack a mole trying to remember where else to change. Jon and I feel the same about American. We are still mad they cancelled our flight at midnight before a 9am flight and left us driving back from MI to NYC in a minivan…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The “whack a mole” comment earned you an LOL (and I’m in a crowded place right now – people are staring). Such a great phrase. What do you bet most people who use the phrase have never actually played the game?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I should blog about the part-time perfectionist thing. It’s a frame of mind that seems to hit me “part-time”. Sometimes I don’t care about the little things, while other times they drive me nuts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wasn’t Muzak very secretive about the sources of their music? I remember there being rumors that it was brainwashing you with ideas from the devil. You should never listen to it. As if you could ever avoid it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Holy cow, I’m glad I never heard that conspiracy theory, Ally! Reminds me of the one about movie theaters, where they’d slip film frames of popcorn and concessions into the movie. The images barely register but your brain picks up on them enough and suddenly you’re hungry.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Dave,
    Until your piano is completely done, I am guilty of reading your posts from the bottom up. I see your post and I rush to the end to see how far you got! This is such a display of your commitment and attention to detail!
    As far as hold music, I have had some in the past that was actually good, but 99% of the time I think: “who chooses these?”
    Lately I rather choose the online chat option anytime is offered than calling any company. At the end I have a transcript of the whole conversation and often I obtain better results.
    Wishing you a blessed weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree, Ana, you should read about the piano first and whatever I blog about second (LOL). No, what I really mean is, I agree online chat is a wonderful option. Lately, it seems companies are having a hard time staffing it but when I get through to this sort of person, I have better results than those they staff on the phones. I’m also sure an online chat agent can handle multiple customers at once so it’s more efficient. Thank goodness for technology!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave, that Cisco hold music would hypnotize me and I would nod off before the video clip was over. I can remember a local radio station that would play in every dentist or doctor’s office because it was soft, instrumental and no commercials. I think it was Cozy-FM and I don’t think they are still on the dial. People called it “elevator music”. I had to make such a call to a company just the other day and the calling tree was so elaborate that whatever option you chose, you ended up at the main menu – really? I finally hung up and did as you mention, just opted to try online. The chat box bots are the same way too sometimes – unless you can state your problem concisely, the chat box bot wigs out. It’s a sure-fire way to get a warm body to answer your question though. You are coming right along with the piano build. P.S. I couldn’t see a problem

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The maze of interactive menus used to be called “voice-mail jail” for all the recorded messages you’d hear as you tried to escape. And most systems – mercifully – have a “zero-out” option where pushing “0” at any point takes you to a live agent. Of course, companies never advertise this feature to callers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like that “voice-mail jail” – clever. Yes Dave. pressing “0” is a great option to cut to a live operator, otherwise it is like going through the FAQ on a website, that you scroll through forever to find the answer to your question.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to see the finished piano, congratulations! I had the same experience this morning, with one insipid repeating strain of music as I called my doctor’s office. So annoying. Enjoyed the Ives piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Believe it or not, Ruth, the piano is only 70% complete. I have another six bags of pieces to go. Two of those bags probably amount to the hinged lid, while another bag closes in the gap above the keys. Ah, and there is a piano bench yet to build! I’m trying to keep future steps a mystery as I go, but I’ll keep updating you here. Glad you liked the Ives piece. I’ve listened to a few of his other works but I don’t care for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am coming to the conclusion that the era when we could conduct business by telephone is quickly ending. I am occasionally surprised by pleasant hold music, but mostly get the annoying kind. If I could develop the skills for computer hacking, company telephone menu and music systems would be a top priority.

    The Charles Ives piece was new to me and very interesting – though a little outside of my usual tastes. I understand that he was a very interesting fellow who got into music composition during/after a career in the insurance industry. Of course, Hoagy Carmichael actually practiced law briefly in Indianapolis before he decided that he wasn’t cut out for that life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Insurance to music composition? Law to music composition? Wow. Maybe I could make a go of it, JP, corporate tech to music composition. The Ives piece is outside of my comfort zone as well, but it’s so creative (and short), I listen to it every now and then. And yes, like mailboxes the days of customer service by phone are numbered. Honestly, whenever I have a good experience these days I lavish praise on the rep, when in fact he/she is just doing their job.



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