Modern Pillory Torture: Hold Music

Where do PSYOPS officers go when they retire?

To design hold music, of course.

Simply put, most hold music is a cheese grater on the human nervous system. There are few auditory experiences on this earth more jolting than Lloyd Christmas of Dumb and Dumber saying, “what’s the most annoying sound you’ve ever heard? AAAAaaAAAAnnnhhhaaaaAAAHHHHHHhhh…” Yet the classics of hold music rise to the occasion.

Awhile back I found a collection of the worst hold music on someone’s blog, but their snippets of song don’t seem to be functioning now. Here’s something that’s funnier, though, a compilation called Hold Music’s Greatest Hits:

Give it a listen and see how many of these noxious tunes you recognize– it’s alarming isn’t it? My employer’s is on there. Is yours?

So much of this music is so worn, so nerve-crackling, and so vexatious that there surely must be a conspiracy behind it. Perhaps these retired PSYOPS folks gather in a hazy room somewhere and recount the times they provoked an enemy into surrender by playing The Top Ten Atmospheric Synth Hits of 1989.

Knowing the aversion millions of people have to outdated New Age and Smooth Jazz tunes that sound like they were recorded in a damp garden shed, corporations pay them to formulate a list of tunes most likely to make consumers hang up before they have to help them. Seriously, if I were speaking to a group of business executives and government leaders, I would tell them that they are neglecting one of the most important PR opportunities they have.

Often one of the first sounds you hear when you call a place of business, hold music speaks volumes about how you really feel about your customers and their experience when they interact with you. It’s also a reflection on how modern and tech-savvy your business is. If you’re playing Depressing Didgerido Dirges of the Danish Dark Ages – Intermittent Gaussian White Noise Mix, clients might assume that your definition of hip is an IBM ThinkPad 700 and parachute pants with a big personalized plastic comb sticking out of your back pocket.

If you’re a government agency, you know that if people have to come down there because they pay taxes (as if you don’t), they will. Why stir the pot and add to their angst by beaming Spaced Out Echo Chamber Arias of Andalusia into their ears when they need assistance? On one hand, members of the public could be so relieved by the cessation of the so-called music that they might be happy to talk to you. But I start feeling cranky after listening to a looping faux-Vangelis track for eight minutes during which time a condescending female robot thanks for my patience.

Patience? Every time a robot of this ilk tells me how valuable I am or that the time period I’ve spent absorbing Celebratory Smooth Jazz Hits of the 1994 Tribeca Watercolor Festival is appreciated, the more I want to tell the powers that be how idiotic their hold music is. Do they not change it because they paid $20,000 for it once upon a time and it’s a cost issue? Did it come with the phone system? If so, who are the weirdos marketing this junk and why haven’t they come up with something more palatable in the past two decades besides Blues Traveler or Bonnie Raitt?

In this economy, a lot of smart, talented people are looking for opportunities to make money. Here’s one for you and there appears to be a colossal market for it– sell better hold music tracks and fewer snide, monotonous robotic voices to all non-residential buildings with telephones. It is so rare that I call a place that does not have manic depressive or overplayed hold music that an estimated 97 percent of non-residential customers could probably use an upgrade.

It’s high time to eliminate hold hell and make the retired PSYOPS people go find something else to do, like making playlists of Neil Diamond songs that reduce insensitive neighbor noise. Skip The Seven Cycles of Symbolic Saturnism featuring a hyper tenor sax player and the extreme overuse of bar chimes. Forego the Free Flowing Fusion of Fahrenheit Farmenheizer with its fuzzy Fender Rhodes bass line guaranteed to make any sane person beat their head on the wall and cry for mercy after a quarter hour.

Frankly I don’t want to listen to anything that conjures up the image I shared with a coworker last year:

That’s the one I call the 1979 New Age analog synthesizer music, performed by a very serious man in a tight green turtleneck and round glasses slouched over his keyboard in a trance-like state as many of his friends gathered in the same living room are feeling the existential ebb and flow of the earth’s magnetic vibrations as the fondue pot bubbles with herb-infused vegan cheese substitute…

Hey, I eat a lot of vegan and respect the talent that theoretical hold musician does have. But for crying out loud, it’s 2012, there’s a lot of great music on the market right now, and while that may be subjective, just about anything’s better than what you’ll hear on the YouTube video above.

Time to change it up, leaders! Whether you intend to or not, you’re providing a fairly rational explanation for America’s increase in violence and interpersonal problems over the last 30 years.


For those with nerves of steel, here’s a full hour of Cisco CallManager Default Hold Music:

(Bonus! There is now a full five hours available.)

If this doesn’t make you want to dress up as an Imperial Dalek and saunter across the lawn in slow motion while tears flow from your eyes and you vividly recall that Christmas you got underwear that came up to your neck instead of walkie talkies, I don’t know what will.


©2012 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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