No doubt you have been put “on hold” while calling the electric company, the cable company, or your 401(k) fund manager to ask 1) why your power is out, 2) why your cable bill is so high, or 3) where your life’s savings went.
While on hold, you may have noticed that the music is too dull for a Cuckoo’s Nest insane asylum and the sound quality is horrific. Why would companies do that and how in the world do they get recordings this bad?
Having been on hold for approximately 16% of my expected lifespan and having heard enough “music on hold” (MOH) tapes to degrade my brain’s neural structure, I’ve decided that they do it on purpose.
Theory: If companies played great music with good sound quality, you might resent the operator when he or she finally comes on the line and interrupts a great tune.
Using “reverse psychology” aka “YGOLOHCYSP” it only makes sense that companies would use bad on hold music . Not just music that makes song-interruption-resentment or SIR impossible, but music so bad that when the customer service representative comes on the line you are so grateful that you want to hug them through the phone.
Theory #2: If the music is excruciating enough you may even hang up. When people do that it saves companies millions. As corporate mogul Montgomery Burns would say, “Excellent.”
Fueled by the suspicion that companies seek out truly bad recordings to play while you are on hold, I investigated.
My research has discovered a dark and lucrative branch of the music industry. The details are fascinating.
How is “music on hold” made?
First, the “music on hold” team selects recordings so dull and atrocious that they have been rejected by the cheapest bargain bins and even elevator music suppliers.
It goes without saying that on hold musical selections are instrumental. The genre typically is solo saxophone. But not ordinary saxophone. Saxophone that emulates Kenny G after seven Sea Breezes. Playing a comb and waxed paper. Through a paper-towel tube. We are talking bad saxophone music.
Candidate tunes are tested to detect the slightest evidence of a toe tap or head nodding. On hold music was previously tested on prisoners until riots broke out and the practice banned as cruel and unusual.
Finding mind-numbingly dull music is only the beginning.
Once the very worst saxophone recordings are discovered, they are transferred to old-fashioned cassette tapes, then played through a $10 microphone into an even older 8-track system, then recorded onto good old-fashioned vinyl.
This vinyl “mother” disc is then put into a restaurant-grade dishwasher for 14 hours, played continuously for three days using a roofing nail as a needle, run over repeatedly with a forklift, and then mailed back to the studio in an envelope marked “fragile.” Only then is this musically toxic vinyl mother disc re-recorded onto cheap cassette tapes for the endless torment of phone customers perpetually on hold.
So the next time you’re on hold listening to music that sounds like it’s from a Days Inn lounge act piped in from a backstage men’s room via an intercom and recorded on a Speak & Spell, don’t cringe.
Instead, marvel at the sound engineering genius that spawns “music on hold” bad enough to make you hang up and try the website.
Apparently I’m not alone in my reaction to MOH. Check out this professional article on the state of the art in music on hold.