It’s occurred once more: earlier than you get a phrase out, the individual or machine who answered the telephone on the physician’s workplace/tech help/airline/customer support centre slaps you on maintain and music begins to play.

In some circumstances, it’s an area radio station. Different occasions, it’s one thing terribly innocuous, generic, and mildly annoying. And I swear these firms that play the identical easy tune over and over and over try this so that you’ll simply quit and go away. (Apple tech help is a bit completely different. The final time I referred to as for assist, the prompts gave me a alternative of the type of music I may hear whereas ready, however that’s uncommon.)

The primary function of on-hold music is straightforward. In case you hear the music, you realize you’re nonetheless linked and someplace within the queue. However this wasn’t at all times the case. Who got here up with the concept of on-hold music?

His title was Alfred Levy. Again in 1962, he owned a manufacturing unit and was having hassle with the telephone strains operating into the constructing. Someplace within the system, a free wire was touching a metallic girder, turning the entire construction into a large radio antenna that simply occurred to be tuned to the frequency of an area radio station. This meant that each time somebody answered the telephone, music leaked by way of. It was particularly noticeable when callers have been positioned on maintain.

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Levy was aggravated at first however then realized that this wasn’t such a foul factor in spite of everything. It occupied the callers and allow them to know that they have been nonetheless linked.

In 1966, he filed a patent on a machine, “Phone Maintain Program System,” that routinely performed music for callers anytime they have been positioned on maintain. Each single on-hold telephone system in use at this time relies on that patent. It doesn’t matter if it’s some inoffensive pre-recorded instrumental materials or a radio station.

This has revolutionized interactions with clients. I as soon as noticed the outcomes of a research that mentioned at the least 70 per cent of consumers who’re subjected to useless silence whereas on maintain will cling up in disgust and frustration inside 60 seconds, just because they suppose they’ve been disconnected or are being ignored and disrespected. Enjoying them music — even dangerous music — is much better than the outdated manner of signaling an energetic connection, which was normally a beep each 30 seconds or so. Immediately, most business telephone line system comes with an “M.O.H.” enter. That stands for “Music On Maintain.”

After on-hold music grew to become widespread, issues escalated in odd instructions. In 1989, a 16-year-old Yanni-loving laptop nerd named Tim Carleton and his good friend, Derek Deel, recorded a six-minute piece on a four-track machine in Carleton’s mother and father’ storage. It was entitled Opus Quantity One and integrated in telephone a system constructed by Cisco (then a start-up) referred to as Name Supervisor. It made Carleton and Deel stars of the on-hold music world.

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When you have been placed on maintain any time over the last 35 years, I assure you’ve heard this as a result of, for the longest time, this was the one go-to music for Cisco telephone techniques. It was even utilized in by Bud Gentle for a Tremendous Bowl business in 2023.


There’s nonetheless loads of work that must be completed, although, as firms and governments nonetheless don’t get it. Cisco lastly realized that their telephone techniques wanted extra choices than Opus Quantity One. The Division of Work and Pensions within the U.Ok. performed a 30-second loop of Vivaldi’s The 4 Seasons for years earlier than it was modified, citing complaints from the general public that such repetition triggered nervousness and was significantly upsetting to autistic callers.

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You possibly can’t use simply any music. If it’s copyrighted fashionable music, the house owners of the enterprise with the telephone system are legally obligated to pay royalties. Years in the past, Bruce Springsteen referred to as a motorbike store solely to be placed on maintain and instantly heard his Born to Run. When somebody lastly answered, his query was, “Did you get a license for that?” And in the event you license music, you have to be cautious. Prime 40 pop is nice for callers 25 and underneath, however are likely to drive off older shoppers. Plus, acquainted songs would possibly really make the wait really feel longer as a result of we now have an a good suggestion of how lengthy these songs really are.

There are actually many firms specializing in on-hold music. They emphasize the necessity for music that’s not too sleepy and never too loud. Tempos and melody are essential. On-hold music ought to be pleased, each by way of musicality and lyrics (besides within the case of funeral properties; that’s inappropriate). It’s essential to have selection, transferring from clips of various types, lengths, and genres (besides jazz — research have proven that it ought to be prevented as a result of it causes too many individuals to hold up.)

Predictability within the music is loss of life. That is particularly essential if callers could also be subjected to attend occasions of 10 minutes or extra. (I can’t think about the mindset of an Adelaide, Australia, man who stayed on-hold with Qantas for 15 hours again in 2012. That’s a variety of on-hold music.) An announcement ought to come on each every now and then, reassuring the caller that “your name is essential to us.” That’s annoying, however it works.

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Lastly, companies ought to understand that no matter on-hold music they select, it has to work nicely with the restricted frequency response of phone strains. Utilizing materials that simply doesn’t translate down a telephone line will drive clients loopy.

The on-hold music enterprise is bigger than you suppose. There’s a commerce group, The On-Maintain Message Affiliation, now buying and selling as, and even has conferences and awards applications for the very best on-hold music.

In the meantime, out in the true world, there a neighborhood of on-hold music followers. They compile YouTube movies like this
Better of On Maintain Music playlist.


By the way in which, regardless of Opus Quantity One being heard by a whole lot of tens of millions (billions?) of individuals whereas on maintain, Carleton and Deel haven’t seen a penny in royalties from their composition. They wrote it, recorded it, submitted, have been paid for the job — and that was it. I think about they cringe after they name someplace are subjected to their creation.

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