Hans Christian Andersen is quoted as saying “where words fail, music speaks.” That’s easy for Hans to say—he didn’t live in the time of inspirational Pinterest quotes, elevator music, and corporate customer care call hold music.
Love it or loathe it, call hold music is an unavoidable reality of modern life. But is it all bad? To find out, I put it upon myself to spend the first nice weekend in Toronto (there is only one, mind you) inside my windowless apartment, calling big fat cat companies to listen to and rank their hold music.
If you’re questioning my credentials as an authority on such a study, I was briefly in a horrible band with a great name, Bukkake Katholik. But here to add more credibility to such a heady topic I have an award-winning composer, multi-instrumentalist, and karate instructor Adrian Ellis and the King of the Party Anthem, Andrew W.K. Not only is he my favorite singer of all time, but Andrew is also a multi-instrumentalist, entertainer, motivational speaker, music producer, writer, host of the Cartoon Network's Destroy Build Destroy and owner of Santos House Party in NYC.
Below are our findings, ranked scientifically, of course.
IKEA - 1 (888) 888-4532
Adrien Ellis: Welcome to a wallpaper version of the 1980’s. Irritation low. Boredom high. It was made by a very bored, uninspired computer. Brain death setting in. 3
Amy Seidman: It’s like a Zumba class took place at a Gypsy Kings Concert. For irritation level, I place it somewhere between rollerblades and Uggs. I’m pretty sure it was done through two tin cans on a string and it’s as original as IKEA furniture. Banality at its finest. 3
Andrew W.K.: Extremely efficient with not a single moment of hold time—I had to ask to be put on hold so that I could hear what music they had playing. What little music I did hear was again a mid-paced and spirited instrumental drum beat. The sound quality was extremely poor, however. The music was so quiet and degraded that it was barely audible. 6
Final Score: 4
FedEx - 1 (800) 463-3339
Adrian Ellis: Woah, pretty heady jazz wanker stuff. Do they think they’re smarter than me? The music doesn’t make me want to kill myself or any other living being, but the pretentiousness is a little annoying. John Mclaughlin is looking for his noodly jazz guitar jams. 5
Amy Seidman: It’s actually pretty catchy. It’s got a little bit of something for everybody! It’s seriously un-irritating—which is quite off-putting, actually. It was one of the better ones quality-wise. It makes me feel like FedEx doesn’t hate me. It’s a unique snowflake that’s for damn sure! 7
Andrew W.K.: The music was an exotic guitar lead instrumental track, but the sound quality was surprisingly poor. I appreciated the unconventional rhythm section and some of the synthesizer effects, but it was all a bit faint and distorted which was disappointing and made it hard to enjoy what was an otherwise very nice piece of music. 6
Final Score: 6
AT&T - 1 (800) 331-0500
Adrien Ellis: The ‘70s are back. It’s the audio version of plaid and pile carpet. Once the Quaaludes wore off, irritation level was quite high. They spared no expense on the trombone section and sex panther cologne. Barry Manilow is launching a lawsuit as we speak. Give it a 7 but only for having the balls to keep it old school. 7
Amy Seidman: It reminds me of a laid back version of the final song in Revenge of the Nerds. It was hard to make out some of it, which got under my skin due to the nature of this scientific study. It’s a little nails on a chalkboardy but not horrendous. I could take it or leave it. 6
Andrew W.K.: The very little music that I heard during the very short hold times was interspersed with a woman's recorded voice explaining other offers and features available. The music seemed to be light instrumental music. Had a nice feeling. 9
Amazon - 1 (888) 280-3321
Adrian Ellis: This is some classy stuff. And by classy I mean classical. Bring my cigar and brandy to the oaken study. I’m irritated by the mere suggestion that this refined composition might be irritating [as hold music]! Debussy is rolling in his grave knowing his great work is sullied by traveling through your lowly peasant phone lines, to be poorly reproduced by a tiny quartz crystal. You animals! 10 out of 10 plus 1000 points to Gryffindor and the Nobel Prize. 10
Amy Seidman: I feel like I am at a Venetian Ball, fancy shmancy! The music is actually quite riveting. A thrill ride from beginning to end. But it’s quite painful to hear all those piano trills in such poor audio. It sounds nothing like the other call hold music. They went a totally different direction. Risks pay off if done right! But eight out of 10 because the audio quality is so piss poor. 8
Andrew W.K.: I couldn't get to any hold music on this call. It was so efficient that there was no need for holding or hold music. The woman I spoke with was so nice that she didn't want to put me on hold—she only wanted to help serve me. N/A
McDonalds - 1 (800) 244-6227
Adrian Ellis: I’m floating…in a turquoise bay of ambient electronica on a cloudless summer day…a light breeze skims the water as I work my way through my sixth gin and juice. I like McDonalds' on-hold music...that's so embarrassing. Quality is godlike. Now leave me alone while I bliss out. 9
Amy Seidman: It’s glorious! It’s like Christmas sounds from a steel drum band on a Jamaican beach. Where my rum punch at? I’m with Ellis, I’m shockingly okay with it all. Also, their phone reps are so damn nice I’m struggling to find fault in any of this. Truly eye opening. It will be in my head from now on and I’m cool with that. 10
Andrew W.K.: This was the first of all the numbers that actually automatically put me on hold, after I selected the menu option associated with their food items. Despite the very, very poor audio quality, the music itself was truly unique and otherworldly, and the degraded sound quality actually added to the strangely futuristic tones and textures. It was contemporary classical piece, very difficult to describe—went beyond genre or traditional areas of classification. Intriguing and engaging music that held my attention as I tried to figure out and follow it. Almost psychedelic. 10
Amy Seidman is a writer for FANGORIA and Supercompressor. Her phone has a Fart App. It’s the main reason she has a cell phone in the first place.