Finally, Hold Music That Doesn’t Suck

“Well, I’ve been sitting here all day, I’ve been sitting in this waiting room,” croons UberConference’s creative director and cofounder, Alex Cornell. And just like that, one more of life’s little irritants is plucked away.

Finally, Hold Music That Doesn’t Suck
[Image: Flickr user Peddhapati]

If there’s anything worse than sitting on hold during a phone call, we can all agree, it’s listening to unpleasant sounds pretending to be “music” while sitting on hold during a phone call. Most of the so-called music that plays before a conference call or while waiting, waiting, waiting for a customer service representative, is terrible because it’s treacly, utilitarian, and blaring out of the headset primarily so the person on the line doesn’t feel forgotten. Its main purpose is not to entertain, so it’s often not very entertaining. There’s no care put into the act.


Enter UberConference’s hold music. Instead of the usual muzak-y, elevator plonking, UberConference, a conference-call-enabling service, created the following song composed and performed by the company’s creative director and cofounder, Alex Cornell, while participants wait for a call to begin.

Alex Cornell

The song is notable more for its lyrics than its composition, though the music is a vast improvement over Velveeta-smooth jazz. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t listen to words, the song is about waiting for a conference call to start.

“Well, I’ve been sitting here all day, I’ve been sitting in this waiting room,” Cornell sings plaintively. “And I’ve been waiting on my friends, yes, waiting on this conference call.”

The tune is, in many ways, a big joke about how un-fun it is to sit and wait around for people to show up to what will likely be a somewhat un-fun experience.

Sure, it’s a little bit cheesy, but people love it. (Perhaps because we have such low expectations for those idle minutes before the person on the other end picks up.) The song is one of the most popularly tweeted features, according to UberConference CEO Craig Walker. “It really surprises people in a fun way, we get a lot of tweets about it, every day, which is cool,” adds Cornell. “It’s nice to see people excited about something that they are usually terrified of,” he tells Fast Company. The song, in fact, came to my attention via one such tweet:


While, the song’s cheekiness is most likely responsible for its mass appeal, Cornell did put some thought into what musical elements would work over the phone. “A lot of drums and really heavy stuff–that doesn’t sound good. The stuff that people are expecting doesn’t sound good, either: sax, easy listening type stuff,” he explains. “We picked things that have really high frequency, basically you don’t want too much low-end on a hold music song, because on phones you’re just not going to hear it.”

Cornell, who has a semi-popular YouTube following for his acoustic covers of pop songs, opted for country because the genre tends to incorporate an element of story-telling, and he wanted to play with that to tell the tale of sitting on hold. Musically, the acoustic guitar, snare drum, and brushes also worked for the phone. “There’s not a driving bass drum that would get lost over the phone,” Cornell explained. “As much as I could it is optimized for the listening environment.”

In addition to the original composition, UberConference offers three other hold music options, all picked to fit the medium. None of them have lyrics, but “were chosen to be nice and easy to listen to,” said Cornell, a self taught musician. One of the options is just a heart beat. But Cornell’s creation is the most popular of the four. (The company wouldn’t share metrics beyond that.) Soon Uber will release an updated version–a cover by the YouTube group Postmodern Jukebox. Cornell also hinted that he might pen another original tune. Until then, if you don’t like any of the provided musical stylings, Uber also lets paying subscribers upload their own songs. Those might not sound as great through a phone, but that’s out of Cornell’s control.

As creative director, Cornell does more than act as the company’s musician in residence. He is responsible for the interaction design of the conference calling experience, which includes everything from hold music to web interface design. Attention to design is what sets UberConference apart from other calling solutions, insists Cornell.

“As soon as I mention conference calling, most people tense up and you can see the fear in their face, and the blood drain,” Cornell says. “It’s something that is typically unpleasant for people.”

Cornell has at least added some levity to what is generally an unpleasant experience for consumers and coworkers. His song may not have Toby Keith quaking in his boots, but it will leave many of the rest of us tapping our toes.

About the author

Rebecca Greenfield is a former Fast Company staff writer. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire, where she focused on technology news.