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We Reviewed the Hold Music of Some of the UK's Biggest Companies

It was down to one person alone to take on this mission, so I took the hit for y'all.

by VICE Staff
31 August 2016, 10:55am

It always starts the same. You call up a company, perhaps to make a complaint, and you’re put on hold. These songs soothe you and soften the savagery about to be inflicted down your phone, or they simply make you even more infuriated. The smugness of those muzak tones, you think. I’ll fucking muzak them.

Hold music all began with Alfred Levy, an inventor, factory owner, and entrepreneur who, in a similar vein to the discovery of Penicillin and acid, accidentally stumbled-upon a way to transmit a radio station next door through to the phone line. Bango: the grand tradition of hold music was then born.

These days, hold music is usually played through MP3 files. Apparently 73% of callers wanted to hear something other than beeps or silence, but strangely 76% want something other than music. Regardless, most companies are still flying the crumpled flag of playing songs down a telephone line. I know this, because I’ve spent a lot of time in this life at the end of a phone. But what of the people who have to listen to hold music each and every day? And what company scores highest in the hold music charts? Do they all play the same irritating blend of new-age and lounge music? Or would there be something more popular?

It was down to one person alone to take on this mission, so I spent far too long calling up as many businesses as I could to have a listen to their hold music. This is probably the first time in history this has happened. What you're about to witness is a world-beating experiment. Here are some of the worst and the best contenders.

FITNESS FIRST

Who are they?

That place you visit on the 2nd January because it’s Time For The New Me and you’ve eaten dickloads of mince pies. You sign-up for a month, go once and end your session cowering in the corner like a kid in P.E. picked last, vowing to never return again.

How long was I on hold for?

4 minutes.

What does the hold music sound like?

Starting off like a 90s smooth R&B beat that Mario could’ve killed, it’s suddenly awash with a synth stolen straight from XXYYXX’s dropbox. Protein for your ears. 9/10.

What does the company think of hold music?

Ayo. Your hold music is lit. It kind of sounds like an old school Justin Timberlake backing track.
Sorry I didn’t get the first bit there, the line’s a bit dodgy.

Your hold music is lit. It sounds like Justin Timberlake.
OK, umm you’ve come through to the head office.

Brilliant! Could I download the track somewhere?
Umm, I’m not too sure….

No worries. Can you help me with something else? What’s the best music to listen to while you try to make gains? I quite like Mr. Lethal Bizzle’s "Rari Workout".
Umm you’ve come through to the head office, what was the club?

I’m not sure what the club is? Am I part of it? I’m just asking about hold music.
The music is something the company has to pay for – it’s not something we can dive into in all honesty. Were you calling in regards to a membership, or…

It was just about that – I just wanted to see if you could set me the Track ID?
Honestly, I’m not too sure, it’s not my area of expertise. You were literally just enquiring about the hold music?!

Yeah, and just whether listening to music can make you fitter while you’re training – I always seem to have a better leg day when I’m listening to some gnarly drum and bass.
Oh ok, well in all honesty it’s been that same tune for many years, so it’s unlikely to change in all honesty.

Oh ok, thanks for speaking anyway – if the bar ain’t bending you’re just pretending amirite? Congratulations on your 9/10 score.

IKEA

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Who are they?

That most Scandinavian of stores, where you pretend to live in their kitchens and bathrooms. You also eat their meatballs. And cry salty, salty tears onto their sodden instruction manuals when you get home.
.
How long was I on hold for?

One minute.

What was the hold music like?

It was Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. The song your Mum sings when she’s getting mortal on a Karaoke night with the girls. The song that you sing in the shower because it’s actually a fucking banger. The greatest song to objectively have been released from Sweden. 7/10.

What does the company think about hold music?

The synergy on this phone call is spot on. What’s your favourite Abba track?
I don’t know – "Dancing Queen" – I listen to that one everyday.

Banger. Have you seen the Mamma Mia movie?
Yes.

Isn’t Pierce Brosnan such a big chunk of hunk?
I can’t respond to that one unfortunately.

VODAFONE

Image via Wikipedia

Who are they?

The world’s second largest mobile phone provider. As vanilla as a cornet of Mr Whippy, they do all the usual phone company things, like avoiding tax and landing you with a nice big roaming bill if you forget to turn off mobile data abroad.
.
How long was I on hold for?

Three minutes.

What was the hold music like?

From the offset, this hold music isn’t too bad. It sounds like Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”. Then again, this isn’t the official version of “Love Yourself”, but a shitty cover with the kind of whiny voice that’ll get you through to the bootcamp stages of X Factor and a Celebrity Big Brother spot a few years down the line. 4/10.

What does the company think about hold music?

Is Vodaphone known as being a major player within the Bieber cause?
If you listen to him as much as I do, you’d hate it.

Someone on Twitter has said you should get rid of your Bieber hold music.
I agree - I always have to listen to it.

What’s your view on the whole Selena Vs. Bieber spat? I’m Team Justin.
Honestly, not much of an interest in it all.

It’s quite gutting that you’re not a fan.
I was never a big fan. Not my thing.

HSBC

Image via Wikimedia

Who are they?

One of the big-boy banks. They recently got in trouble for laundering, to quote the Weeknd, ‘Pesos out of Me-hi-co’. They do make cool-ass adverts that are plastered all over airport terminals, though.

How long was I on hold for?

Seven minutes.

What was the hold music like?

The sound of your miserable soul being crushed by a haunting toy-piano ditty and backing vocals that sound like the trapped voices of customers that have had their homes foreclosed. This is the kind of piece that would have some currency in a M. Night Shyamalan film. 3/10.

What does the company think about hold music?

Alright mate. So, I’ve been on hold for seven minutes and this music is horrible. It sounds like it’s from a funeral. It’s quite haunting.
Oh, sorry!

Have you listened to it?
We do, actually, sometimes.

What do you think of it?
Personally, it’s quite… not good.

It is soul-destroying, which isn’t great feedback. Are the weird-sounding voices on it part of the track, or trapped voices of customers or something?
Voices from the office.

Have you got an alternative track you could use? Maybe something money themed? I would recommend Destiny's Child's "Bills Bills Bills"?
I’m not really a Beyonce fan, but that depends on the people listening to it.

What specifically would you choose?
Maybe… anything other than this.

Is this song a ploy to put customers off from calling customer service?
Probably!

BORIS BIKES

Image via Wikipedia

Who are they?

Now sponsored by Santander, they’re those bikes that you’ve hired once when you’re absolutely mullered off a handful of Tuborgs at Spoons and thought you could cycle home. This may have happened.

How long was I on hold for?

25 seconds.

What was the hold music like?

Like "Uptown Funk" if it was re-written for a Sunday Morning slot for mangled punters at Boomtown. It’s even got cycle-themed lyrics (‘high, ride, returrrrrrn’). A loop of warped, trippy hold-music godliness. 10/10.

What does the company think of hold music?

Your hold music is incredible. It’s so funky. Can I download it anywhere?
What you can do is email us and we’ll reply to you that way…

What do you think of it?
We get mixed comments – some people call up and say they hate it, some people call up and say they love it. You get customers humming and singing the tune while we were on the phone. It’s really quite catchy.

What are the lyrics saying?
(sings) High, ride, returns.

Amazing. Is it an original piece?
I believe so.

What’s the best track to listen to while riding on a Boris Bike?
I have no idea. I’d listen to drum and bass.

I could see some drum and bass could get you pedalling pretty damn quickly. Cycle on!

You can follow Kyle on Twitter here.