Click the video above to hear the track, and scroll to the bottom to see what the experts think of our take on hold music. Music by Asen Doykin/Doykin Music, picture by Blaga Ditrow/Lush Life Film.
So, if hold music is about to become extinct, thanks to marketing or technology, maybe it’s time to embrace the wonderful world of hold music one more time.
I call up Asen Doykin, a New York-based jazz pianist and composer who performs regularly at prestigious venues worldwide including Blue Note, Birdland, and Lincoln Center. He has released two albums as a leader and composed numerous pieces of music for film, television, and theatre. If anyone could create a groovy, compelling piece of hold music for the ages, it’s Asen.
Surrounded by banks of keyboards in his home studio, Asen and I talk about how we should proceed. We want to avoid the hold music clichés: repetition, an unchanging rhythm pattern, the lack of harmonic variation. “Hold music hits you with the whole texture at the start, so in order to contrast this, let’s build it up,” Asen explains to me. I watch him lay in some funky jazz chords to open, before we hear the opening theme over an Afro-groove beat. “One thing we’re going to do is create different sections and different forms,” he says.
The opening theme on a classic electric piano evokes the jazz-funk style of Herbie Hancock’s classic album Head Hunters from 1973. “Very Herbie,” says Asen. “But I want to add some avant-garde sound design, maybe more like Radiohead.” He turns to his Prophet, a polyphonic analog synthesizer, sketching out some possible counter melodies over the piano track. It’s pretty thrilling to imagine how great this hold music could be.
At some point, the beat slows into a much slower waltz, over which Asen lays down big impressionistic chords, “kind of like Debussy or Ravel.” To me, the sequence could be the score to a melancholy scene from a classic French film.
“That’s one thing you don’t hear in hold music, a wide palette of emotions,” Asen observes.
Quelle tristesse, I think to myself. But here we are venturing into melancholy territory. As I consider whether it’s okay to actually tear up on hold, the music shifts again and we’re back to upbeat jazz groove. This takes us into the third part of the track when we decide to fade it out. It could go on, of course, but it has to end somewhere. The final track – written and produced by Asen Doykin – we called “Please Hold the Funk.”
Now put me back on hold…
So how does our tune stack up in the esteemed opinion of the experts? We asked two of the 2018 Holdies judges to give us their take.
This piece “has its pros and cons,” wrote Holdies judge Danielle Schmidt.
She feels the variation and lack of stiff transitions would appeal, and “the lack of a chorus tune feels both refreshing and unfamiliar.”
“The tones are relaxing and feel like background noise, but the instruments and underlying moving lines are interesting, which would keep the caller engaged, maybe even distracted from being on hold.”
She says the song’s slow start may confuse the caller, so a better starting point would be at the 30-second mark when the pace picks up. Schmidt says the pace slows again at 2:22, and “feels like a loss of energy”.
Her verdict? “I would recommend parts of this tune as hold music.”
On Hold Company CEO Bryant Wilson liked the piece overall, writing that the "pace of the music is pleasing and suitable to a hold environment.” Less appealing were “the electronic music synthesizer sweeping sounds used in the music production.”
According to Wilson, because a telephone hold queue only has 3500Hz of bandwidth, sounds like this will often be distorted and can detract from the overall musical production.
“It's important that when choosing music to be played on hold that bandwidth and compression of today's telephone environment be a factor in deciding how well a piece will fit in the overall mix.”