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Tech Support Soundtracks

I had to call a tech-support line yesterday--for The Washington Post's IT department, if you must know--and was briefly put on hold. That meant I'd get to listen to some music, whether I liked it or not.

In this case, the soundtrack consisted of a Muzaked version of the R&B classic "Baby Don't You Do It". It's a fine piece of work overall, whether you're talking about the original version by Marvin Gaye or covers by other artists (longtime Postie Eric Brace's band Last Train Home can really tear this song up).

But this number's lyrics also happen to be frighteningly relevant to the average person's relationship with the companies that provide their computer hardware and software:

Baby don't you do it, don't do it babe

Don't break my heart, don't do it babe

Don't break my heart, please don't do it babe

Don't you break my heart

'Cause I sacrifice to make you happy

Get nothin' for myself

What are the most unfortunately apt songs you've heard while waiting on a tech-support line?

(Read on after the jump for an old piece by Mike Musgrove, in which he reviews the fare on a few computer manufacturers' hold lines.)


Published on: Friday, 11/19/1999, Fast Forward section,
edition, zone, E12

You Keep Me Hangin' On

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer

When your eight-speed CD-ROM drive starts giving you a zero-speed performance, having to make that tech-support call is the consumer equivalent of the morning after. Now that you've already forked over your money, will your equipment's manufacturer still love you? Or will you instead have to wait in phone limbo listening to numbing elevator music?

More to the point: When you do inevitably wind up on hold, will you enjoy the sounds?

We decided to call the tech-support numbers of the manufacturers reviewed here and listen to what their customers get an earful of when they dial in for help. The surprisingly good news was that at most numbers, which we called at different times over several days, we didn't have to listen to much hold music at all before reaching an actual support person--a typical call got me to a human being in three to five minutes (a couple of minutes to key through various menus, followed by wait time). This happy state of affairs may change for a few weeks after the latest wave of customers boot up this holiday season.

The spoken bill of fare has reached a nearly ironclad sameness across the board: Our menu has changed; this call may be recorded to improve service; please try the tech support at our Web site, it's really quite helpful; please have your serial number ready; and--in most cases--your wait time is approximately X number of minutes.

The music portion of the show, however, runs the gamut from grating to numbing-- to just plain weird. At Apple, for example, the hold music has a sort of new-Agey feel. Some of it sounds like an untalented version of Eurythmics, some of it sounds like the end credit music from an old John Woo movie mixed with the theme from "Tootsie."

EMachines takes the opportunity to talk about some of its current deals on computers "instead of playing you nauseating elevator music" before an eventual segue into some Fleetwood Mac-ish jam sessions after you've been on hold long enough.

At Dell, the main activity was punching numbers to get through level after level of phone menus, followed by hold music featuring pop ballads along the lines of Whitney Houston's. Compaq, however, usually featured the same, grating synthesizer riff, which gradually sucked a few IQ points out of my head; once, somewhat incongruously, I was treated to some half-decent acoustic guitar work. Hewlett Packard offered to support me in French and Spanish before blaring some piano-and-saxophone-heavy riffs that sounded like Air Supply trying to rock out.

Gateway's hold experience was the most interesting--a good thing, since I spent the most time on hold there--because it played something almost like music that you'd hear on the radio. Between tracks, a "DJ" comes on, thanking you for listening to the "Voice of Gateway" ("Did you know? Most applications have help files built right in"). The Voice didn't play anything that I actually recognized, but there were some sensitive country folk with reassuring lyrics along the lines of "If you call, I will pick you up, I will answer." But Gateway also played some blues, with lyrics that could've been referring to a human-computer relationship gone bad: "I can't get you out of my mind now, baby, I can't get you out of my mind." Gateway may score last in my book for making me hold the longest; it still gets a point or two for playing some tolerable tunes.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 8, 2007; 9:52 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: "Immediately"? Not So Fast...
Next: A Bushel of New Apple Products


I called a network operations center one time, and the music-on-hold was playing a Montivani strings version of "If I Only Had A Brain" from the Wizard of Oz.


Posted by: Cate | August 8, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I used to make mix cd soundtracks for my small ISP in exchange for access discounts. I tried to use the themes of technology and computers in there -- bands like Kraftwerk and Air, the Aphex Twin Pac-Man remix, Trans Am's "Futureworld", songs about robots, etc. It apparently went over quite well, and they even had one or two people ask to be put back on hold to hear the rest of a bit!

Posted by: Adam | August 8, 2007 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Almost any music is better than those who provide no feedback that the connection still exists, so you sit in silence, wondering if you're in a queue or just lost in a PABX.

Posted by: Mike | August 8, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Heh - the sensitive country folk with reassuring lyrics was Barenaked Ladies' "Call And Answer".

Posted by: hemisphire | August 8, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I work for a division of Disney. Our music on hold is Disney radio. Argghh!

Posted by: jeff | August 8, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Worst is an endless series of product commercials, which makes you think "but if this thing I bought doesn't work, why would I buy something else from you".

The advantage to music is if you have a speakerphone you can have it play - softly - while you get on with your day until they deem to answer. Particularly useful on tech support calls where it could be an hour or more on hold.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Jeff, be careful what you say. You might lose your job.

Posted by: David | August 8, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Heh. 8-speed CD drive... Compaq... Gateway... Anyone else feel terribly old reading Mike's piece? ;)

Posted by: Catherine | August 8, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Last year at my Harris-Teeter I heard a sad country song: you know, "my man left, the kids are sick, and the rent is past due...". It was way too much of a downer and commented that to an employee passing by and he agreed. We both sad that the background music at a food store should be happy.

Posted by: Bartolo | August 9, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

My favorite was Sam and Dave's "Hold on, I'm coming".

Posted by: Barb | August 9, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Mike's article is so funny...descriptive and perceptive!

Posted by: Betty | August 10, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Mike's article is so funny...descriptive and perceptive!

Posted by: Betty | August 10, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Years ago I was on hold for almost an hour w/Microsoft (aka The Evil Empire). All the songs had "hold" in their titles, such as "Hold On, I'm Coming". At first I thought it was a coincidence, then I realized this was some Softies sick idea of a joke.

Posted by: Lynn | August 11, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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