Image via Wikipedia
After sitting on hold with United for a few hours during this latest travelpocalypse, I've become deeply curious about the science of the music used when a caller is placed on hold. For example, at United, the hold music is "Rhapsody in Blue". Rather than being a lovely full recording of the piece, it is an incredibly scratchy partial recapitulation of the main theme that sounds as if it is being played on a phonograph. It skips, stops and starts, and sounds just terrible. But I found myself wondering, is the annoyance to keep the caller on edge? Are those sometimes looong skips and stops designed to keep me paying attention? While these observations come from United, I've noticed the same thing at other companies. Is there a real reason behind this?
- Licensing. United probably bought the license to that particular version of Rhapsody in Blue 30 years ago and sees no reason to spend even a dime to get a new song. The licensed songs usually cost at least a few hundred dollars for the no-name hold music variety to several thousand for an actual artist. Often the prices are negotiated based on individual sales, so a big name like United would drive the cost higher (more customers hear my song, more I charge for it).
From my years of past experience in the corporate world, my guess is that everyone at United is vaguely aware that their hold music is terribly degraded.
But who would be responsible for fixing such a thing? What's the use case scenario? What can the company stand to gain from dropping a newer tape into the machine? A newer tape will cost money, and often you can't spend money without explaining the bottom-line benefit to the company.
This also reminds me to reread my Rhapsody in Blue post (tempered with someone's 9/11 experience) from 2003:
George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for Piano and Orchestra (1924) is one of the best segments of the Disney film Fantasia 2000. About life in New York City, it's an amusing, stylistic animation. Seeing this also helps reclaim the work from the grasp of being used as the theme for United Airlines.