With longer on-hold waits during Covid-19, is it time to change your hold music?


Six tips for designing your on-hold sound

by Colleen Fahey, US Managing Director

My friend, Hope Schultz, had complicated travel arrangements to make last week and ended up on two calls with American Airlines waiting over an hour on each. Her biggest lament was about the shortness of the loop for the on-hold music. Hearing it scores of times, she felt it was driving her mad.

So Sixième Son gave it a listen and also noted the music cycles are short, as Hope had said, but it also had herky-jerky volume levels – jumping from too quiet to quite loud and back again. Beyond that, the music lacked variety and seemed more generic than branded.

I’m writing this article on behalf of Hope’s sanity.

At Sixième Son, we know that callers will stay on the line 3 times as long in a call-waiting experience when faced with well-designed music and messaging. We’ve created dozens of customer service line compositions and messages as part of the sonic ecosystems we design for our clients.

Here are six ways you can improve your customer service line experience

  1. Don’t use a piece of music that’s less than a minute long. We usually create customer service line music that’s 1.5 to 2 minutes, so people don’t feel trapped in a repetitive loop.

  2. Build musical variety into your composition to keep your customers from getting bored and hanging up.

  3. Be differentiated.  Don’t pick up the same piece of music that everyone else has. Like this one that’s used by a tech giant, an insurance company, a pet supply chain and, as one reviewer said, “The theme song of my life with a chronic illness. Every doctor’s hold music.”

  4. Treat your on-hold wait as a critical customer experiences, if you can’t reduce the time spent, at least reduce the pain inflicted. In these on-line purchasing days, a call may be the only human contact your customer ever has with your brand.

  5. Beware of, impersonal and monotonous voices.  So that when you say “We’re doing our best to reduce your wait” you sound like you mean it. And with that, make sure you have more than one message to share, because after five times of hearing the same sentence, boredom and anger can escalate rapidly.

  6. Above all, make sure your music reflects the values and personality of your brand. Ideally, it would create a familial link to the music in your advertising, social media and events.

Recently, a new on-hold system in the US by Sixième Son replaced the old music (including the music mentioned in point 3 above). The results? A rise in every category: Appeal, Effectiveness, Uniqueness, Fit with brand, Fit with ME, and “Better than other companies”. And, a very proud and happy client, to boot.

On-hold music report card for a quick selection of US brands


  • Faulty technical implementation.
  • Bad mix: volume levels spike and then get really quiet.
  • Cycles back through quickly, not much variety, super generic.


  • Very repetitive, loops quickly nearly every 10-15 seconds.
  • Annoying automated in a robotic voice comes on saying “Check your device for a free text message” every few seconds.
  • System hangs up on callers.

SPECTRUM (Telecom phone/internet provider) – C

  • Slow and dreamy music, seems to want to make you fall asleep.
  • But it is a little bit different from the standard fare.
  • Its loop is longer, does not repeat as quickly.


  • True to the brand and differentiating.
  • They do not play music, but provide financial news and updates instead.
  • Could make it hard for the caller to work while waiting on hold.


  • They give you the option to choose your own on-hold music: pop, classical or jazz, or can elect to wait in silence.
  • The functionality is clunky, when you try to change the genres, a voice comes on saying, “All Apple advisors are still busy, please continue to hold for the next available advisor”, but it seems you can cycle through the change the music when you’re on hold by pushing 1, 2, or 3 anyway.
  • They could add value by endorsing their playlists with their famous start-up sound, bringing it back to the brand.


  • Mid-level music, kind of cartoonish sounding generic.
  • Longer loop time, but not very engaging.
  • Feels dated for a tech giant.