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The Surprising Roots of the Most Common Hold Music

Cisco is the number one supplier of enterprise phone systems in the world.

Which means if you’re ever placed on hold by a business, chances are you’ll be listening to Cisco’s stock hold music.

You probably recognize it:

But what you probably don’t know is the peculiar history of one of the most-played songs to ever grace the world’s airwaves. 

It was composed in 1989 by the duo of Tim Carleton and and Darrick Deel and recorded on a 4-track.

The former of the duo was a 16-year-old “Yanni-loving computer nerd, messing around with a drum machine and a synthesizer in his parents’ garage in California,” according with an interview with him in 2014 on “This American Life.”

The song went forgotten for almost a decade until some time in the ’90s. A that time, Deel, it turned out, had gone on to work for the then-startup Cisco.

While in the process of designing their initial phone systems, Deel offered the music to the team.

“I’ve got this piece of music that I know sounds really good on the phone,” he recalled saying in an NBC Bay Area feature. “Next thing I know it was going into the product.”

The “product” turned out to be hundreds of millions of phones, all with the familiar jingle. The song went on to be known endearingly as “Opus No. 1.”

In 2023, Anheuser-Busch’s featured the song in a Super Bowl commercial that had many people wondering, “why do I know this song?”

But what you probably don’t know is the peculiar history of one of the most-played songs to ever grace the world’s airwaves. 

The tale leads to some obvious questions.

Where is Carleton now?
As of 2014, Tim Carleton was an IT professional in the Bay Area spending minimal time on music. 

Did he make any royalties off the track?
“Not a penny. So I think that’s probably my most legit claim as a music artist. I didn’t make any money from my music,” he said.

Why hasn’t the hold music ever been changed?
While IT admins who are so inclined can customize their system’s hold music, most don’t bother. And, as it turns out, the out-of-the-box music actually has a legion of fans.

There are hundreds of comments about the song on YouTube videos, parodies, and remixes. Though some people can’t stand it, most of the comments sing its praises:

‘Best hold music ever made. I love this song.’

‘So addictively pleasant. Please, put me back on hold so I can listen to it some more.’

‘I work in a call center, and this music is the best to listen to after dealing with rude customers.’

‘I’ve been looking for this song for almost three years.’

How does Carleton feel when he’s put on hold to his own music?
“It’s really embarrassing when you’re not expecting to hear that and then, all of a sudden, you have that memory pop up,” he said. “I just start blushing immediately.”

But the most poignant answer given by either of the pair when prompted about Opus No. 1 came from Deel:
“If you’re frustrated with a company and you’re on hold trying to get something fixed?”

“For me, that’s not a pleasant experience regardless of the music.”

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