May 7

The Slack Hold Music Is Growing In Lore

Creator Stack, Musicians, Website

The Slack hold music is growing in lore. What could be just a fun little throwaway feature has become a genuine Internet hit. 

A lot of people are familiar with the workplace communication app Slack. The company came onto the scene in 2013, eventually revolutionizing the concept of team communication in the workplace. After years of steady growth, business software giant Salesforce bought the company in 2020, solidifying it as a leader in the space with really only Microsoft Teams as a potential rival. 

But while Slack was dominating text-based team communication, the company missed a major opportunity to dominate the video calling landscape that emerged during and post-COVID. Sure, Slack had video conferencing features as early as 2016. But they didn't quite capture the potential for the individual use case, which allowed Zoom to really come in and establish a presence (to the point that Zoom may even eventually challenge Slack on the text front). Then, Clubhouse burst onto the scene with its audio chat functions (a premise that flamed out, sure, but that's a different story). 

The point is, Slack, could have been a focal point for these types of meetings. It had the tech. But people didn't really know about or use them.

Since then, Slack has really focused on integrating more chat options into its product in a seamless way. That's where its more recent feature, Huddle, comes in. And more importantly, where the Slack hold music begins. 

A Brief History Of Hold Music

Ok, so technically the Slack hold music isn't really "hold" music. But it reminds people of a traditional "hold" situation enough that the Internet just started asking about "that Slack hold music" when talking about it. 

Just so we're clear, "hold music" is what plays over a telephone while you're waiting for an operator or person on the other side to pick up the line and talk to you. The concept itself has a fairly charming origin, too. 

Basically, in 1962, factory owner Alfred Levy realized an exposed wire from a radio station next door was causing an interesting problem. It was touching a metal girder (also known as a construction beam) on his building, essentially turning the entire building into a massive radio transmitter. This meant that when callers were placed on hold, they started hearing the radio station transmission from next door. Levy eventually patented the concept in 1966. 

Since then, what's officially known as "messages on hold" has taken many forms. Perhaps what comes to mind most when you think of hold music is a sort of smooth, easy listening jazz: a mid-tempo tune often marked by subtle drums, piano, guitar, and even the occasional bit of saxophone. But there have also been instances of hold music playing contemporary radio tunes and even humorous, custom songs specifically referencing the caller being on hold. 

Probably the most common iteration of the concept, though, involves a recorded message that helps direct users to their proper extension. Quite the evolution from "accidental pirate radio."

How The Slack Hold Music Captivated The Internet

So, yes, while technically the music you're hearing on Slack isn't the same as waiting on the phone, it feels like it to a lot of people. After all, Huddle feels an awful lot like a phone conference. It basically exists because "sometimes talking is faster than typing." 

So, if you somehow find yourself being the first person to a Huddle, or as many people are finding out, the last person who forgets to officially "leave," you may soon be greeted with a delightfully catchy tune or five. 

Users mostly started discovering the Slack hold music when their volume was up and they became the sole member of a Huddle meeting within a channel. The music slowly fades in, now one of 8 possible songs, ranging from titles like "Waiting Room" and "Subway Music" to "Whistle Tune" and "Happy Bass." Conversations on Reddit and social media sites about "that Slack hold music" soon started popping up, with users almost unanimously praising the pleasant surprise of relaxing, sometimes kitschy music hitting their speakers. 

Soon, people started uploading compilations of the music to YouTube, one even including an hour-long loop for anybody who didn't want to have to keep pressing start and stop in Slack. In late 2021, Slack Senior Staff Product Designer Anna Niess said they needed a way to gently let somebody know they were the only one left in a Huddle, and this music "felt like a moment to introduce something fun and light-hearted."

More than two years later, it's clear the team succeeded. 

The Even More Interesting Story Of The Slack Hold Music Origins

So the music serves a practical purpose. It has also generated its own online following and fandom. But the lore behind the Slack hold music only gets cooler when you learn where it came from. 

A recent article in Wired does a fantastic job detailing the origins of this specific music and why it just feels so good. You see, before the team that built Slack, they were actually working on building an MMO — which stands for "massive multiplayer online" game, a common acronym in the gaming community. 

That's right. Slack has its roots in a never-released game called Glitch, which featured tasks ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, like planting gardens, building houses, milking butterflies, collecting philosopher dolls, and traveling through dinosaur intestines. One of those tasks included going to a local office to get some permits (from a set of busy lizards walking around with stacks of paper). 

In the spirit of true bureaucracy, the only way to pass the task was to just sit there and wait until the timer depleted. If you move the character at all, the timer resets. The music that played during this task? You guessed it — "Waiting Room."

But how exactly the music went from a bizarre online game concept to a $26 billion company is actually kind of heartwarming. In October 2012, Ali Rayl joined the Glitch team as a quality engineer. But less than a year into her time there, she was told the game was getting shut down — but that some of the team would stay on to build the "next thing," this time a project that would probably be in workplace communication (and interestingly enough, use some of Glitch's core messaging functions). 

Rayl ended up being one of only eight people to survive the team layoffs. During the fatal call, “I decided, I’m going to do everything that I can to support these people, to uphold their legacy and get their work out in the public sphere,” Rayl told Wired.

Much of the core team felt the same way. And that's how Danny Simmons' original music and sounds for Glitch made their way into Slack. Yep, even the basic little beeps and boops everybody associates with Slack came from Simmons' original work for Glitch

Why We're Telling You This

Because it's cool, duh. Just kidding. But seriously — beyond being a fascinating story, it's a great example of how even "failures" are foundations for great successes. 

And Slack isn't even the first example of that. Before Glitch and Slack, founder Stewart Butterfield tried to make a different video game in the early 2000s. Originally dubbed Game Neverending, that project didn't really take off, either. But it did contain some of the underlying architecture for what became Flickr, a photo sharing website that Butterfield and his co-founder Caterina Fake sold to Yahoo! for $25 million in 2005. 

it's two pretty fantastic stories of creations out of passion turning into life-changing businesses. And, as we see with Slack, finding ways to never forget where you came from. 






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