Mostly whimsical reflections on life
Most musicians would kill if one of their songs played simultaneously on 65 million channels. Not Tim Carleton. He is slightly embarrassed at being the rock star of “hold music,” the default sound you hear while waiting on the phone.
Carleton and a friend created Opus No. 1 with a synthesizer in a garage while in high school. A few years later, his friend Derrick Deel remembered the song and thought it would be great as hold music on Cisco’s ubiquitous corporate telephone networks.
Turns out Opus No. 1 is so popular that people call doctor’s offices, banks and telephone companies and ask to be put on hold so they can listen to its mesmerizing melody.
Now it has become a popular download for iPods to play while doing menial tasks or just relaxing at home.
Carleton is the biggest rock star no one has ever heard of. He also may be the most hapless rock legend with a platinum-plus hit song because he hasn’t earned a cent from his musical creation.
After peaking early as a budding music titan, Carleton moved on to a career in IT. When interviewed on This American Life, he seemed somewhere between bemused and embarrassed by the quiet success of Opus No. 1. The song may have gotten its first play time on radio during the interview.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a top hit would show up on the telephone. People listen to the radio to wake up in the morning or as a diversion from road rage during work commutes. When you are left waiting, sometimes for endless periods, your mind searches for the deeper meaning of life. You are open to hearing a soul-satisfying tune.
Carleton’s phantom success won’t go unnoticed by music marketers. Expect them to ring up Cisco and ask to place songs on the hold network, reaching untold numbers of unsuspecting ears across the country. It beats trying to lure people to MySpace because people are already making calls to complain about service or ask about a questionable bill and are ready for a soothing ear-bath.
Building operators can cash in by entertaining music placements to replace stale, white-noise elevator music.
Radio barons might consider new station formats featuring Carleton-inspired, Yanni-like music 24 hours a day, which will appeal to people trying to escape the mundane realities and unavoidable humiliations of daily life.
All this innovation will be a fitting tribute to Carleton. He will be honored in the breach – and won’t earn a penny. Mozart and Alexander Graham Bell would be proud.