What’s Up With the Hold Music at the Unemployment Office?

The song is called, somewhat unimaginatively, “Romantic Jazz,” and it was written and produced by Jack Waldenmaier of Dallas, Texas, likely sometime in the 1990s.

What’s up with the hold music at the unemployment office? I still have PTSD from being on hold with them for hours every day at the beginning of COVID. Who wrote this music, and how much did they get paid? If it’s per play, they must be millionaires by now. —Holdin’ Caulfield

Willamette Week is first and foremost a newspaper, so it’s always nice when readers can relate their questions to the news of the day. Ideally, it would be a more recent day—”LONG HOLD TIMES AT OREGON UNEMPLOYMENT DEPARTMENT” is not exactly ripped-from-tomorrow’s-headlines fresh—but I appreciate the effort. (Next week: “Wait, did something happen to Kobe?”)

In any case, survivors of the Great UI Benefits Stampede of 2020 will recognize the tune you’re describing, a roughly minutelong clip of soprano saxophone-fueled jazz (in, it must be said, the exact style of Kenny G) that repeated on an endless loop for however many hours—or days—you were on hold.

The song is called, somewhat unimaginatively, “Romantic Jazz,” and it was written and produced by Jack Waldenmaier of Dallas, Texas, likely sometime in the 1990s. For the right to play this tune once a minute for all eternity, the Oregon Employment Department (or one of its telecom providers) paid Waldenmaier the princely sum of, at most, $47.

Why so cheap? Well, Waldenmaier was (he died last year) the chief composer for The Music Bakery, a service he founded in 1990 to provide inexpensive, royalty-free music for commercial use. Permanent (non-exclusive) rights to a complete Music Bakery composition are $47. A 60-second clip (which I suspect the Employment Department is using) is $39.

These attractive prices are the same whether you’re using the music for a school project or a Super Bowl commercial, making Music Bakery placements too numerous to keep track of. Son and heir Jacob Waldenmaier didn’t even know the Oregon UI shuffle was a Music Bakery joint until I told him, and he certainly couldn’t tell me who might have chosen it—or, more importantly, why.

Was the calming melody chosen to soothe angry callers? Who would think anything on a one-minute loop—much less almost-Kenny G—could be calming? Do they also think it’s calming to shout “calm down!” every 10 seconds? Would it have killed them to spend the extra $8 to at least make the loop four minutes long? We may never know.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.