My call of duty has me at mercy of Hold Boy


WASHINGTON -- It's not that I dislike technology, but I'm not exactly what you'd call an "early adopter." Technologically I have only recently entered the 20th century, so the telephone remains my primary gadget.

As a result of having a telephone as an extra appendage, or maybe because of it, I'm very attuned to the differences in phone systems at the government agencies, lobby groups, congressional offices and myriad other news sources I try to keep close tabs on. One consequence of "phoning it in" is that I get put on hold a lot.

I've become a connoisseur of hold music. While there's a lot of that insipid sort of fake jazz out there, inside the Beltway there's a lot of marching band music. I think I've been through the entire John Philip Sousa catalog a dozen times.

While getting put on hold is always a bit frustrating, the one place I routinely call don't mind is the RIAA. I don't get put on hold enough at the RIAA, where the hold music is always interesting, if not enjoyable.

"I have people tell me all the time to put them back on hold," RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol says.

You would assume the representative of the music industry in Washington would always have good hold music, but that's not the case. It wasn't until the appearance of a man called Hold Boy that the music began to reflect the music industry.

About a decade ago, former RIAA staffer Jay Schumer, now an executive at Sony Music, became the first in what has become a long and illustrious line of people known fondly as Hold Boy. When Schumer discovered that the hold music was piped in through an old boom box in the phone closet, an idea was born.

"I was one of those arrogant music guys, looking to be an even bigger music snob" he says. "Somehow we discovered that we could listen to the hold music through our phones at our desks. I started changing the CD everyday and wrote a couple of paragraphs about what was on hold, telling everyone why they should like it, and why if they didn't they were idiots."

Schumer's first official offering as Hold Boy reflected his taste for jazz: Wes Montgomery's "Full House." Schumer used CDs from his collection until they were used up, and then borrowed them from colleagues.

When Schumer left the RIAA, the hold music went back to the Dark Ages until Jon Henkel discovered that a certain Jon Secada CD had been playing for a year. "I can't believe that CD didn't break," says Henkel, now RIAA's artist and industry relations senior director.

Henkel resurrected Hold Boy, albeit in a different guise with different tastes. But he continued the tradition of sending out e-mails explaining why the artist is significant and attention should be paid.

The Hold Boy tradition was reinforced when Tim Kelley assumed the position. With that combination of knowledge and arrogance that is only engendered by those who know they are right, his e-mailed bios of the daily offerings became a staple at the RIAA's headquarters. As Hold Boy, Kelley's love of pioneers of rock dominated.

"That may be the only time that they have heard that music, and dammit they need to hear it," he says.

The modern-day incarnation of Hold Boy is Joe Pheeny, a member of the legal affairs staff. As Hold Boy, he has pushed the boundaries of the restrictive envelope that is hold music.

"I just took it over," Pheeny says of his coup d'etat. "He was doing his style of music, and I wanted to bring it into 2006 instead of 1966."

Now where did I put that phone?