Why Is the Slack Hold Music So Haunted and So Good?

Why Does Slack’s Hold Music Captivate and Haunt Listeners?

When Danny Simmons wrapped up his first session on Slack Huddle, he found himself in a familiar situation that I had also experienced: he didn’t disconnect. Instead, as the music started playing softly, he began to search for where it was coming from. But he wasn’t just looking for some auto-playing music from a browser tab. He was trying to understand how a recording from years ago, made in his old basement in Toronto, was now reaching his ears.

Danny Simmons is a tall, slender sound designer with a surprising twist: he’s primarily a bluegrass musician from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He and Butterfield first crossed paths in college, playing together in a band named Tall Guy Short Guy. Simmons jokes, “I was brought in to replace the tall guy.”

After finishing college, Simmons pursued a career as a musician, while Butterfield ventured into video game design, a path that didn’t initially lead to success. However, Butterfield had an unusual knack for stumbling upon internet innovations while attempting to create games. His first project, Game Neverending, didn’t achieve financial success but laid the groundwork for Flickr by introducing a photo-sharing feature. Flickr, with its innovative use of tags, social networking capabilities, and open API, went on to shape much of today’s social web.

In 2005, Flickr was sold to Yahoo for approximately $25 million. A few years later, Butterfield once again tried his hand at game development, this time creating a whimsical and surreal game named Glitch. For this project, he reunited not only the team from Flickr but also members from the Tall Guy Short Guy band, including Simmons, who was tasked with composing the game’s music.

Glitch was a game that encouraged players to engage in quirky activities, such as gardening, milking butterflies, and exploring the insides of dinosaurs. The game included a unique feature where players had to obtain permits and identification by visiting a bureaucratic hall, a process that involved a lot of waiting and observing lizard-like bureaucrats.

The music that played in this bureaucratic hall during the waiting periods is the same music that now plays during Slack Huddles. Simmons, who primarily plays the banjo, recorded the guitar and synth parts for this soundtrack himself. In 2012, he even invited a talented left-handed guitarist, who also played the saxophone, to add some “cheesy” sax fills to the mix.

One interesting sound effect in the game, a “snick popopop” noise, was actually Simmons running his thumb over a toothbrush. This sound, among others, has become a familiar part of the Slack experience for its millions of daily users.

In October 2012, as Glitch was being shut down, Ali Rayl was asked to stay on and help develop what would become Slack. The internal messaging system from Glitch became a key component of Slack. Rayl, feeling a sense of responsibility towards her former colleagues, was determined to honor their work and legacy in this new venture.

So, the next time you find yourself listening to the hold music in Slack Huddles, remember the story behind it. Sit back, relax, and let the music transport you to a bureaucratic hall filled with diligent lizards. The countdown has begun.