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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Message On My Voicemail


Last week, Jimmy Fallon had Sting on "The Tonight Show" and asked him to try to imitate cell phone ringtones with his voice. The bit was cute, although like almost everything else on late night talk show, not at all spontaneous.

Fallon always acts like he's asking guests to do something they're not prepared for, but of course they've already planned the whole thing out, gotten the guests' approval, and probably rehearsed it -- if they didn't want to do it, the bit would have been scrapped. The ideas and games are usually amusing and guests know that Fallon's bits regularly go viral online, so they're happy to play along, but they don't hear the idea for the first time on the air.

This bit ended with Sting singing "Message On My Voicemail" for an audience member chosen at random. But while the guy might have thought it was cool to have as his outgoing message, it wasn't personalized for him, and the audience's reaction drowned out part of Sting's singing. Fallon and Sting and The Roots should have recorded another version backstage (without the crowd), which they could have given to the guy, and then put online for the public to download at 99¢ each, with the proceeds going to some charity (like Sting's Rainforest Foundation). I bet they'd have a million downloads, minimum.

Then there's the reality of having that song as your outgoing message -- it would get old very quickly. Imagine calling someone and, every time they don't answer, you have to listen to all 30 seconds or so of Sting before you can leave your message. In our immediate-gratification world, that would be really annoying after the novelty wore off (by approximately the second time, I'd guess).

It's like the people who still have a voicemail message that says, "You have reached 555-5555. I'm sorry I can't take your call at this time. Please leave your name and number and the time you called, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you for calling." Too much information! Everyone in the world knows how voicemail works, we know we're supposed to leave a message, and we don't need any instructions. Perhaps it dates back to the days when we had answering machines with cassettes inside, and you had to have a 20-second-duration outgoing message because that's how long it took for the tape to wind around to the silver metallic strip that created the beep (remember calling someone whose message wasn't long enough, and there were several seconds of dead air at the end?).

The best -- briefest -- outgoing messages I've ever heard were from John Ogle (my newsman at WCXR/Washington in the 80s and 90s), who simply said, "You've reached a machine," and Penn Jillette, who got it done even more efficiently with a simple "VIVA!"

Those were much better than having to sit through "Message On My Voicemail" every time I called you. In fact, I'd probably stop calling you, opting instead to conduct our business via text, where no instructions are necessary.