Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Answering Machine: A Retrospective

A few weeks ago I had the great displeasure of attending a resume workshop with a rather threatening representative from the Career Services Office. She wailed on about a lot of things we're all probably doing wrong, but there was just one point that struck a soft spot in me. Your answering machine message. "I don't care how much you like that Miley Cyrus song, prospective employers will just hang up the phone. Your outgoing message must be professional, 'Hello, this is So-and-so, please leave a message."

Does this mean I have to change my message?

Just for some stinking job?

I've been writing answering machine ditties since middle school. I've never had an outgoing message that wasn't a song. I mean, my name is Melody, for God's sake. Who would I be without my answering machine ditties?

While pondering these deep, philosophical questions, I decided I ought to put together a retrospective of all my ditties through the years. Perhaps an homage to a tradition I'll put to rest. And in honor of the sad, sad day when I graduate from college and begin my job search with a fresh, new, "You've reached Melody, please leave a message after the tone," I wrote a brand new ditty to grace my voicemail for the few remaining fortnights. It's my best yet, I think.

But first let us look back.

It all began with a love for the late Green Day hit single, "Minority" back around the turn of the millennium. I set the words of your typical greeting to some version of the tune from the chorus of "Minority".  Altering the lyrics so that they would vaguely rhyme never even occurred to me until my BFF Andrew (who surely listened to this message far more times than anyone else in the world) commented on the lack of rhyme. Nevertheless, this, the original ditty hung on for around three years before giving way to an updated, rhymeful version.

c. 2000 - 2003
Melody is not at home to answer your call,
Just leave a message after the beep,
And she'll get back to you.

This next ditty, the longest running version of them all, showed some significant strides in my songwriting. The tune was completely original, and pretty catchy I must admit. It acquired additional acclaim when I was commissioned to record a personalized version for my friend Susanna's outgoing message.

c. 2003 - 2008
Melody cannot reach the phone,
So leave your name and number after the tone,
And she'll get back as soon, as soon as she can.

Finally, after 5 years I was inspired to write a brand new answering machine ditty. More complex than the last, this tune introduced a new level of variety into my melodic lines.

c. 2008 - 2010
You've reached Me-e-lody,
I cannot pick up presently,
But you can leave a message after the tone,
And I can reach you later on the phone,
I look forward to hearing from you,
I look forward to hearing from you.

By 2010, my musical aesthetic had evolved quite a bit. By now I was taking fiddle lessons and teaching myself to play the mandolin; I was active in the Brooklyn folk scene and completely enamored with early blues. I borrowed the melody here from the old spiritual "Motherless Child" for a darker, more soulful approach to the answering machine ditty.

c. 2010
Your call has missed me but I want you to know (x3)
I want to get back to you (x2)

That tune had but a brief jaunt, six months maybe, when inspiration struck again. The following tune reigned for nearly a year, until just today.

c. 2011
Well I've missed, I've missed your call,
But I don't want to miss it all,
If you'll just tell me why,
I'll call back, yeah I'll give you a try-y-y.

And finally, my crowning achievement, the "Please Call Me Back Blues". Written in loving appreciation for the creative freedom childhood allows, and the stubbornness with which I receive societal conventions of professionalism.

c. 2011
Hello, it's Melody,
Why have you called on me?
Tell me your name and news,
Sing me the, "Please Call Me Back Blues."



  1. I totally disagree with what the lady from career services said! While I feel your message should be happy and uplifting, your messages have always be an expression of your creativity. While you're not going to be applying for a music teacher position, you still want a position in the arts. I say to hell with the boring "professional" message….like mine is.
    love you,

  2. Oh my gosh, too funny! I had a singing message for awhile when I was 16 and my boss made soooooooo much fun of me for it. (I was already hired so no biggie - hee hee). Anyways, love that you did this. Regular answering machine messages are so boring! I think callers appreciate the small creativity dose, don't you?