A Systemic Suggestion – Change the Music

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One charge to the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) from Congress requires the NTA to look for problems that require systemic changes.  Going through irs.gov, you can get to the place in the NTA’s portion of the website where you can notify the IRS of systemic issues you have encountered, explain the issue and suggest changes that need to occur.  The system goes under the acronym SAMS – Systemic Advocacy Management System.  Once you make your suggestion, the friendly people who monitor the system will get back to you acknowledging receipt of your suggestion.  If they decide to pursue your suggestion, they will generally make further contact.

Any of you who actually call the IRS phone lines seeking assistance for clients, friends, family or your own tax issues, have the opportunity to experience the music played while you listen for the next available caller.  By the end of the semester, my students have heard this music a lot.  Sometimes, we do a music review at the end of the semester.  In other years we have talked about the psychological issues raised by the music the IRS chooses to play.  No matter how we choose to discuss it, the issue always comes back to how bad the music is that the IRS makes its callers listen to while they wait.  The long wait times now common when trying to reach the IRS exacerbate the problem with the music. 

On April 15, one team of students actually got through to the IRS within two minutes.  They were so excited; they rushed to tell me of their success.  Wait times are now so long and the music so bad I try to use this feature to discourage students from signing up for my clinic in order to keep the wait list low.  After further discussion of the problem, we decided to make a systemic request to the IRS that it improve its music since it does not seem to be able to improve the wait times.


We think the IRS has choices in the way it might solve the music problem.  If you read Steve’s SumOpp post earlier this week you noticed that once again a musician has a significant tax debt.  This week Courtney Love got singled out for having a large dollar notice of federal tax lien filed against her.  The Isley Brothers and Willie Nelson top the list of other singers who have had troubles in this regard.  The IRS could approach singers with wide fan bases who have some tax issues to work out a compromise by which the tax liability might be reduced or eliminated in return for the use of their music on the phone lines of the IRS.

If the IRS does not want to use singers who have run up tax liabilities as featured artists on its phone lines, it could have singers make charitable donations of their songs to the IRS for use on its phone lines.  This more pro-active approach would avoid the issue of rewarding past bad tax behavior and perhaps get a wider genre of music for its listening audience. 

If the IRS does not want to give tax benefits in order to improve its music selection, perhaps it could have artists seeking to reach a wider audience simply authorize use of their music to the IRS for its phone lines.  It could feature new artist every month or some similar time period giving exposure to artist while giving professionals who must call the lines again and again a break in the music to which they must listen. 

Many possibilities exist for the improvement of the IRS system of providing music while you wait.  Others may have better suggestions than these.  Upload your suggestions to the IRS SAMS system so that the IRS can have the benefit of your ideas.  If Congress will not give the IRS more money to hire people to answer calls or the IRS will not reallocate resources to its phone system and tax professionals must listen to hours of music, at least the IRS could devote a small amount of resources to improving the music people must listen to while waiting.  If the music improves, the disposition of the callers might improve at the time when the IRS employee finally has a chance to get to their call.  Who knows what the overall implications for tax administration could be as a result of these changes.


  1. Rob Nassau says

    Great suggestion. I nominate Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” or perhaps some Mozart. Interestingly, the music during the New York State Tax Department’s hold time used to be the same as I once heard at a spa.

  2. This is a brilliant post. My office has demanded I close my door while on hold so no one else is subjected to the music. My mood is immediately soured as soon as it starts.

  3. Either Mozart or Bach are my choices for concentration, but, DAMN, it has to have variety….Bach wrote over a thousand pieces of music and Mozart more than 600. I think I’ve heard Eine Kleine Nachtmusic about two thousand times, which, amazingly, I still don’t mind hearing. As most of you, I put on the speaker phone, and write a simpler tax return, do some analysis, sort out a file, etc. I always expect a twenty minute wait, but often I wait forty minutes — plenty of time to get something done. I’ve come to look at the wait times as a mini vacation when I don’t have to talk to anyone!

  4. Bob Kamman says

    For years the IRS music on hold was from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Think about that for a moment. Then think about replacing it with something more modern, from AC/DC. They’re the ones who perform Ballbreaker.

    IRS should spend more money on staff and less on phone lines. But paying for excess phone lines allows them to run up the dropoff rate. Next year’s budget request can claim that they were not able to answer a million calls, rather than 10,000 calls from the same people who tried 100 times.

  5. Lavar Taylor says

    I think the IRS should commission some completely new music to play on the phone. Help out starving composers. A new work could be commissioned each year, giving additional meaning to the “commissioner” of internal revenue.
    Otherwise, you should be able to hit “1” for classical, “2” for blues, “3” for hard rock, “4” reggae, , etc. It will be difficult, though, to decide what type of music to assign to the most appropriate key to hit, the “$” key. And why limit it to music? Why not be able to hit a key to listen to a reading of a Franz Kafka novel such as “The Trial.”

  6. Barry Dobyns says

    While some of the other comments propose music that must be licensed there is a much better free option: The Library of Congress has a large collection of early American folk music, all of which should be royalty free. have the LoC set up a stream and the IRS can use it on hold

  7. Janet Stotler says

    Well maybe there could be options to choose. Like rock n roll, hard rock, rap or 60’s. 70’s etc so at least if we have to listen it can be something we each like.

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