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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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December 04, 2009

The Secret Behind the Popularity of Christmas Music?
by David Harrell
The Wall Street Journal's Jim Fusilli is perplexed by the annual deluge of holiday releases by rock and pop artists:
Do you know anyone who's crazy for Christmas albums by rock and pop artists? Me neither. In my crowd, the reaction is closer to ho-hum than ho-ho-ho. But somebody must enjoy them. The benefit series that began in 1987 with "A Very Special Christmas" is the most successful in music history, raising more than $100 million for the Special Olympics. Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas," released in 1994, has sold about 10 million copies world-wide. Josh Groban's "Noel" was the best-selling album of 2007, with some 3.5 million copies, though it was available only for the last 10 weeks of that year.

Few other Christmas albums have found such mass acceptance, yet each year they arrive by the sackful beginning in late summer, the impetus being, I suppose, the hope for that rare breakout success and the knowledge that the albums can satisfy an impulse holiday buy for a rock or pop music fan. Most aren't very good. But more later on Bob Dylan's new "Christmas in the Heart."
It's topic that I've been thinking a lot about over the past few months, as I wrapped up my own holiday release. It seems like there are multiple motivations for the artists -- a genuine love of holiday music, the fact that it's a relatively easy way to create a fan-pleasing release, its value as a promotional tool, or maybe, in some instances, even a money grab. In the case of my band, it was a combination of a fun creative process -- trying to come up original arrangements of songs we've heard forever -- and the promotional value: Our Last.fm listener stats spike every December, thanks to a three-song digital Christmas EP we starting giving away in 2006. So we finished up seven more songs to expand it a full-length release.

Of course, a simpler way to look at the phenomenon might be from a demand standpoint -- if consumers didn't want Christmas music, we wouldn't hear so much of it.

So who's listening to all this holiday music? In some cases, it's probably just music fans switching their music consumption to Christmas songs starting late each year. But I have a new pet theory: The demand for Christmas music is largely driven by folks who don't really listen to (or buy) much music during the rest of the year, combined with the fact that a significant percent of holiday albums are purchased as gifts.

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-next-year">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs


    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at Last.fm.



    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/the-space-between">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at Last.fm or Napster.



    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/weve-been-lost">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.



    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website