Why the music biz should still find room for non-festive music at Christmas

Mariah Carey

Here’s a controversial opinion for you: it’s still too bloody early to put your Christmas tree up.

Your correspondent is sadly old enough to remember a time when most people only got their decorations down from the loft a week before the big day. This year, Instagram was full of big reveals from mid-November.

Of course, 2020 is a unique year and no wonder everyone is desperate for a little festive cheer. But the season’s ever-earlier start is also having serious ramifications for the music business.

It’s hard to tell whether streaming has revealed that people everywhere listen to Christmas music earlier than we thought, or whether it’s simply inflicted American listening habits on the rest of the world. The US holiday season always started early, thanks to the Christmas dry-run that is Thanksgiving. Now it seems like people go full Mariah Carey before Halloween is over.

Do we really want the last two months of the year to be a write-off for anything but old standards when we could also be listening to great new music?

Music Week

But what if you’re a new artist, or even an established one with a great new song ready to go? Nowadays, releasing non-festive new music is pretty much off limits from late October, because, by the time you’ve made a breakthrough, you know you’ll risk being squeezed out of the charts by hardy perennials. Half of this week’s Top 20 singles are festive-related, with countless others further down the chart.

And with radio now just as enthusiastic about Yuletide anthems – even Radio 2 played nothing but Christmas songs on December 1 – there’s no escape. No wonder every artist on earth currently seems to be rushing out a festive song in an attempt to keep their monthly listeners up on streaming services.

Look, I love festive tunes as the next person – even if that person is Michael Bublé's accountant. And, of course, some new Christmas music – such as our cover star Dolly Parton’s brilliant new record – is a joyous addition to the canon. And festive catalogue is an easy win for labels and publishers and, after the roughest of years, it’s hard to begrudge them that. After all, the best Christmas tunes will always keep spirits bright.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Do we really want the last two months of every year to be a write-off for anything but old standards and new versions of those old standards, when we could also be listening to some great new music?

After all, the music business is for life, not just for Christmas.

* To read our full report into Christmas streaming, see the new issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, sign up to our digital edition here.

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