A Christmas hit may be the gift that keeps coming, so why have so many artists given up? | Jessica mizrahi


For me, the Christmas season doesn’t start when business closes. It’s not when the first person on the street turns on the Christmas lights, nor even after the Christmas contest took place.

It’s the first day that I hear a Christmas carol.

Everyone has their favorites. It can be a classic or a cover, religious or secular, happy or sad. Either way, and even if we roll our eyes, it’s a great time for the music.

Which means a great moment for the musicians. Christmas music has a long history of helping artists earn money. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records calls Bing Crosby’s White Christmas 1942 the best-selling single of all time, with over 50 million sales worldwide.

There was a time when releasing a Christmas album was the best hope for an artist to make a few dollars, and while there is no exhaustive source of album releases, All musical data suggests that there were over 230 Christmas albums released in 2001.

Number of Christmas albums released

Source: author’s calculations based on All the music

Through 2011, that number had plunged to just over 90. A rough first tally suggests that this year the tally will be about 60.

What is the decline of Christmas albums?

First, it’s symptomatic of the slow disappearance of albums more broadly. As technology and music formats have changed, preferences have also changed. In the 2010 calendar year, Australians bought 33 million CD albums. Through 2020, the number had fallen to 3.3 million, a tenth of what it was 10 years ago. In a throwback to retro, predictions suggest that in 2021 we have likely passed more on vinyl than on CDs.

CDs defined the format of the album. A CD may contain 74 minutes of content – the duration of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Fans were willing to pay a premium for an album ($ 20 to $ 30) rather than a single ($ 5 to $ 10). Labels and artists crafted albums with two to three promising hits (which would turn into singles) and a balance of filler tracks. The practice was both common sense and common sense.

Now, of course, there is streaming.

According to 2020 figures, streaming represents 89% of total recorded music sales in Australia by value. By all accounts, you’re more likely to see a subscription gift card in your email this year than to see a CD wrapped under a tree.

Artists and labels have adapted accordingly. Under streaming models, music creators get paid every time someone listens to a song – or the first 30 seconds of it. The result is more focused on singles, and shorter track lengths. You can split a three-minute song into two one-and-a-half-minute songs, or three one-minute songs, and get paid double (or triple) for your efforts.

The other contributor is that streaming offers better access to a larger catalog.

In a physical music store, distributional and physical space constraints meant that artists relied heavily on labels and networks to access consumers. Whether it’s a single or an album, you can only take up shelf space for such a long time. Music had a short half-life.

Online, however, there are few limits. Musicians can reach millions of viewers without labels – a scottish man sing a Kiwi folk song on a social media platform has become the song of a pandemic, with over 75 million views.

It also allows you to access old classics – and focus more on them. Older Christmas songs have become increasingly prominent on the Spotify charts over the past five years. As an example, consider the top songs listened to in Australia on December 20, 2017 (the first year that Spotify chart data is available).

Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby albums were on sale in the United States last year. Photograph: Mark Makela / Reuters

In 2017, all the Top 10 songs were released that year. In 2018, Mariah Carey’s 1994 party hit All I Want for Christmas Is You was on the list – and it made the Top 10 all year because. Three of the top 10 songs streamed on Spotify in Australia December 20, 2021 were previous years.

That’s not to say there weren’t new contenders. This year Ed Sheeran, Kelly Clarkson and Megan Thee Stallion all threw their hats in the ring. Yet none made the Top 50 for Christmas week. It is no wonder that the festive novelties have diminished.

Christmas nostalgic listening isn’t limited to streaming. Consider classic crooners who make money from beyond the grave. There has been at least one Christmas album by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, or Nat King Cole every year for the past decade. Not bad considering that none of them have seen Christmas in over two decades.

Number of Christmas albums released per year

Source: author’s calculations based on All the music

Love them or hate them, Christmas carols are here to stay. So turn up the volume and enjoy while it lasts – January is only a week away.

Jessica Mizrahi is an economic consultant and commentator. She has taught, researched and applied economics for over a decade

The author previously served on the board of directors of the Australian Live Music Business Council and has previously co-authored research commissioned by the Australian Independent Record Labels Association. All opinions and analyzes are his


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