'Tis already the season: Why the music biz can't afford to wait for Christmas

Mark Sutherland

“It’s tiiiime!” trilled Mariah Carey in an amusing viral video that saw the pop legend going into Christmas mode the second the clock ticked over from October into November.

It was a joke, albeit one designed to promote Carey’s (by now traditional) festive tour and Merry Christmas deluxe edition. But all the evidence suggests that – as with the sale of mince pies and the arrival of editorial letters about festive streaming – Christmas music is becoming a thing much sooner than it ever used to. As I write, Mariah's All I Want For Christmas Is You is mid-weeking at No.78 and there are still 42 days until the big day. That's a long time for Ms Carey to "keep on waiting underneath the mistletoe".

Radio used to follow a pretty strict, no-festive-hits-before-December-1 policy but with the rise of the DSPs, no such restrictions apply. And, with Christmas streaming now big business – Music Week’s research last year revealed a 51% increase in streams of Christmas tracks in 2018, significantly out-performing the market – and labels still wrestling with how to get their songs played when Alexa is asked to play Christmas music, no one is in the mood to wait.

Although the market is crying out for some fresh Christmas classics, it’s also the one area of the tracks market where newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. Which means every year gives the industry a chance to push more forgotten tracks from its dusty catalogues, while you could easily get trampled in the rush of big names keen to record a few classics for a Christmas Album or simply a streaming boost in order to keep those monthly listener numbers up over December. 

With the stakes getting ever higher, it will be interesting to see how the industry approaches the festive streaming market this year. You can expect to see more frontline tactics applied to old songs, while the advertising sync battleground – so vital for festive song (re)discovery – is already looking more competitive than ever (Mariah’s been quick off the mark there as well, already bagging a prime Walkers spot for herself).

Competing with Carey to be Queen Of Christmas might prove difficult. But if you’re going to do it, the one thing you can’t do is wait. Christmas is coming early, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it...

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