"Christmas is Coming!!"- The Seasonal Stress of Creating a Holiday Music Album.
As a jazz musician, there is a certain ingrown distaste for doing anything related to novelty. I am supposed to be a serious, starving artist and should not cower to "the man" in creating something as trite as a "Christmas album". So naturally doing a holiday album of any sort was something I would never wish to be part of.
Fate would have it that last year, I was in a library with a fellow musician and we came upon the infamous Kenny G Christmas album collection. Kenny G, the Antichrist of traditional jazz music. I laughed off the corniness of the label and the sugarcoated nature of the music. I was ready to put back this blasphemy to decent music, when my friend said these fateful words - "Man, Kenny G! What a great musician!". I tried to hold back my latent urge to beat him to a senseless pulp, but I took the high ground and uttered my own fateful words - "Oh, Please! I could create a better Christmas album than he could!". And with that confrontation, a bet of $20 was levied as to whether I could truly create a better Christmas album than the golden locked soprano sax wonder that is Kenny G.
Nearly a year later, I created my album "The Gift". Full of pride and anticipation of a $20 payout, I am left with this profound thought....
I never want to do this again!!!!
Why did I feel that way? It was the single most stressful thing I have ever done in music! Why? Well Let us count the 5 stresses in creating a Holiday Album.
Stress #1 - The Copyright Issue
Now we all have favorite christmas songs that we enjoy hearing constantly. Silent Night. Jingle Bells, Joy to the Worlds. And of course.. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Naturally when creating a holiday album you want to include one or two of those popular tunes. I decided to include "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". Now, most of those carols and songs were written a while back and have absolutely no known composers, much less copyright claims. I decided to choose the tune that indeed does have a composer and a copyright. Copyright costs can range from being reasonable to effing insane.
While the cost for placing the tune in distribution wasn't astronomical it was going to add up because I wanted to add more tunes. All of which were copyrighted!. To make matters worse I came upon this realization after recording the music already! So I had to spend countless hours worrying about whether to just remove the tunes or just pay up the copyright fees. I choose to keep the copyright fees on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. So now every year I will have to cut a check to keep from getting sued by a long dead composer's estate. Merry Christmas to all!
Stress #2 -Time is off Essence
I confess that I don't possess the greatest work ethic. I tend to procrastinate till the last minute. This can be done for any regular album, but a Holiday Album needs to be ready for..you know..The Holidays! So every minute I put off composing, doing run throughs and fixing audio errors is another day off the calendar. You put something off in July and pretty soon you realize it is September and you only have three months!
You really need to bootstrap and get your shit together in this process. Coming up with a schedule is usually a good method. Make sure you do a little each day till you complete the entire album.
Discipline is vital, because you will also realize...
Stress #3 - You have even less time than you think
I'm sure if I asked most of you what time you expect Christmas music to come out you would say naturally "well, after Thanksgiving, of course!". I thought the same, but in reality a holiday album has to be released in early October. While you are thinking of Halloween ghosts and goblins, you have to have Christmas music show up in your fans' You Tube feed. Bizzare, right? I guess it makes sense since it can take months sometimes for aggregates and distributors to approve the submissions. Also you need some time to make corrections. If there is a track that is too low or parts that need to be remastered, you need those days to make corrections in time for a late November release.
The downside to this is that you start doing what you always accuse stores of doing. Namely, putting Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I have a growing appreciation now for what department stores have to do during the holidays,
Stress #4 - The Religious Issue.
I'll say up front that I appreciate all people of religions and beliefs and their right to practice those beliefs as they see fit. That may be all fine and dandy, but you really have to avoid insulting people when creating a holiday album
As an ignorant American, I assumed that Ramadan was close to around January. In truth it is more in the summer time. So putting a Ramadan tune to come out in December makes no sense. However, I wanted this album to be inclusive to everyone regardless of their faith. I had already put a Hanakuh tune (Shamash) in there, so it seems right to put an islamic holiday tune as well. That brings several factors to think about. Will members of the islamic faith feel insulted by having their holiday lumped into other holidays with no regard for when they take place?
In the end I decided to include it in the album. Mostly because the tune sounded so damn good. To show respect I put the tune at the end, so as to show it is a holiday that takes place later.
Update - I changed the title of this tune to "Long Ago In Bethlehem". Why? I honestly don't know, Maybe I'll blog about it later.
Stress #5 - So much work for so little gain
After all that work, an idea suddenly dawns on you. This album is only going to be listened to for 35 days at best. What kind of weirdo is going to listen to Christmas music in July? I could put the same amount of work into a regular album and have it listened to year round. I seriously better be making some decent change from this, to justify the work!
This is the problem in general with seasonal music. You really are banking on catching a particular audience for a brief period of time. The advantage is that you can keep releasing the same album year after year to capitalize on that season. I really don't have to come up with another holiday album, which is a good thing, While I liked making the album, the stress of it is something I could do without. My advise to other musicians is to only make a seasonal album until you are further along in your career. The time and effort that it requires is something that may take up your work bandwidth.
..and also, never make bets with friends in the library. :)
Please check out my album "The Gift" available on Spotify, Apple Music Deezer, Google Play & Amazon Music! Click Album Cover below for links!