The holiday season is a lousy time for new Christmas music. From one year to the next, the top of the chart sees little turnover.
During the last decade, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has been the top holiday song eight times, except in 2014 and 2016, when Pentatonix took the honors with “Mary, Did You Know” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” respectively. Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” are reliable runners-up. Of 2022’s top 10 holiday tracks, nine were also in the top 10 in 2021; six of them were in the top 10 in 2016. Reaching that region means outperforming some of the iconic recordings of the past 100 years, including Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Nat “King” Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” It’s tough competition.
This year, Jordin Sparks is hoping to nudge into the Douglas fir-scented scrum with a multiplatform approach to establishing a Christmas-season earworm. The American Idol season 6 winner recently signed with Epidemic Sounds, a platform that licenses royalty-free music to content creators, and released the four-track EP The Gift of Christmas on Nov. 21, which includes covers of “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Epidemic Sound acts like a record label by releasing the EP to digital service providers and getting tracks on playlists. But the most powerful distribution mechanism is its army of content creators that attract huge audiences. According to Epidemic Sound chief of music Niklas Brantberg, music licensed from the platform is heard 2 billion times daily on YouTube and 500 million times daily on TikTok.
Sparks’ EP is off to a good start. The songs on The Gift of Christmas have been used thousands of times and amassed nearly 10 million views to date, according to the company. In just two weeks, her cover of “Jingle Bells” became the best-performing holiday track ever released at Epidemic Sounds.
Sparks’ holiday branding strategy also includes a three-part seasonal decorating and home improvement video series, Merry & Bright, which is sponsored by Home Depot and will be shown on the video streaming interface built into 22 million VIZIO TVs. Katlyn Wilson, director of branded content sales and strategy at VIZIO, says Sparks “was the perfect host for this,” adding, “She has done Christmas content before. Hopefully, it will be a great way for her to continue to establish herself in the Christmas space.”
The Gift of Christmas is not Sparks’ first foray into seasonal music. She released the holiday album Cider & Hennessy in 2020, and two of its songs were featured in the 2021 Hallmark Channel movie A Christmas Treasure, which co-starred Sparks.
The Hallmark Channel is so important to the holiday music business that BMG, Downtown Music Publishing, Kobalt Music Publishing and Seeker Music partnered with the cable network for songwriter camps in 2023. Hallmark executives clued in the creators to what they look for when licensing music. “So far, we’ve had five placements from that camp,” says Mariana Migliore, director of creative synch at BMG — two of them by HunterGirl, the runner-up on season 20 of American Idol. “The Hallmark Channel will promote [the songs] on their SiriusXM channel and Spotify playlists,” she adds.
Other platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have followed Hallmark Channel’s lead and are getting more involved in Christmas movies. That presents an opportunity to get holiday music in front of large audiences that wouldn’t hear the music otherwise. “It feels like probably every other writer of ours is either an openly big fan of putting their music in that kind of project, or they are secretly obsessed with those projects,” BMG senior vp of creative synch Jonathan Palmer says. “It becomes like a bucket-list item for them.”
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