Monday, December 1, 2008

What can we learn from Christmas music?

As soon as the dishes are cleared from Thanksgiving, many people cue up the Christmas music. Maybe there's a nap somewhere in between.

My wife is one of those people that loves Christmas music, because of the nostalgic feelings that surround the most wonderful time of the year. To envoke nostalgia, you usually want to hear the same music you heard growing up, or at least the music you've heard in the past that is tied to those happy feelings. Therefore, we end up listening to the same few albums over and over again.

I tend to look for variety. I have no problem with Christmas music, but I like hearing new ideas, new songs, and avoid too much repetition. That's not to say I don't have my favorites. I could sing every lick Vince Guaraldi plays on A Charlie Brown Christmas just like I know Kind Of Blue like the back of my hand. But because I'm a musician, I probably process the music differently than my wife (although she has a strong background in music herself).

Christmas music is the gold mine of specialty music for both of these reasons. Bing Crosby's classic White Christmas will sell for eternity, passed generation to generation through nostalgia. But at the same time, there will be ridiculous amounts of new Christmas music being recorded and released, and it will sell because there are people who want to hear something different.

To successfully capture some of that nostalgia, new Christmas music needs to become a part of somebody's tradition. That's not something you can market. But it is something that can grow with time through a persistent presence every holiday season.

This has never been easier than with today's technology. When we play music around our apartment, it's usually off one of our computers. I have a Christmas playlist that holds all the music we like to listen to, both Jill's classic favorites and the slightly more obscure titles I like to hear for variety. Set it to shuffle and we're all happy.

The rest of the year, there's plenty of other music to listen to. Plenty new releases to explore. Can we learn anything from the trends around the holiday?

I think so. The music people listen to around Christmas is usually serving a purpose. Nostalgia is one. Atmosphere is another. Participation (caroling) is another. The music becomes tradition. It represents a moment in time.

What can your music represent? What might people do listening to your music? What kind of tradition might your music play an important (or relatively minor) role? Can it be embraced as part of an existing tradition because it adds variety to the status quo?


Alex Athans said...

Very interesting post. I wonder 20, 30, 40 or more years from now which Christmas songs will be "new" classics. And I wish I had an answer, but I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas music (my girlfriend, however, is another story).

And I really like how you discuss tying music in general to different traditions. I guess I'd like my band's music to be associated with having a fun time at a show, or letting off some steam, but I hope that some of the lyrical content seeps into people's brains as well. I don't know if I would call this a "tradition," but I'd like to take a broad view of the word and hope that this sort of association can help my music stick with people.

How about you, Cameron?

Cameron Mizell said...

Well, traditions come in different sizes. There are popular traditions that exist in our culture generation to generation, like barbecuing on Memorial Day weekend or lighting firecrackers on July 4. I'm sure there is some music out there that people associate with those traditions.

But there are also small personal traditions that we all share within our own families and circles of friends. You know, poker night, book club, pre-game warm up, post-game drinks, whatever.

Music can accompany any of these activities. Why shouldn't be ours? The music doesn't need to be themed or even have lyrical content, it just has to make people feel connected to the memories of those moments. The music first accompanied the activity, but after a while it becomes a part of the activity, and part of the tradition.