November 25, 2005

Holiday albums on the rise

By Chris M. Walsh

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Think "Christmas album," and two
words probably will not pop into your head along with mistletoe
and tinsel: John Waters.

The diversity and number of holiday releases sold in recent
years continues to rise, as adult contemporary radio stations
play more and more Christmas music. This season, such albums as
"A Charlie Brown Christmas -- 40 Years," Kenny G's "The
Greatest Holiday Classics" and Il Divo's "The Christmas
Collection" will find space on store shelves alongside less
likely holiday fare from Brian Wilson, Regis Philbin, the Rev.
Horton Heat and, yes, Waters, the perversely comic director
whose compilation "A John Waters Christmas" includes explicit
lyrics and such standards as "Happy Birthday Jesus" and "Santa
Claus Is a Black Man."

These releases are fueled in part by the late autumn
programming flip, often on Thanksgiving, when stations -- most
frequently adult contemporary outlets -- switch their playlists
to holiday programming. According to, a Web
site owned and operated by Inside Radio that monitors the
number of stations that flip their format for the holidays each
year, 112 had moved to all Christmas music as of November 22,
including stations in such markets as New York, Los Angeles,
Philadelphia, Dallas and Milwaukee.

"More stations are flipping, and earlier, every year," says
Scott Fybush, news editor at 100000watts.

The station flips are fueled by a green that is not pine or
holly. "It gives most light FM stations their best (financial
results) every year," says Sean Ross, VP of music and
programming at Edison Media Research.


Radio's gain increasingly is the music industry's
opportunity. Ten years ago, fewer than 1,000 Christmas albums
scanned at least one sale, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This
year, that number is already more than 2,100.

"We honestly look at a Christmas record as having the
potential to sell as well (as) or more than any of the best
records that that artist has ever put out," says Glenn Dicker,
label manager of Yep Roc Records, which released Heat's "We
Three Kings: Christmas Classics" and "A Christmas Type of Town"
from rock band Marah this season.

Other programming outlets, such as TV, are just as quick to
embrace holiday fare. "That's a tremendous opportunity for the
right artist," says Nate Herr, senior VP and general manager of
Verve Music Group, which released Diana Krall's "Christmas
Songs." The jazz singer is scheduled for appearances on such
seasonal programs as "Regis and Kelly's Holiday Special."

"Every summer I go to all of my bands and see if they have
ideas for holiday songs," says Eric Fritschi, VP of marketing
at Warner Bros. Records, who has worked on holiday projects
from Seal, the Flaming Lips, Guster and currently the LeeVees.

The LeeVees, comprising Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave
Schneider of the Zambonis, have released "Hanukkah Rocks." They
will embark on a holiday tour opening for Barenaked Ladies, who
released "Barenaked for the Holidays" last year. Tracks from
"Hanukkah Rocks" already have been licensed to such TV shows as
"Grey's Anatomy" and included in clothing outfit American
Eagle's holiday sampler.

"They didn't think we'd be interested in putting that type
of record out," Fritschi says of the band. "But because of the
different opportunities now to market holiday records, we were
really excited about picking it up."