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3Qs: Rockin’ around the holidays

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to escape holiday music this time of year. In malls, on the radio and on television, artists are continuing to recreate holiday classics and new holiday-themed hits. Richard Strasser, associate professor of music industry, looks at how the holidays affect the music industry, and whether new releases and music downloading are likely to alter people’s gift-giving plans this year.

What makes holiday music so appealing to people and what drives artists to continue recreating traditional songs and to put out holiday albums? Is there an expectation in the music industry that certain artists make a holiday album?

The holidays represent for the music industry one of the most active periods in terms of sales. The relative low cost of recordings and downloadable singles makes music the perfect present for procrastinators and those who have gift brain freeze.

Since this is such an important part of the sales cycle, nearly every artist, and those who should not be considered as such, put out a “Christmas album.” Some of the classics of the genre include: “Romantic Christmas” by John Tesh, “Home for the Holidays” by ‘N Sync, the “Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings” by Gene Autry, “A Reggae Christmas from Studio One,” and “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classic” by South Park.

Holiday songs also cross genres with some masterworks such as Dr. Demento’s “the Singing Dogs Jingle Bells,” Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” and Run-DMC “Christmas in Hollis.”

The music industry traditionally has seen a spike around the holidays, with artists timing new releases to the shopping season. Is that still the case? With the digitization of music and potential for things to be leaked via the Internet is this still a trend?

With the move toward digital music, the industry is still very sensitive to spikes in retail activity. Irrespective of the format, there are several artists that will release albums from the Thanksgiving period on. For example, some top artists have released albums during this time period including Rihanna, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars — and let’s not forget the required “Glee” album.

Although piracy is still an issue for the music industry, there are so many options in terms of how consumers obtain and experience music, so albums aren’t the only avenues for artists to release their music. Now there are multiple ways of measuring music’s popularity and sales. For example, it’s hard to keep tabs on how much money Lady Gaga is earning from having her songs in “Glee.” There are so many more ways to monetize music, one of which is digital sales.

What do sites like iTunes mean for gift giving around the holidays in the music industry? Are people giving more gift cards or electronic credits/digital licenses?

iTunes in 2008 was the No. 2 music retailer after Wal-Mart. Today it is the biggest music retailer with more than 200 million consumers entrusting their credit cards to Apple for essentially “micropayments.”

With this critical mass, iTunes has become the one-stop shop for musical recordings, especially during this time.

Nonetheless, a physical copy has an advantage over digital in that it can sit under the tree or in the Christmas stocking.

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