Are we in a "Golden Age" for new Christmas music?
There was a short video posted at this site a few months ago which showed that the Top Ten Christmas Songs in the US were from the 40ís and the 50ís, whereas the Top Ten Christmas Songs in the UK were from the 70ís and the 80ís. I found these two specific time periods interesting, because of their significance for recorded music.
Up until the early 1940ís all recorded music was monophonic. Youíve seen the black & white pictures of a single microphone hanging down from the ceiling and the band or orchestra arranged around it to do some recording. A single track was recorded onto a master disk live, and which was used as a kind of mold to create a metal "Mother". That mother was then used to stamp the recording onto lacquer records which were sold to the public. Lacquer records were very brittle and produced a thin sound with lots of snaps, crackles and pops. Multi-track recording onto tape was developed in the early 40ís and gave us stereo sound which brought depth to our listening experience. This was coupled with a switch to vinyl over lacquer as the medium of choice for recorded music, and the best description is that vinyl sounded "warm" as compared to the noisy, thin sound of lacquer. Recorded music became extremely realistic for the first time, and a good analogy is that this change was as significant for the listening experience then, as watching a movie in 3D is today! Itís reasonable to assume that the Christmas music that was new and released in the 40ís and 50ís, benefited from this large technological leap forward, and made an even greater impression on the general public than earlier recordings, particularly in the US.
The digital revolution of the 1980ís has touched just about every aspect of life as we know it today, but recorded music experienced some of the most dramatic changes of any industry. Noiseless, pristine recordings became the norm, and the medium of choice switched from cassette tape to CDís. It was a stunning experience to hear songs you had listened to for years on vinyl or tape, re-released with digital masters on CD, and actually hearing new things that you never knew were there! Radio stations scrambled to go digital as quickly as possible during this time, because it was such an obvious listening experience as to who had gone digital and who had not. For the new Christmas music released during the 70's & 80's, they too would have benefited from this technological leap in improved listening experience, and probably contributed to a more positive lasting impression.
As for today, we are in a period of no less stunning technological change as the previous two mentioned periods. From the time Thomas Edison invented the phonograph right up to the present, the business model for recorded music has been designed around selling the consumer a new player. Going right back to the original wax cylinder recordings, through lacquer, vinyl, cassette tape, CD, and MP3 all the technological changes involved purchasing new equipment. That model broke down right after the emergence of MP3ís, since they could be played for free on just about any mobile device and didnít require a specific purchase. It simply became a feature that was expected to be included in numerous other devices not related to the listening of music. (ie. Computers, Laptops, iPads, Cell Phones, etc.)
The proposed new business model for recorded music is profound in itís change and scope. For the first time in over 100 years we are being led into a world where we will not own a tangible piece of recorded music! Why purchase a CD, or download an MP3 when you can "stream" whatever you want, whenever you want, to whatever you want? The recorded music business model is changing to be more like television in the US, where you will get the content for free if youíll watch some advertising, or if youíll pay a small monthly fee you can skip the ads. The stakes are very high, the potential rewards extreme, and there are very big players in the hunt: Sony, Samsung, Google, Apple, etc.
We are also witnessing the democratization of music unfold before our eyes, and new Christmas music is poised to benefit more so than any other. Artists and songwriters are able to reach a worldwide audience, and the choices available to the consumer have never been greater. Coupled with this technological change of streaming, which is the ultimate in convenience, there is the explosion of the "Christmas Everyday" phenomenon. Hundreds of Internet radio stations playing Christmas music, and websites dedicated to Christmas have appeared in recent years. New Christmas Music is in demand for a number of these Internet Radio Stations, and the cost of getting them new material has plummeted. Many terrestrial radio stations change their formats each year to Christmas music only for the Holiday season, and there is the great debate about Christmas merchandise appearing earlier on store shelves each year. Christmas music may finally be coming into itís own as a genre, and not just a subset of Christian music, or novelty music. Most major US markets have radio stations that play: Rock, Jazz, Classical, Oldies, etc. and it would not surprise me to see a "Christmas Music" radio station emerge to satisfy the "Christmas Everyday" need. As for Christmas merchandise, I would also not be surprised to see stores with year round Christmas Departments just like: Housewares, Hardware, Menís Clothing, etc.
I had a paper route as a young boy and collecting was part of the job at the time. This meant I went to each home every week to collect the money for the daily paper I had delivered that week. One home stood out as I waited on the front porch to be paid, because as I peered inside, I could see the lady never took down her Christmas decorations. As a teenager, there was one girl I knew in high school who started playing Christmas music in September. I asked her why she did that, and her reply was that she liked the way the music made her feel. At the time I thought both of these people were a little odd, but flash forward a few decades, and who knew these two individuals were actually ahead of their time, and that their numbers were so many!
There appears to be very regular 30 year interval, going back to the original phonograph as the spacing for technological change in recorded music. The CD turned 30 within the last few years, so this change to streaming is right on time. If history is our guide, itís reasonable to assume that todayís major technological changes in recorded music, along with the onset of the Christmas Everyday phenomenon, will also produce new Christmas favorites that will be cherished for years to come. We may actually be in a Golden Age for new Christmas Music.