In a singles world, music-loving Utahns are still buying Christmas albums, which Utah musicians are still joyfully selling.
Of course, it helps that “Home for the Holidays,” the recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2012 Christmas concert featuring Tom Brokaw and tenor Alfie Boe, tops Desert Book’s music best-sellers list. Sales of this year’s choir CD are up 25 percent over last year’s release, says Roger Dean, the music buyer for the LDS Church-owned Deseret Book stores.
Buying the choir’s annual release is a ritual for many local music lovers, which helps the overall category. In addition, Utah holiday music sales are higher this year because of the interest in The Piano Guys’ “A Family Christmas,” Dean says.
The Piano Guys have earned national media buzz for “A Family Christmas,” after their video of “Angels We Have Heard on High” (with the subtitle: “Christmas with 32 fingers and 8 thumbs”) was among the top views on Huffington Post last week.
At the other end of the marketing cycle, there’s Megan McClannan Reardon’s smooth and dreamy “Dreams of Christmas,” a labor of love for the Draper singer and vocal coach. She’s signed with a national distributor and is working to hand-sell her album on Facebook and with local radio appearances and concerts at gift and holiday shows. In addition, she’s booked appearances in Las Vegas and in the Bay Area, where she grew up. She doesn’t plan to get famous from releasing a Christmas album. Instead, she’s grateful to have a recording that her two young daughters, and perhaps their kids, will be able to listen to in 30 years.
“I’m pretty realistic,” says the Brigham Young University graduate, who earned performing chops while working for Disney and as a session singer for Jessica Simpson. “Getting my investment back would be awesome, and it’s looking promising.”
The best backstory from the project is how the singer waited for recording time at Santa Monica’s Eargasm studios in August 2012 while Cher finished work on her latest single.
Promoting a Christmas album by performing holiday concerts is a strategy that Jenny Oaks Baker, the Utah-raised violinist, understands. Last year, to promote “Noël: Carols of Christmas Past,” Baker performed 27 concerts in 21 days, including a handful of Utah shows.
“I love making recordings, but I love to perform,” Baker says, and working with composer Kurt Bestor on “Noël” offered her a repertoire of unique carol arrangements. The album sold enough copies to land on the Top 10 list of the Classical Billboard Chart last year and is still selling well at Desert Books.
Perhaps that’s the best, most commercial reason to release a Christmas CD now — to have something to sell at the merchandise table at your concerts, says Bestor, whose 26 years of annual holiday concerts have helped him become known as Utah’s Mr. Christmas.
The holiday album is heading in the direction of the 8-track tape or the cassette, he says. “Nobody listens to a whole CD in a row unless they are home sick in bed,” Bestor says. “That’s just the reality. I’m glad I perform. If I were just a recording artist, I might be looking for another job.”
Rather than re-releasing his commercially successful past holiday albums, Bestor offers singles for sale on iTunes and Soundcloud. And this year, he’s releasing his first studio album in eight years, “Outside the Lines,” a collection of nonholiday songs in a music genre he describes as “jazzical, kickassical or heavy mellow.” To pay for the recording, he raised nearly $25,000 for the recording on the PledgeMusic crowdsourcing site, selling advance copies of the albums, as well as piano lessons, original songs and private concerts.
The Piano Guys released their Christmas album at the suggestion of manager David Simone, a music industry legend who signed Elton John to his second record contract, says pianist Jon Schmidt. They selected songs that could be given a Piano Guys twist, says Al Van Der Beek, the group’s producer and songwriter. “We believe that when it comes to Christmas music, there are people out there that still love to have the physical CD,” adds videographer Paul Anderson.
It was difficult to get into the mood while recording in July on 100-degree days, says cellist Steven Sharp Nelson. One of his strategies was renting a Santa suit, which didn’t really work all that well. But eventually, as songs were arranged and recording progressed, when Nelson left the studio he would be surprised to see green grass outside, because while he was working he had forgotten it was summer.
At local record stores, the demand for holiday music remains relatively constant year-to-year. “I wouldn’t say we sell tons, but it’s an impulse purchase,” says Dustin Hansen, general manager of the six locally owned Graywhale Entertainment stores. “It’s in the minority when people say they are coming in just for Christmas music.”
At Utah’s indie record stores, classic used albums are often a secondary purchase, no matter when they are available. For example, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” on vinyl sells even in July, says Austin Stewart, a clerk at Randy’s Records.
Graywhale stores feature an endcap display, beginning in mid-November, which includes this year’s most popular new national releases, such as Kelly Clarkson’s “Wrapped in Red,” Lady Antebellum’s “On This Winter’s Night,” plus local favorites, like The Piano Guys and used copies of classic holiday albums by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra or the Rat Pack. “By the week before Christmas, nobody touches them,” Hansen says.
Utahns buy about the same amount of holiday music, or just slightly less, at indie music stores than consumers in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, Hansen says, according to sales numbers from buying collectives for indie record stores.
Yet we buy a whole lot less holiday music than do consumers in the East. “I know for a fact that in Maine they sell way more Christmas CDs than we do,” Hansen says.
At Black Friday’s Record Store Day, re-releases of holiday classics, including colored vinyl, were big sellers. Among the albums with nostalgic appeal locally were a vinyl re-release of John Denver & the Muppets’ “A Christmas Together,” a soundtrack of the TV show “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on green vinyl, and a 7-inch gold vinyl version of Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Linus and Lucy.”
About 30 copies of each of the special releases were sold out in the first two hours of the sale, Hansen says.
Other indie pop holiday albums that have sales appeal locally are the two box collections of holiday songs by singer Sufjan Stevens, and Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s “A Very She & Him Christmas.” And there’s that other brand of holiday classics: Local stores keep selling used copies of holiday albums by Mannheim Steamroller and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
It’s carol season for Utah music lovers
Megan McClannan Reardon’s “Dreams of Christmas” is distributed by LMLmusic.com and available on Amazon and iTunes. To buy a copy locally, visit Biorestoration, 12340 S. 450 East, Draper, or Denise Woods Salon, 1722 Wylie Lane, Draper; 801-558-6182.
Kurt Bestor Christmas concerts
When • Dec. 19-21; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 21.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $20-$47.50 (with service fees); arttix.org or 801-355-2787.
Also • Dec. 10, 7 p.m., at Weber State University’sVal Browning Center, Ogden.
Tickets • At WeberStateTickets.com
And • Park City’s Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Park City
When • Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Dec. 24 and 25, 6 p.m.
Tickets • $29 (advance) to $50; http://holdmyticket.com/event/152829.
Appearance • Dec. 16, 6 p.m., Larry H. Miller Christmas Carole Sing-along, EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City; free.
The Piano Guys
When • Dec. 21, 7 p.m.
Where • EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $27-$175; smithstix.com
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas
When • Dec. 27, 8 p.m.; Dec. 28, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $50-$75 (plus service fees); at arttix.org; or 801-255-2787
The Lower Lights Christmas shows
When • Dec. 9, 10, 12 and 13
Where • Salt Lake Masonic Temple, 650 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Cost • $13.65 including service fees; www.thelowerlights.com