Preparing the Right Music for the Holidays

christmas holidays

It may seem a bit early to be thinking about Christmas music. In fact, perhaps you don’t like holiday tunes at all and were hoping to put your earplugs in after Thanksgiving and not take them out until mid-January. But the fact is, nothing sets the end-of-year mood like holiday music, especially if you’re planning on having guests over — they’ll expect a decent variety of Christmas favorites to help get them in the party spirit. So does this mean you’re doomed to another year of the same old tired melodies in the same old tired arrangements? Absolutely not. These days, just about every band out there has a Christmas album, and no matter what your regular preference in music is, you can create a modern, dynamic Christmas playlist that will both impress and inspire your guests.

To get started on assembling a set of holiday tunes that you like (or at least, a set you don’t hate), there’s only a small amount of organization required. Begin by making an empty playlist in your mp3 player (I use iTunes, but you can use any player you want), and give your new playlist a cool, catchy name (I usually call mine something like “Midwinter Mayhem”). Now you have a nice, empty container for your songs, and all you need to do is fill it.

The best place to start is with your own CD collection. Rip songs from your Christmas CDs into your playlist, but keep this in mind: don’t just rip them all indiscriminately, or you’re going to end up right back with a list of songs you can’t stand, and a playlist no one wants to hear. The trick is to listen to a bit of each song and ask yourself if you really want to hear it over and over for at least a month, or if you would be happy for it to stay on the shelf. Only add songs to your playlist that you really like, by bands and artists you truly dig. Make an effort to pick some songs that everyone hasn’t already heard a million times — there are lots of artists out there who are writing new, original Christmas music, and some of it is actually pretty good.

After you’ve exhausted your own CDs, it’s time to explore other resources. Of course you can go to any record store and start buying more CDs, but since it’s likely you won’t like every song on every disc, you might end up wasting money that way. Luckily, the internet is a rich treasure trove of holiday music, both new and old. Online stores such as the iTunes store and Amazon have a staggeringly wide variety of holiday songs, ranging from classics to contemporary pop and everything in between. The best part is, you can listen to the songs before you download them, so you only pay for songs that you already know you like.

Social networks and music blogs are other places to find hidden gems. Many independent and international artists have refreshingly cool Christmas tunes that would never have made it to your ears had it not been for the Internet, and often they offer some or all of their tracks for free. Make an effort to explore and learn about these lesser-known songs and arrangements, because having a good selection of truly original tracks is what will set your playlist apart from all the others. My favorite discovery from last year was a Japanese duo called Naomi & Goro, whose album Presente De Natal is a collection of classic and modern holiday songs played in a bossa nova style, sung by a girl with a very charming Japanese accent. Having stuff like that will really liven things up — this is not your grandmother’s Christmas music!

Now, if you really want to show off your hot winter playlist, try transferring it over to your iPod (or other mp3 player) and taking it with you whenever you go to parties or family events. If the music at the get-together is getting you down, offer to spice things up by hooking your iPod up to the stereo. I happen to have an old, mostly unused iPod that I retired from regular use quite a while ago, so that has actually become my dedicated holiday music player (or SantaPod, as I named it). I have approximately 2,000 songs on it, so there are never any annoying repeats of the same track, and I have a range of styles and genres that is sure to please most of the people most of the time. In fact, my SantaPod has become something of a tradition, and now people often ask me if I wouldn’t mind being responsible for the music at their gatherings. I love doing it, too, because it’s as easy as connecting the iPod to the stereo and hitting the play button.

So this year, get started early and make an effort to construct an interesting and refreshing holiday playlist. Good Christmas music tends to snowball— when you find a cool song, chances are there will be suggestions there for other, similar songs, and there’s no limit to how far exploration on the internet can take you. Just be ruthless with your censoring (no boring songs allowed!) and creative with your choices, and you’re sure to be the hit of the party this holiday season.

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