Faith Hill's 'Joy' looks to be top holiday hit

In the music biz, the Christmas season begins as soon as the last plastic Halloween pumpkin is put back in storage. Turn the calendar to November and it’s time to deck the retail halls with CDs.

Last year saw a Christmas music phenomenon never before experienced: Josh Groban’s “Noel” moved 3.6 million copies to become the top-selling album of the year. Warner Bros. execs are projecting that total will grow an additional 500,000 to 1 million and are looking to Faith Hill to be this year’s Santa Claus.

“We do have some really strong expectations,” says Peter Strickland, senior VP of sales and marketing at Warner Bros. Records, “But projecting something like Josh would not be the right thing to do. (Hill’s album) will be a strong-selling title that has mass appeal.”

In its first three weeks of release, Hill’s “Joy to the World” has sold 38,000 copies, which Strickland calls “walk-by sales.” Early marketing efforts included a Wal-Mart “Soundcheck” appearance and a video for the single “A Baby Changes Everything,” which released Oct. 27.

An “extensive” TV campaign was being developed last month that will begin Thanksgiving week and run through Christmas. Hill has shot a PBS “Soundstage” holiday concert, is booked for a CBS “Home for the Holidays” special and will perform on a number of TV shows.

The first step to get word out about the Hill release was an aggressive online campaign that targeted her fanclub, a tack taken for the Groban push in October 2007.

“A holiday record brings out other opportunities, but we’re always mainly focusing on the core fan base, which in this case is country,” says Strickland. “Other opportunities come and go because she’s a celebrity. We make sure we don’t jeopardize the core with any decisions.”

He further notes that the top two holiday albums of each year generally have a lifespan of three to five years before going into catalog. Compact discs tend to do better during the holiday period than other times of the year and the CD becomes even more important in Hill’s case as country marketplace is still a 95% vs. 5% split between physical and digital products. Pop acts generally sell 10% to 15% of their music digitally.

October saw a number of Christmas releases hit the top 200: “Elvis Presley Christmas Duets,” Mannheim Steamroller’s “Christmasville” and Amy Grant’s “The Christmas Collection.” Other acts entering the holiday field this season are Aretha Franklin, Sarah Brightman, Sheryl Crow, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Ledisi, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Al Jarreau.

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