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Elizabeth Chan's Leap From Media Exec to Christmas Music a 'Fa La La' Success
It was Chan's dream to "give everything up and just write Christmas songs." With a little help from mega-producer Steve Lillywhite, she has a holiday hit on her hands
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas music will pay off for Elizabeth Chan, who gave up a successful corporate media career to focus on "this dream I've had since I was a child."
"Fa La La" from Chan's second holiday EP, "Everyday Holidays," has debuted at No. 17 on the Adult Contemporary Songs chart, showing that the success of 2012's "Naughty & Nice," which debuted at No. 4 on the iTunes Holiday chart, was no fluke. The latter's "A Christmas Song" was nominated for a Streamy Award, while Only on Christmas Time was an International Songwriting Competition finalist.
"I had this dream since I was a child to make Christmas music," says the New York-born Chan, who left her high-power job as director of integrated marketing at Conde Nast/Self magazine in April of 2012 to pursue that passion. "When things would get bad in my previous career, I would tell my best friend, my husband, people around me, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could give everything up and just write Christmas songs?' Everybody would be like, 'Oh, that'd be great,' then wouldn't think anything of it. I finally just took the plunge, and here we are."
Chan, who was a "Showtime at the Apollo" winner as a youth and was also part of Morgan Spurlock's "Failure Club" in 2011, estimates she's amassed some 300 holiday songs since she began writing in earnest during late 2011. "Fa La La" is her first to integrate Hanukkah -- its video features dreidels and a blue-and-white suited, saxophone playing Santa Claus -- and was built from influences such as Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Can't Hold Us."
"I just wanted to write a song that encompassed the timelessness of spending the holidays with your family, but with a modern feel," says Chan, who wound up producing the track herself -- with coaching from an old friend, Grammy Award winner Steve Lillywhite.
"I called him last year, too, just like, 'Hey, Steve, I know I can't afford you as a producer, but can you point me in the right direction of someone who could help me?" Chan says. "This time I was telling him I was so frustrated and just wanted to get the sound I hear in my head out into my songs. And he was like, 'I can help you with that. Let's work on that.' So I went on that journey with Steve for 'Fa La La' to produce the song on my own. We were never in the same room, but he really helped me find my way to produce my own record."
The first time Chan heard "Fa La La" on the radio, meanwhile, "Brenda Lee's 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree' came on right after. It was such an overwhelming feeling. I felt like I was sitting amongst old friends."
She already has two or three more EPs scoped out, but Chan says that "my long term goal is to leave something behind that is a meaningful Christmas song, something other people can look back on with the same fondness I have for my favorite Christmas songs. I feel like that's my calling and what my legacy should be. I'm in this for the long haul. The core of my passion is to be part of (the holiday) in a meaningful way."