Michael Buble Returns with Grand Ideas for 'Christmas'
Three months after his album "Crazy Love" debuted atop the Billboard 200 in October 2009, Michael Bublé made his first appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." In addition to performing "Haven't Met You Yet" and "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" with Sharon Jones, the Canadian crooner also showed off his funny side in a skit with Jon Hamm of "Mad Men."
Helped along by a clip of that skit on Hulu, Bublé's Jan. 30, 2010, appearance sparked online chatter and helped fuel an 8.8% sales gain for "Crazy Love" that week. The artist himself views the guest spot as a career highlight. "You always want to put that on your résumé, to say that you got there," Bublé told PopEater.com at the time. Now with a new holiday album, "Christmas," in stores, Bublé is scheduled to return as a musical guest on "SNL" Dec. 17.
The singer has other promotional plans in place as well.
Bublé and Beringer Vineyards have a key alignment that places "Christmas" in the wine section of stores. Target, a partner with Warner Bros. Records on the album, has added endcaps in its wine sections to unite the CD and Beringer's line of California Cabernets and Chardonnays.
"They've never done anything like this," Bublé's manager Bruce Allen says, noting that Christmas is being marketed in more than 15,000 U.S. stores. "Beringer is a powerful brand and they really have added something to the marketing. The fourth quarter is their biggest quarter and our biggest quarter."
Warner Bros. co-president Livia Tortella says the tie-in gives Bublé many new outlets. "Beringer wines are getting us into non-music sections in Costco and Safeway, places that don't carry music."
This year Bublé has more exposure avenues checked off than just about any other artist. "Christmas" was marketed in the summer on Facebook after his "Crazy Love" arena tour concluded. His relationship with Beringer included a private show at the winery in July for contest winners. A photo memoir was released in London. And he won the traditional pop Grammy Award.
It's TV, though, where Bublé has had his greatest impact. Along with appearing on shows with high-profile music slots, he'll host his first network special, "A Michael Bublé Christmas," Dec. 6 on NBC. Unlike many holiday-season record campaigns, this was not a quick one-off. "This is a yearlong project," Tortella says.
Allen, realizing "Crazy Love" still had legs, pushed back on Warner's request for a holiday album in 2010, suggesting 2011 instead. Talks about the TV special began in March and tracks were cut early enough for sales reps to play music for strategic partners during the summer.
Allen and Bublé credit others in the creation of the album and the marketing deals around it. Aside from airing the special, NBC is supporting "Christmas" with Bublé appearances on "Today" and "SNL." A turning point for the special came after Allen arranged for Doug Vaughan, senior VP of special programs and late night at NBC Entertainment, to see Bublé perform in El Paso, Texas, in mid-August. Though traditional holiday music specials have struggled in the ratings in recent years, Vaughan liked the idea of a throwback.
"Historically it doesn't sell," Allen says. "I have to give a lot of credit to [Doug]. Michael wanted to make it sentimental, make it old-fashioned -- like those specials he grew up on." The special, Bublé adds, will include six or seven songs with most of the hour used for skits and digital shorts. Guests include the Puppini Sisters, Kellie Pickler, Ed Helms and Tracy Morgan. Humor, Bublé says, is a key reason why he's been able to reach the arena level as a performer and sell more than 13 million albums and 11.4 million tracks, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"About four years ago I asked my manager about certain talk shows and he would say, 'They don't have room for a band,'" Bublé says. "So I would say, 'You get me on that couch and let me talk for five minutes. I'll sell more records than with a band.' And the reason I say that is, as much as people like music, I don't think they buy products. They buy people . . . I like using humor to communicate, and it's nice, considering the type of music I sing and the fan base, to be self-deprecating."
Allen singles out Oprah Winfrey, "SNL" and "Today" in Bublé's development, and says no recording artist in the last 20 years has benefited more from TV appearances. "It's played a massive role," he says. "He is one of the best music guests to have on a TV show. [The hosts] talk to him . . . This guy is charismatic and people love what he has to say."
Bublé arrived at Warner in 2003, a left-field signing for then-head Tom Whalley. Producer David Foster championed him as Bublé cut an album of covers and noted how Harry Connick Jr. had influenced him. "I didn't realize the business model was changing before my eyes," Bublé says. "I got in just before it changed completely."
Self-deprecation became crucial for Bublé to step out from the shadows of Connick and Frank Sinatra. Once he had hits with his compositions "Home" and "Haven't Met You Yet," Allen says, the initial demographic -- 40-plus -- started to skew younger.
The more mainstream and broader the audience, the more important it became for Bublé to record a Christmas album. (A 2003 Christmas EP has sold 1 million copies, according to SoundScan.) Warner has already had success in recent years with holiday sets from Josh Groban, Faith Hill and Enya.
Unlike most acts who try their hand at carols and holiday chestnuts, Bublé had a vision that required time and planning. He chose songs that meant something to him as a youth and assigned specific tunes to producers Foster, Bob Rock and Humberto Gatica.
He also wanted to employ a traditional recording method, working live rather than with backing tracks. "David Foster did not want to be dragged back to 1956," Allen says. "But Michael was determined. He said, 'I can sing better and in tune with all those instruments around me rather with pre-cut tracks.'"
Recording in Hollywood's Capitol Studios, Bublé brought in a 60-piece orchestra for numbers like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and a boys choir for "Silent Night."
"I felt it was important to put my touch on these," he says, adding that he still felt each producer could bring distinct tools to the sessions. "This record was too important to me. I set out, egotistically probably, to make a standard Christmas record, the quintessential record that would stay relative years after I'm gone."
With so much activity related to the album, Bublé is trying to keep 2012 planning at arm's length. There will be tours of South America, the Middle East and South Africa, and February 2013 has been penciled in as the date for his next studio set. As a writer who shows up to a session with only a few songs -- his originals on "Christmas" are "Cold December Night," written with Rock and Alan Chang, and "Mis Deseso," with Gatica and Chang -- he has started re-examining his writing.
"I'm thinking about ways to continue to grow, to show growth without alienating my audience," Bublé says. "You don't want to keep making the same record. People will say, 'Why buy the next one?' I hope to write two or three songs that I think are hits and do some interpretations that people want to hear. Then I get to go back on the road and do what I love.
"On 'Christmas,' I did my best, the producers did their best, Bruce did his best. The setup is great, the deals are great. Now it's up to the people and that's where it gets scary . . . You hope your instincts are right, but I've got more anxiety now than I ever had before."