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Deep Dive

Holiday Music’s Long Tail: Listeners Return Again and Again to the Same Classics

Holiday music is an oddity. With on-demand streaming, consumers can discover an absurd amount of music of every style, niche and location in the world — 40 million at many services. But listeners of…

Holiday music is an oddity. On-demand streaming gives consumers the opportunity to access — and discover — more music than they could listen to in a lifetime — in the neighborhood of 40 million tracks of myriad genres, niches and nationalities on the largest platforms. But streaming data shows that listeners of holiday music return again and again to a small number of classic hits, many of them released in the second half of the 20th century.


The popularity of these long-established hits becomes clear when the top 10,000 recordings each of holiday and pop music in 2018 — based on the track equivalent measurement of tracks plus streams — are compared on a graph popularized by Chris Anderson’s  bestselling nonfiction book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.

Although the curves look similar, the differences are meaningful when the actual numbers are compared. The most popular holiday recording registered 1.14 million track equivalent units; the 100th most popular, 87,000 units; and the 1,000th most popular, just 8,113 units — a steep dropoff that indicates the most popular holiday songs are much more avidly consumed than less popular tracks.

Pop music is not as hit-driven by comparison: The most consumed song weighed in at 4.77 million units, while No. 1,000 totaled 246,000 units — a much more gradual decline.