The producers of the soundtrack for "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever" reveal the thinking behind a seasonal novelty album.
All popular Christmas music is novelty music. They may not have all started that way, but “White Christmas” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and countless others are made to take advantage of the market for seasonal music—one that made Michael Bublé’s Christmas the second-biggest selling album of 2011 after only Adele’s 21 with more than two million copies sold, and this year made Pentatonix’ That’s Christmas to Me a good bet to become one of the few albums to sell a million copies.
Jonathan Miller and John Babbitt got in the derby with the soundtrack to the A&E television special, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. The two had backgrounds with record labels and band management, and when they ran into Ben Lashes, the manager for the online memes Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat, and Nyan Cat, they became interested in working with him.
“We had an instant rapport with Ben,” Babbitt says. Lashes had a band that was once signed to Sony until its album stiffed, so he has a rock ’n’ roll background a reputation as an unpredictable figure. That was part of his appeal to Babbitt, though. “It was a great rock ’n’ roll independent experience from the beginning,” he says.
Working on the soundtrack required Babbitt and Miller to coordinate the interests of Lashes, A&E and the show itself, selecting songs that made sense in the narrative that were consistent with all parties’ visions that would also sell.
“Grumpy Cat’s Christmas album with Ben would have been this really far-out thing that we would have just done on vinyl,” Babbitt says. “A&E’s version would have been Hey, that Lego Movie soundtrack was good. Can we do that? Our job was to merge those two things, and you end up with two parties that are both half-happy. We think the result hits that center of a quirky music experience that is also family-friendly without being completely uninteresting.”
Lashes had a number of musicians he knew from the Northwest music communities that he wanted on the album, and the tracks by Joy Follows, Jason Holmstrom, and House of Breaking Glass come from them. He is also a Pomplamoose fan, so the band’s version of “Up on the Rooftop” was included. After that, it was up to Babbitt and Miller to fill out the soundtrack with tracks that made sense but gave the album some sales potential. “We did need some drivers,” Miller says, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chris Mann songs were chosen to help fill that bill. Babbitt really wanted Iggy Pop’s version of “White Christmas”—“an awesome or dismal version, depending on your taste”—but they couldn’t get the deal done. They took their cues from the special and A&E, whose demographics are heavily female. “We didn’t want to have the old tropes that everybody has heard a million times, but it had to be relatable,” Babbitt says. “It had to be funny and interesting, and it might piss some people off, but not so much that they’ll take it off.”
Still, they knew that much of the work selling the album would be done by Grumpy Cat and the image of Grumpy Cat in a Santa hat. “That’s the novelty factor,” Miller says.
Babbitt believes that it’s crucial that a song convey “the Christmas feeling.” He points to the promotional Grumpy Cat Christmas songs playlist and how even a Twisted Sister Christmas song does that. “You don’t want to ruin that Christmas feeling, wherever you’re going creatively,” he says.
From a sales perspective, one of the benefits of a Christmas CD is that it returns year after year. The top 10 on the current Billboard Holiday Album charts includes Michael Bublé’s 2011 album, Josh Groban’s 2007 Noel, and last year’s Wrapped in Red by Kelly Clarkson. That makes the album an evergreen, one that they can return to and update next year or the year after. It’s hard to know for sure what the album’s shelf life will be, particularly today.
“I would think a typical release would have three or four years of good sales, then die out,” Miller says, but he cautions that Grumpy Cat has seven million friends on Facebook. “A lot of this is based on Grumpy Cat’s popularity.”