Unlocking holiday nostalgia may not cost much

tis the season when one can hear Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas anywhere, anytime. Or at least at any Starbucks around the globe. This is…complicated.

This is one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s nuanced. It’s not holly jolly. It’s melancholy, thoughtful. “Skating” is musical onomatopoeia. Guaraldi’s left hand and the bass are legs driving against the ice, his right hand is bodies twirling. For 3-4 weeks out of the year, I love this album. We streamed its Pandora channel while trimming our Christmas tree.

Hearing it anywhere, anytime can feel like a ham-fisted grab of the heartstrings. Alright everyone, time for wintry nostalgia and snow angels! This is particularly painful when traveling abroad during December, which, mercifully, I’m not doing this year. But, all in all, it’s a positive byproduct of the holiday season.

Vince Guaraldi died in 1976. The Peanuts shows live on. The albums live on. Which begs the question – in a digital music era, how much does it cost to create this nationally consistent holiday mood? Let’s make some assumptions.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, assume Charlie Brown Christmas is played once in its entirety every day at 20,000 cafes belonging to a certain global cafe chain. The album has 11 tracks. Assume the royalty structure for all those tracks is the same, and further assume those tracks are streamed, not downloaded. Further assume the royalty structure is consistent across every geography.

So, 28 days x 11 tracks x 20,000 = 6,160,000 streams. Per-play payments vary by provider. For this exercise, we’ll say $0.00137/play. 6,610,000 x $0.00137 = $8439.20.

How much of that goes to Guaraldi’s estate? That depends. Assuming performer credit (40%) and songwriter credit (3%), that’s 43% of $8439.20, or $3,628.26. Does that feel like a lot of money? Not much? That’s about $0.18 per cafe, for an entire month of streaming. Seems like a bargain, particularly when compared to a brand campaign using TV or outdoor ads.

The cafe chain in question may have a business establishment rate, not the rate used above. The point of this analysis was to get an order of magnitude. There are about 53,000 cafes in the US, and each cafe may play the album more than once per day. Also not included – upsell of the album, by placing it next to the register. The album is #1 in the Cool Jazz category on Amazon, and #4 in the Children’s category, and #49 in Music overall.

– Jon