The age-old holiday classic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” has been covered countless times by rockers, crooners and pop sensations. But for the music industry, the song captures the hope that the jolly, bearded one will arrive to deliver massive sales of recorded music to fans the world over.

Music has long been driven by seasonality and holiday cheer, as the biggest sales weeks of the year are directly tied to greeting card-inspired occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. But the holy trinity of December—Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa—leads the pack. With the fourth quarter accounting for close to 30 percent of the total music sales for the year, the post-Thanksgiving window has long been a favorite for superstar artists to release new offerings as well as holiday-themed interpretations of classic tunes with the clear intent of capitalizing upon the throngs of shoppers looking for stocking stuffers. 

“If you’re a superstar, you will never sell more than in that two-month period. It would take six or seven months to sell that same amount,” Cindy Mabe, president of Universal Music Group Nashville, told Billboard magazine last year

So let the games begin.

Visions of sugar plums have long been replaced in the heads of industry players by massive publicity campaigns, high profile TV appearances and marketing shtick to woo the attention of consumers looking to cross off the naughty and nice from their shopping lists. Promotional expenses for labels skyrocket as advertising real state grows scarce and prices increase for point of purchase impulse buys. In a twist of cruel fate, labels and artists are generally unable to utilize the radio airwaves for their efforts. Most major radio stations freeze their playlists by mid-month and cease adding new songs or increasing spins of current popular songs—opting instead for holiday programming such as year-end playlists and countdown shows. So the race for creative and effective sales campaigns begin on Black Friday and continues beyond December and into the new year, a time when many retailers pin their hopes on the gift certificates, returns and cash gifts to be exchanged for music purchases.

Overall, the sales of recorded music has continued to drop steadily over the past decade as piracy, subscription radio, single sales trumping album sales, and now linear and non-linear streaming platforms taking a bite out of the yule log. Curiously, the sale of vinyl records continues to post small but steady increases throughout the year with independent labels and record stores reaping the benefits of the niche audience digging in the crates for rare, unusual and classic recordings as gifts. Mom and pop shops have also expanded their repertoire, stocking more physical cds, vintage t-shirts and non-traditional swag for the discerning music head in your life. Retailers predict a modest 2 percent climb in physical sales. Online physical cd sales have also proven to bolster the bottom line over the past several years with numbers as high as 21 percent growth in 2012, and industry insiders predict a double-digit increase for 2014 based upon a gathering of early sales numbers from major retailers.

But the holiday season is not generous to everyone. Every year comes with winners and losers, and this year, consumers are certain to leave some major labels with coal in their stockings, for unsuccessful single releases and/or poor execution of strategic marketing plans have the potential to cripple the bottom line. Also left out in the cold are most new artists—labels will not allocate precious marketing dollars to unproven acts, and since they cannot compete for attention with the megastars in the retail arena, most are left watching the festivities from the sidelines for the bulk of the fourth quarter and begrudgingly wait until February for the musical storm to pass.

For artists and labels alike, the stakes are high. And the planning for 2015 holiday sales begins right after this year’s season officially ends. Plans are already being made for the recording of new music and the release of singles to be conspicuously timed to reach your ears and you wallet simultaneously with the hopes that the spirit of giving will touch you or if all else fails, beat you over the head in some cases. Have a great holiday, may your season be filled with love, laughter, and the latest new releases by some of your favorite artists. 

Give the gift of music—Santa would want it that way.