Elizabeth Chan Talks About Writing ONLY Christmas Music, Her International Record Deal, And How Santa Must Feel
Elizabeth Chan has distinguished herself as an accomplished songwriter who writes ONLY Christmas music.
Some have even gone so far as to crown her, “The Queen Of Christmas Music.”
In 2012 Chan released “A Christmas Song” which received multiple awards including Dick Clark’s Streamy Award nomination for “Best Original Song On The Web,” in the International Song Writers Competition. To make her video for the song, Elizabeth shut down Times Square and brought in a dance troupe.
In 2013, Chan had a Top 7 hit with “Fa La La.” Now, her newest release “Something About The Holidays,” from her new album “Christmas In The City” is an upbeat fun song that is currently receiving significant play from holiday programmers.
1) A lot has happened since we interviewed you last year. You recently signed a distribution deal to Sony/RED, and you’ve also had some interest in foreign markets as well. Please tell about all these new developments?
If I could use only one word to describe this year it would be, “growth.”
I have definitely grown as an artist, and my label Merry Bright Music has also grown in the number of partners we have, both here and internationally. This continues to be a really frenetic but extraordinarily exciting time for me.
I’m now distributed by Believe Digital internationally, and Viva Entertainment in Asia – which is especially meaningful, since I am the first American to ever sign to Viva. My family came to the United States for a better life, and ironically my journey has taken me back to Asia.
2) Tell us a little bit about your new single “Something About The Holidays”?
I’m really a kid when it comes to Christmas, so I wanted to write a song for the kid in all of us.
That being said, I really approach everything I do from a very personal place, and I give a glimpse into my personal side on all my Christmas records. I think that’s what sets my music apart from most other Christmas songs.
I live Christmas everyday, so my Christmas music is just capturing a sentiment of a day in the life. “Something About The Holidays” is a song I wrote that really encompasses how I feel all year round.
Most of the time, I’m living in anticipation of Christmas and I love it. Many people might not know that I produce my own music and I have the ability to work with whomever I want.
For this song, I chose to include some of my closest friends. My friend Kelly I’ve known since I was a teenager and we used to sing together and we wanted to form a girl group when we were in high school. Unfortunately we never got to see that day! Sometimes life gets in the way of our intentions, and we end up far from where we started. Kelly has an amazing voice and she’s an amazing mother and person. I was there when she gave birth to her kids, and they were part of my wedding. Her family means so much to me. In fact, her kids were in the video for my song “Fa La La!”
This year, I invited them to join me on “Something About The Holidays.” When we recorded the song, Kelly thought it would be just her kids. But I asked her to step up to the mic, and for the first time ever since we were young we sang together on a record.
I surprised her when the album came out with her very first credit! It might not be the girl group we wanted when we were younger, but I feel we’ve come full circle. Surprisingly, I learned today that Kelly’s favorite song on the album is actually “Christmas in the City.” I said, “But you and your kids are on “Something About The Holidays,” but she was like, “It doesn’t matter!”
3) The squirrel in your lyric video for the song “Something About The Holidays” is so cute! Does he have a name?
Why, yes he does, his name is “Reuben, The Red Nose Squirrel!”
Originally, an animated version of my dog, Toby, was going to be the star of the video. But we just couldn’t capture him (he takes horrible photos, too). So that’s when Reuben was born.
I think Reuben has a personality all his own, a kind of dry Christmas love that everyone can relate to.
4) What’s the story behind your album’s title track “Christmas In The City“?
I’ve spent a good chunk of the past year traveling all over the world, making new connections, meeting with partners, and learning about Christmas in different cities, countries, and continents. It has been wonderful to have the opportunity to learn about and exchange holiday traditions with people from all over. But the further away from home I would be, the more homesick I would feel.
The title track “Christmas in the City” was a song I would sing to myself when I was far from home. I actually wrote the song two years ago, but I didn’t finish the bridge until this year, inspired by all the travel I was doing. It’s a love song to both Christmas and my hometown.
The album is a collection of stories and experiences I’ve had meeting people from all over, and looks to pay homage to all of those disparate influences I’ve enjoyed on my Christmas journey.
5) You’ve been doing a lot of TV lately with appearances on “The Better Show,” Fox’s “Varney & Friends,” and others. Please tell us how this all came about and what it’s like on the other side of the camera?
Before I started writing Christmas music, I used to work in television. I was a journalist and a TV producer. I was a workaholic and I worked everywhere. Everyone I’ve ever worked with has always known about my love for music. I don’t think there is someone that I’ve worked with who didn’t know about my passion for Christmas music. On my worst days, I would lament to myself in my cubicle what it would be like if I just walked away and just tried to write Christmas music.
After years of putting it out there into the universe, the universe came back to me one day in the form of a Morgan Spurlock documentary. He and his team believed in me enough to give me the platform to try. He captured my fears, failures and struggles to transition and have the strength to leave my last career and build upon the courage to start my new life as a Christmas songwriter. That documentary was called “The Failure Club” and it was seen by 25 million people around the world.
The show was filmed and felt a lot like that movie “The Truman Show” (f. Jim Carey). People were watching my experiences alongside me living it. It was a very surreal, and a difficult process to deal with at the time. I struggled a lot with that. Being a workaholic at heart, I channeled all the effort I would put into others into myself, and while it hasn’t been the easiest journey, but has definitely been the most rewarding. It truly changed every facet of my life both personally and professionally. Looking back, it was that experience that helped find my way and this life I live today. That documentary happened three years ago, and two years before I would ever even see one of my 400 songs chart on Billboard. The lessons I learned from the very beginning is the core of how I keep true to my passion for Christmas music.
Honestly, the experience of having a dream but having bills and a life to overcome to get to that dream is something everyone on earth can relate to. Some of us are too afraid to fail to get to even be close to our dreams.
So to answer your original question, it’s not about being on TV, being on TV is easy – it’s about sharing the message to people that if you have a passion … Go for it! Don’t let fear guide you. It’s not so much me on TV that is important to share, it’s that message.
Honestly, I owe it to my friends and colleagues who have always believed in me and want to help me share that message to all the attention I’ve been receiving. Remember, I want to write a Christmas song that will outlive me. We are all but here for a short time, and I’ve decided to dedicate mine to Christmas music.
6) What has been your most inspiring moment as an artist?
I am truly a composer at heart, and want nothing more than to know that at the end of my life, I’ve left a great Christmas song behind. That’s all I really want is to share music and hope that people make my songs their own during the holidays.
My friend, Annie Roberts, gave me that opportunity last year. As the conductor of a New York City high school choir, Annie taught her students the song I wrote called, “A Christmas Song” along with other holiday standards.
When I attended the choir’s Holiday Concert, I was so overwhelmed when I heard my song. It was the happiest moment I had experienced in my Christmas career.
I was so thankful to Annie, who let me have that moment. After the concert, we immediately started talking about plans for working together for the next year’s event. We didn’t get that chance as Annie passed away two months later from ovarian cancer.
That’s what it all comes down to: life is very short, and we have to stay true to who we are and what we want to make of our gift of life. For me, that’s to create the best Christmas music ever. Period.
In honor of Annie, I recorded a string quartet version of “A Christmas Song” on this year’s album. It’s the same version her students performed during their holiday concert last year.
7) What are the pros and cons to writing only Christmas music?
The beauty of writing only Christmas music is that I am doing what I love. I wake up everyday excited to see (or hear) what new Christmas songs the day will bring.
The worst part of writing only Christmas music is that I know EXACTLY what how Santa feels. Everyone’s looking for you one minute, and the next you’re forgotten until next year!
8) You’ve made some really fantastic videos of your Christmas songs. Please tell us how you get inspired to do your music videos?
When I work on any piece of music, I have a vision of the story that comes along with the sound of the song. I generally know I’m done with a song when that visual story comes into clear focus and plays out with the song.
Whether its through song or motion, I’m telling a story. As much as I work on the chord progressions and production of my songs, I do the same with sketches, storyboards, and ideas for my music videos.
9) How does your marketing experience help you with getting your music out to the world?
It doesn’t help at all. They say that the carpenter never has the best cabinets. I left my last job because I had no passion for marketing. It’s easier to market what you’re not close to, that’s why I’m the worst marketer for myself, I’m just too close to the work. I’ve written hundreds of songs and I’m only putting out 7 songs this year. What kind of marketer is that?
I think what has helped me is to understanding that every great Christmas song took no less than 20 years to find its stride. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Mariah Carey and Irving Berlin are good examples. I could give you so many more.
So my sole focus is just to write the best music that I can each and every day.
10) Please tell us what Christmas means to you?
Christmas to me means celebrating the spirit of hope and generosity.
What are some of your hobbies?
I have been literally training to kick like a Rockette. Honest truth!
Being in the studio, living studio life, and traveling is hard on your health. Last year, I was craving to find something that could get help me maintain physical balance. Many people suggested yoga, but I’m not a yoga type person. I was doing Soul Cycle but it was too competitive and stressful for me.
That’s when I started to explore and research Barre classes. I trained in ballet when I was younger, so I connected with it, but what really sold me was a sign. I’m a big believer in signs, so when I found out in my first class that my instructor was a former Rockette, I was sold and I never looked back. I’ve been learning to kick high like a Rockette ever since! I’m getting there but I’ve got quite a ways to go! No matter where I travel, I’m able to find a place or studio to practice Barre. For me, it’s almost like meditation.
You recorded half of your new album in Nashville. Please tells us what it was it like for a New Yorker as yourself to record in Nashville, and please tell us about the local music scene there?
I am a Christmas pop princess! Give me Pop, Top 40, (and of course, Christmas music) anytime! Last year, I had the great fortune to attend the CMAs and was really drawn in by the storytelling of country music. I feel a lot of songs on the radio today don’t have a great story. (Magic’s “Rude” is a recent exception – now that’s a great story).
So I found myself listening to some great stories sung by these astounding country talents, and I wanted to learn more. I’d written so many songs, but what would it would be like if I dipped my Christmas songs in Nashville? I’m so happy I did.
The work ethic of musicians in Nashville is inspiring. As a New Yorker, I was really refreshed and humbled by the Nashville scene, and the respect for music that everyone has. It’s not the same anywhere else. I’m also semi-obsessed with Nashville’s native food, so that’s also something that keeps me wanting more. I love my snacks.