10 Questions with ... Elizabeth Chan
December 7, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/lizchanmusic
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lizchanmusic
- Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/lizchanmusic
- Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/lizchanmusic
Elizabeth Chan has distinguished herself as an accomplished songwriter who writes only Christmas music. Some have crowned her as the true "Queen Of Christmas Music" in that her sole focus is producing and distributing Christmas music.
Her quest for her own Christmas was a childhood dream. In 2012 Chan released "A Christmas Song" which received multiple awards including a Streamy Award nomination for "Best Original Song," and was a finalist for the International Song Writers Competition. To make her video for the song, Elizabeth shut down New York City's Times Square and brought in a dance troupe.
In 2013, Chan had a Top 7 hit with "Fa La La." Now, her newest release "Christmas In The City" is receiving airplay across the country, and the Wall Street Journal called her latest LP, "Red & Green" a collection of Christmas "standards in waiting."
1) Many artists record Christmas music in addition to their other music, but you write only Christmas music. What is your philosophy on this?
Life is so short. I have such an extreme passion for Christmas music, doing anything else would quite frankly be a waste for everyone. Imagine a world in which all of us were able to dedicate the rest of our lives to do just that one thing that makes our heartbeat.
There is not one Christmas song that I hear on the radio that doesn't makes my heart race, that doesn't make my face light up, that doesn't feel like a warm blanket, or the first sips from a piping cup of hot chocolate. I think the biggest honor any artist can have is to write a song that makes people feel that way. This is my fourth record and I think the pro's and con's of writing Christmas music changes every year. What used to be the most frequently asked question was "Why Christmas music?" Now I find the question is "Why not other music? You're clearly able to?!" It is interesting that people are becoming more and more familiar with my style and wondering why on earth I'm not writing pop records all year round.
People are forced to write and record Christmas records. Christmas is a season and a mentality that comes from the heart. All great music should come from the heart. It's not all about wearing an ugly sweater and putting out a Santa hat.
My Christmas music will be my legacy. It's just not something that is easily seen from the start. I mean, we are not all born knowing who Nat King Cole is, we just feel it in our hearts.
2) Please tell us a little bit about your single "Christmas In The City"?
I have been told that "Christmas In The City" is a great contender on my quest to pen a Christmas classic, which I am honored to hear. I'm a born and raised New Yorker. The pride I feel when I hear the song playing in New York City, the Christmas capital of the World, is an indescribable feeling. I am truly honored. It is currently playing on WLTW/New York, which is a station that I grew up listening and raised my love for Christmas.
3) You recently did a parody video of Taylor Swift's song "Shake It Off" to the tune of "Jingle Bells". What's the story behind your decision to do a video for this song?
People were asking me to do covers. It has almost 300,000 views!
I have amazing people that I work with across the world. There is not ONE person on my team that hasn't asked me to record a pop record or a Christmas cover. Anyone who works with me will tell you my focus and work ethic is relentless. I do generally aim to please, so during my company's summer party, I performed my version of Jingle Bells for my team and associates. The response was astounding!
As a nod to that moment, one thing led to another and we put together the video. It was a lot of fun to put together. You'll see some familiar faces in the video if you look hard enough.
Honestly, my version of "Jingle Bells" was my artful response through my signature Christmas lens to all the questions. You got what you wanted guys! You got a pop record! You got a cover and standard! Now leave me to do what I do now!!! Ha!
4) This has been another whirlwind year for you! You recently signed a new record deal with Kobalt Records, and you've also signed some publishing and sync deals as well. Please tell about all these new developments?
You can read this interview right now, in text, in print, but when and if you meet me in person, you can only feel through my presence and through my eyes how much this means to me. I run a customer driven business and that customer is the Christmas song listener. Starting Merry Bright Music was always a means to an end, and that end is a Christmas standard. The music business, like all businesses in general, goes through its ebbs and flows and you have to stay agile and nimble to be able to figure out ways to present first impressions, convert and retain the client. My team is tasked with figuring out where those impressions are. We leave no stone unturned. From the US to China, we have had significant growth in terms of sync opportunities and licensing deals. Fortunately for us, we have had the tremendous luck to gain partners who believe in me as a business person, my music and they want to be part of my journey. I take nothing for granted, and I believe in showing gratitude everyday. I have turned down opportunities as well. If I have even one sense that someone doesn't get what I'm doing, or have an earnestness to share the music in an authentic way, I thank them for their time and wish them well. It is important to stay true to that, otherwise everything else won't make sense.
There is one thing I realize is happening year over year - the bigger Merry Bright Music grows, the more I sacrifice my own personal Christmas season. I am coming to terms with the fact that if my business is during Christmas, my Christmas will never be the same. I try very hard to keep sacred this time that is so sacred to who I am. I give everything to my Christmas music, and I'm starting to learn that even means giving my own Christmas.
5) I understand your music has been getting a lot of traction in Asia lately? To what do you attribute this success?
I am half Filipino, half Chinese, but an All-American Girl. My understanding of the holidays is very distinctive to how I was raised. The kind of music I put out is tasteful to the palettes of a global audience. At the end of the day, the reason why I do well with Asia is because I'm Asian! LOL! The holidays in Asia are all about family. Filial Piety, and my music connects with those ideals of family.
I get it, and can write about it because it is part of who I am. It is an authentic connection. It's real. It's me. That's it! :)
It also helps I speak different languages and understand the nuances.
6) You did some new remixes this year. You've got a Pop mix of "Christmas In The City" and a beautiful new orchestrated version of "A Christmas Song." Please tell us about your decision to remix these songs and give them a new sound?
I think my fans who have followed me since my days on Yahoo! Screen know that my most favorite song is my first single "A Christmas Song." I wrote it many years ago. Running my own label comes in handy in the sense that I can continue to put out new versions of my songs.
This song has taken on a life of its own and people have picked up on it. That seems to be the true test of a Christmas standard.
7) Please tell us how you felt the first time you heard your song on the radio?
Gosh it's not even hearing the song on the radio that gets to me it's hearing the song that plays after that gets me every time. That's when it feels real that I'm starting to take my seat amongst the canon.
However, there was one moment that was truly special. Last year during Christmas Eve, I was with my family. We were all together playing a game of Monopoly and listening to Christmas music when "Christmas in the City" came on the radio right around Midnight. My mother cried. It was a real honest priceless moment to be at Christmas with my family, to hear the song, in the city where my family and my history lives. To share that with the world and my family at the same time is quite powerful. It was a real present moment.
8) Who are some of your mentors or other people who have helped you with your career?
There are so many. It takes a village to raise a Christmas song. I think those who know I am grateful to them know it. I don't let a day, or a proper moment go by to show my gratitude. I learned this from writing Christmas music. Everyday is Christmas, and gratitude is the best gift you can give to anyone. I've had some pretty great mentors - who were never prescriptive, nor did they give me a guidebook. They believed in my ability and what they provide is a compass. It is up to me in terms of the direction and the amount of work it would take to stay on my path.
There is one person who has been a mentor of mine from the absolute very beginning of this crazy, crazy, crazy journey, so I have to mention Richard Nash.
From the very beginning I was too scared to be in the music business because this place is a crazy circus. I knew my destiny was in the music business but I just couldn't figure out where. If you asked me years ago and told me that I'd be running my own record label today I would have sent you to the loony bin.
I don't think I've ever mentioned this before, but when I wasn't in the music business, I wanted to see if I still had it. On a dare, I auditioned for Wednesday Amateur Night at The Apollo. I won and continued on! I ended up competing on Showtime at the Apollo - (the episode aired on Christmas, true story). Richard was there! Booing me! (Just kidding!)
When I was worried about exposing my true dream and I was contemplating sharing that with the world in a documentary, he said confronting this fear of failure was exactly what I needed all these years.
When I shared my first Christmas demos, he said they weren't competitive enough. Even though I was really proud of them, he was right.
When it was time to quit my former job to go 100% into Christmas music, it was his text message that said it was the right thing to do. He also reminded me to hustle like I was 18 years old, armed with the mindset of one who is not.
It is because of Richard that I was also introduced to someone who has had an incredible impact in helping me navigate my Christmas career and that's Charlie Cook. He was the first to analyze Christmas music with me, introduce Country music, Nashville and quite frankly why Taylor Swift is awesome, where I hadn't been convinced before.
Nothing good ever comes overnight. My journey is long, those who really know what I've had to overcome to get where I am today - know - and are my biggest supporters. As anyone who is really in this business knows, there are some pretty crazy bad days, and some pretty huge highs. As long as you have good people to keep you grounded and focused, that's success right there.
This past year, a couple of friends had said they considered me their mentor, and that is really the best gift. If that's not aligned with the spirit of Christmas, I don't know what is. I have been the benefactor of this and it is a wonderful to be able to share.
9) You've been appearing on some panels for MIDEM, Music Biz and other music organizations lately. Please tell us how you connected with these organizations and what you were able to share with the audience about your experience?
It is definitely my calling to write Christmas music, but another calling I have found is to encourage others, as others have encouraged me, to go after dreams with reckless abandon. This sense of duty has found me being invited to speak to other music startups, record label owners to discuss the value of being able to be entrepreneurial in this new music business. My background before writing Christmas music was in startups and product development, paired with my experience in music, this has proved my insight to be rather helpful to others. Honestly it was one panel discussion that led to an invitation to the next. Before I knew it, I was flying all over the world sharing and encouraging others to help be the change agents we need in this evolving music business.
10) You've been doing this professionally for a few years now, and during that time the music business has changed dramatically. What are your thoughts on the future of the music business and the new distribution models?
I think that artists running their own labels are going to change the music business. Being able to marry your art and business will be the new music business paradigm.
What are some of your hobbies?
When I'm not thinking, writing, producing, dreaming and listening to Christmas music. I have been traveling a lot. My favorite thing on the road is discovering local breakfast fare, whether it's in Nashville or Singapore. I love myself a proper breakfast. I also love reading. I read a lot of memoirs these days.
What has been your most inspiring moment as an artist?
Watching others cover my music all over the world. This is why I became a Christmas songwriter. Not to be the artist, to be the vehicle to share the music. From children to adults, to hear their covers brings me to tears.
Please tell us what Christmas means to you?
Christmas is my life. Everyday I live in this sense and spirit of perpetual hope and generosity. I thought I would spend my life trying to find the perfect Christmas song, but what I'm realizing everyday is that Christmas music has really found the best me.