With Americans spending approximately $7 billion on Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation, costumes and candy are flying off shelves faster than a witch speeding on her broomstick. The Halloween music market is surely part of this consumer boom. Over the last several years, artists and labels have experienced an upswing in interest for spooky songs, and artists and nontraditional music retailers continue to scare up good sales during the season between compilations, instrumental soundtracks and concept albums.
While much of Halloween music is geared toward adults, the market encompasses everything from children's tunes and sound effects to soundtracks and rock and dance releases, giving the niche some breadth and room for diversity.
Drew's Entertainment specializes in a variety of party albums, and their Halloween catalog has performed well since the company launched in 1994. That same year the company released Drew's Famous Halloween Party Music, which has since been certified gold by the RIAA, featuring Halloween-inspired cover songs such as "Monster Mash," "Ghostbusters" and "Twilight Zone."
"By doing [cover songs] we're able to offer [an album] at a much lower price," explains George Davis, new media sales and marketing manager for Drew's Entertainment. "A lot of the stuff is public domain as well, and if that's the case we can put tons of songs on an album and price it [competitively]."
HollywoodHaunts.biz specializes in original dance party compilations featuring "party hits of the paranormal." Owner Gary Gelfand, a three-time Emmy-winning TV sound editor, has utilized an extensive sound library to help craft original music that falls into three categories: movie haunts, haunted house and dance party music.
"There's a comic edge to all of the stuff," says Gelfand. "It's all family-friendly. We don't do gratuitous violence for that reason." Gelfand describes his company's cover of "Monster Mash" as an "'American Idol' upgrade," while he describes the original "Halloween City Vampires" as a "Mike Hammer version of the Halloween season."
Hollywood Haunts' top sellers include Demons And Vampires (which plays off the True Blood and Twilight crazes), Chiller Dance Party and Creep Show, which Gelfand describes as "probably our biggest seller."
Ohio-based duo Midnight Syndicate delivers a new album of dark soundtrack music every year, though they are not just a band that sells in October. "It's easiest to market our music to the masses at Halloween time," says Midnight Syndicate founder Edward Douglas. "But what we are at our core is a Gothic instrumental band, so we have that fan base year-round of people that like horror movies, Gothic music and artwork and imagery."
Formed in 1995, Midnight Syndicate have carved out a strong niche in becoming what they describe as a "haunted house band." Douglas says they started their business out of the back of their van selling music to local stores and have since blossomed into a full-time operation with 1,000 clients, including the retail chain Party City.
Douglas claims his group has sold more than 700,000 units of 14 album releases, the top seller being 2005's The 13th Hour. Released in August, Midnight Syndicate's most recent album, Carnival Arcane, offers an auditory glimpse into "wonders both fantastic and macabre from every corner of the globe."
Offering music for "creatures of the night," Nox Arcana is also a significant player in the Halloween music game. Their debut album, Darklore Manor, was used as the musical score for the WB's televised special of the 1922 silent film classic, Nosferatu. Their music has also been used in theatrical productions and at haunted attractions and theme parks such as Universal Studios Hollywood, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, and Knott's Berry Farm. With their 2011 release, The Dark Tower, Nox Arcana is inviting listeners to "explore a realm of gothic mystery, horror and romance with this dark symphony of the night."
Composer Virgil Franklin has scored films, including Blood Moon and Left For Dead, and has released a number of spooky soundtrack albums under his first name, including titles such as Out Of The Ether, Klown and Hillbilly Hell. He has launched www.hauntaudio.com as a "haunt-specific portal for dark music," with more film projects and horror music releases in the works.
The digital realm may soon offer a better gauge of this market's popularity. Given the music industry's declining physical sales, Drew's Entertainment has focused more on digital sales through outlets such as Amazon and iTunes. "We have the opportunity to offer lots of great party songs," says Davis. "We have a Halloween album with 57 songs being sold digitally for $9.99."
For Alice Cooper, Halloween is the perfect musical fit. The shock rock legend recently released a new album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, which is a sequel to his 1975 classic concept album, Welcome To My Nightmare. Cooper also has a nightmarish maze named in his honor as part of Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights and will make a cameo in Tim Burton's forthcoming thriller Dark Shadows. "This is my season," Cooper recently told the Los Angeles Times. "Welcome to the nightmare, all over again."
Regardless of how it is packaged, Halloween and music seem to go together like trick and treat. Holly Bowling, COO and owner of the Halloween Express seasonal chain, sees the holiday as fairly recession-proof. "Halloween is a time when even adults can act like something they're not," she observes. "It's a family holiday, where you have parents celebrating with kids. Kids love it, of course, for the candy if nothing else." And there's also the music.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)