Podcasters are probably better known for talking than singing, but the talent behind ten different British shows have revved up their musical chops for a charity single called “Sounds of Christmas,” released today. It’s all in aid of Samuel’s Charity, an organisation that raises money to support underfunded children’s hospital wards in the UK.
Hosts from The Modern Mann, The Guilty Feminist, Do The Right Thing, Wanna Be, Beef & Dairy Network, Answer Me This and others contributed vocals to the song, which was written by Philippe-Marc Anquetil — who, interestingly enough, has also worked with the likes of One Direction and Little Mix. The track is out today, 14 December, and you can download it now via modernmann.co.uk. It seems that the goal is to mount a challenge for the coveted Christmas number one spot on the UK singles chart, which will be announced on 21 December.
Competition for the top spot of the UK singles chart is always tough — I mean, obviously — but the scene seems particularly stacked this year, with the podcasters are up against the likes of Ariana Grande (twice), Miley Cyrus, Sia, Tyler the Creator, and more. (There are also plenty other charity contenders vying for the crown too, such as these primary school children from Lancashire with their song in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society.)
Matt Hill, founder of Rethink Audio and co-founder of the British Podcast Awards, helped organise the song, and thinks the podcasters have a fighting chance. “We estimate that, from the podcasts that contributed vocals alone, we could reach around 400-500,000 UK listeners in the week that matters,” he told me over email. “But we’ve had other podcasts come forward to say that they’d push the song to their listeners, and next week we want to inject a dynamic ad into other podcasters’ shows — if anyone out there still wants to get involved contact me — so the final number could be far, far higher.”
So, maybe success isn’t as unlikely as it initially sounds, because in reality, it doesn’t usually take astronomical sales to get into the UK chart. “We estimate that it’d take 11,000 sales over the next week to get into the Top 40, and around 85,000 to get to number one,” Hill said. That’s the number that the Ed Sheeran single “Perfect” sold last year to reach Christmas number one. The chart is calculated from a combination of physical sales, paid downloads and streams, where 150 streams equals one purchase.
While the primary objective of the song is, of course, to raise money for the charity, one could also argue that it’s a good proof of concept for podcasting, Hill said: “Just on the sheer numbers involved, I think it shows podcast’s inroads into the share of ear. . . Answer Me This alone gets more than 85,000 downloads for a single episode, for instance. Admittedly, getting people to pay is always tricky — but it would really prove how strong the relationship between audiences and podcasts is; and that’s good for advertisers, for Patreon users, and the sustainability of the medium.”
The idea for doing a Christmas song came from a listener of The Modern Mann, which Hill produces, about eight months ago (they have a regular contributor challenge feature). It wasn’t until September, though, that the idea of doing it as a “Band Aid” style charity release occurred to him, when he heard a BBC Radio 1 producer speaking at a conference about how they had organised a game of hide and seek on live radio with people popping into different shows. “It made me wonder if we could do something like that, which pooled the audiences of several podcasts and broke out of our bubbles,” Hill said. They decided to do it in early October, meaning the whole thing has come together in about 10 weeks.
The grassroots chart campaign has become a far more visible phenomenon in the UK in the recent years, and its emergence has transformed the existing tradition for Christmas charity songs. In 2004, downloads began to be counted towards the totals, and streaming counts were added in 2014. Both of these additions have enabled artists, fans and causes to break away from the rigidity of conventional release schedules, because any song is eligible provided it shifts the units — it doesn’t matter when it originally came out, if it’s from a recognised label, or if it is officially “a single”.
This has lead to a few interesting results, such as the popularity of Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time” after the Manchester bombing attack in 2017, the rise of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” to number 2 after Margaret Thatcher died, and what I like to think of as “the Ed Sheeran singularity” when he had 16 tracks in the top 40 at the same time after his latest album came out.
Perhaps the most unusual example, though, happened in 2009 when an anti-X Factor campaign started on Facebook lead to “Killing in the Name” by the American metal band Rage Against the Machine topping the chart for Christmas 2009. The song logged 500,000 downloads to beat out competition from the latest reality singing competition winner. The band donated the proceeds to charity and played a free gig to 40,000 fans in London as a thank you.
I’ll certainly be watching to see if the Podcast All-Stars can challenge for the top spot next week, and if Hill is right about the loyalty and goodwill of podcast listeners. You can hear the song now at modernmann.co.uk and donate to the charity via samuelscharity.co.uk.