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Screams for Streams: Duran Duran & Others Hope to Scare Up Hits With Halloween Music

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This time every year, music’s biggest stars unleash carefully constructed marketing campaigns for new Christmas music, hoping to join Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey on the lucrative list of holiday classics. Duran Duran chose a different direction.

After dressing as top-hatted ghouls and covering Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and The Specials’ “Ghost Town” at the Wynn Las Vegas casino last Halloween, the veteran U.K. band recorded a themed album, Danse Macabre, which is due Oct. 27. “Funnily enough, I can’t think of many Christmas songs that I like, apart from the few obvious ones,” keyboardist Nick Rhodes says. “But Halloween, I can think of plenty of songs I love. It’s the mood and the chaos and the dark spirit of excitement about it.”

For decades, Halloween’s soundtrack has come from a reliable archive of catalog hits: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” (1984), Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982), Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” (1984), Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” (1978) and, of course, Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers’ undead “Monster Mash” (1962). But in recent years, thanks to TikTok memes, Netflix and Disney synchs and music streaming, newer songs have joined the pantheon, from Lady Gaga’s “Bloody Mary,” which went viral after TikTok users spliced it into a dance clip from Netflix’s 2022 hit Wednesday, to LVCRFT’s “Skeleton Sam,” a spooky novelty track engineered by hit songwriters who aspire to update the Halloween music canon.

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“There’s room in the marketplace for more than just ‘Monster Mash’ and ‘Ghostbusters,’ ” says Kay Anderson, vp of marketing for Craft Recordings, the Concord catalog label that represents late singer Andrew Gold, including his meme-friendly ’90s Halloween-season hit, “Spooky Scary Skeletons.” “The demand is there, and the momentum for Halloween-themed content kicks off earlier each year.”

When singer-songwriter Evan Bogart was a kid, his mother threw bobbing-for-apples Halloween parties and put dry ice in the pool to create ghostly smoke. By 2018, the son of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart was a hit songwriter for Lizzo, Rihanna, Beyoncé and others and, as he recalls, his horror movie-obsessed friends wondered: “Why isn’t there any f—ing Halloween music? We’ve been listening to the same stuff since we were kids: Rockwell, The Specials, Warren Zevon, Ray Parker, Oingo Boingo. Most of it’s decades old.” They formed a collective, LVCRFT, and made an album of all-new music, 2019’s This Is Halloween Vol. 1, which included “Skeleton Sam.” The single has since racked up more than 8.5 million on-demand audio streams, according to Luminate, and its Oct. 31 streams increased from 57,343 in 2019 to 569,313 last year. LVCRFT followed the album up with new installments every year.

At the same time, Kat Basolo, senior vp of creative synch for Bogart’s publisher, Kobalt, had been thinking up song ideas to pitch to Freeform, Disney’s streaming channel for young adults. When Bogart mentioned his Halloween music obsession to Basolo, she encouraged him to cover songs from Kobalt’s catalog for Freeform’s annual, heavily promoted “31 Nights of Halloween” campaign. Kobalt also represents Gold, and LVCRFT chose “Spooky Scary Skeletons” and “It Must Be Halloween,” which the Disney channel wound up licensing. “It was very successful,” Basolo says. “That became a well we would keep tapping into.”

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In Basolo’s view, the resurgence of new Halloween tracks is, at least in part, a synch phenomenon: Horror movies and spooky shows such as Wednesday, American Horror Story, the Hocus Pocus franchise and this year’s Haunted Mansion remake have led to more topical placement opportunities for artists, labels and publishers. “There’s a lot of content out there that people are constantly clamoring for because they’re genuinely Halloween fans,” she says. “Halloween is a very popular holiday for a reason, and people tend to have a cult-like affinity. They look for content out there that has themes that are adjacent.”

Streaming numbers for “Spooky Scary Skeletons,” “Skeleton Sam” and other Halloween hits may not be as big as those of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” but they add up. “Bloody Mary” never charted when Gaga released it in 2011, but after the Wednesday-related TikTok phenomenon, it hit No. 68 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2022, scoring over 412 million plays on Spotify and placement in the service’s Halloween Party playlist, which has 981,000 likes. “Bloody Mary” streams grew from 128,708 on Oct. 31, 2019 to 166,893 on October 31, 2022, an increase of 29.7%. However, from October 1-9, 2023, the streams have totaled 2.04 million, according to Luminate.

Since the pandemic, Spotify’s playlist team has noticed what Talia Kraines, the services’ senior editor, pop, describes as “massive spikes on our Halloween playlists” earlier and earlier each year. One enduring seasonal beneficiary of stay-at-home TikTok and binge-watching has been the Beetlejuice soundtrack — the popularity of Schitt’s Creek led to discovery of Catherine O’Hara’s other films, including Beetlejuice, which led to streaming Harry Belafonte’s classic “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” “Labels have tended to focus on the classics. Catalog teams at labels are trying to go deeper and find more songs to pitch because the existing classics are so well covered,” Kraines says, pointing to September-October spikes for spooky-adjacent songs like Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy,” Rihanna’s “Disturbia” and the Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck.” “A lot of the new Halloween music is coming from real baby artists who don’t have that major label or publisher system in place.”

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Even songs unrelated to Halloween, such as Ghost’s “Mary on a Cross,” which went viral a year ago, and Ava Max’s pop smash “Sweet but Psycho,” have landed on Spotify’s Halloween Party and other official streaming playlists this year. Rapper Ashnikko’s adult-oriented “Halloweenie” tracks, released from 2018 to 2021, have drawn roughly 67 million on-demand streams as of Oct. 9, according to Luminate.

“It takes years to mature a song like that into a classic,” says Mike Chester, executive vp of commerce and promotion at Warner Records, which represents Ashnikko. “It’s not ubiquitous like Christmas season, so you have to focus on the week leading up to Halloween and maximize that attention. It’s a pretty tight window, but it’s rabid in that moment.” Kobalt’s Basolo adds that Halloween synch prep begins earlier every year: “I’m looking at Halloween at the beginning of summer. It’s [about getting] ahead of the timeline and thinking about it a few months in advance.”

By contrast, Duran Duran never expected to make a Halloween album. The group’s ghoulish October 2022 Vegas show was a one-off, so spontaneous that singer Simon Le Bon had to put in extra work memorizing new lyrics, but it evolved into the upcoming album of covers and originals. “We hadn’t thought about it that much as any kind of business proposition — we thought we just wanted to do a Halloween album,” Rhodes says. “But one thing we definitely have on our side is that I’m not sure I know many other artists who’ve done a Halloween album. It’s a whole new genre.”

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