Get a grip on holiday music

Donald Bell gives his recommendations for keeping holiday music from haunting your digital music collection year-round.

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
3 min read

Photo of Switched on Santa record.
Sy Mann's Switched on Santa is the pinnacle of holiday Moog-sploitation music. But the prospect of hearing it in August is terrifying. FaLaLaLaLa

Nothing brings out the holiday spirit better than music. Whether it's Vince Guaraldi's "The Christmas Song," Elvis Presley's "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," or Snoop Dogg's "Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto," everybody has that certain song that epitomizes the holidays. Once the holidays are over, though, it's time to pack away the decorations, hide the tacky lawn ornaments, and take your holiday music out of rotation until next December.

That last part, the part about packing away the holiday tunes, has become harder to accomplish in the digital age. Before the dawn of the MP3, you could just dump your records, tapes, or CDs in the same garage-bound box as your ornaments and wrapping paper. In the days of iTunes, however, your imported songs tend to stick around. Next thing you know, it's August, you're at the gym listening to your iPod Shuffle, and "Jingle Bell Rock" hits you like a fart in a spacesuit.

So how do you store a digital holiday music library that can play from your home computer, while keeping it quarantined from the music you want to hear the other 11 months of the year? I've rounded up a few of my favorite techniques. Feel free to add your own suggestions at the end.

Start from scratch (iTunes only)

Screen shot of iTunes cover flow.
When playlists just won't cut it, give your holiday music its own separate iTunes library. Click here for a step-by-step guide.

The best way to keep holiday tunes from lingering in your iTunes music library, is to never import them into your library in the first place. Why not give your holiday music its own library all to itself, that can be loaded just one month out of the year? This way, when it's time for the lights and tinsel to come down, you can revert iTunes back to your main library like nothing ever happened. I also like this technique because it allows you to take advantage of iTunes' excellent presentation of music, using unique features such as cover flow and visualizers.

This technique works on both Mac and PC, and isn't recommended for the technologically timid. Click here, for a step-by-step guide on setting up a separate holiday music library on your Mac or PC.

Try an iTunes alternative

Screen shot of Songbird jukebox.
Songbird is a great little Mac/PC application you can use as a dedicated holiday music jukebox.

Even if you're a big fan of iTunes, it may be worth the extra effort to use a separate jukebox program for playing your holiday music. A program like Songbird is both Mac and PC compatible and just as intuitive and attractive as iTunes. In fact, you may end up liking Songbird enough to keep using year-round.

Songbird is also one of the few applications out there that will play your DRM-protected iTunes music purchases. Accomplishing the same feat in something like Windows Media Player requires you to burn your purchases to CD and rip them back to your computer.

Burn a CD or load a thumb drive

Photo of Santa thumb drive.
By storing your holiday hits on a USB thumb drive, you can keep Rudolph from infecting the music library on your home computer year-round.

Want the ease and simplicity of playing your holiday music on CD and storing it when you're done? Make it happen by keeping holiday tunes on CDRs, DVDRs, or a thumb drive. Personally, I like the thumb drive option, because I have so many of them laying around just waiting to serve a purpose. You can even go crazy and decorate the drive or buy some novelty holiday thumb drive.

Whether you're on a PC or a Mac, music stored on a thumb drive or MP3 CD/DVD can be opened in something simple like VLC Media Player and set to shuffle and repeat. Using VLC instead of something like Windows Media Player or iTunes helps to prevent the tracks from being mistakenly sucked into your media library.

Screen shot of Pandora internet radio.
If you're not picky about hearing specific holiday tunes, or you want to break out of your holiday rut, give free streaming services like Pandora a shot.

Just stream it

In the Web 2.0 era, no one really needs to own holiday music anymore. The stuff is everywhere. Why not let one of the Web's excellent Internet Radio services do all the heavy lifting for you? Be careful, though--if your Internet connection is a little shaky, having your holiday soundtrack buffer every few minutes could break the magic.

There are tons of different services you can use for this, but a search in Pandora offers decent results and SHOUTcast offers dozens of dedicated holiday stations, ranging from choral to country.