It’s not exactly the Tickle Me Elmo craze, but in 2019, a new trend emerged in musical gift giving that we’re likely to see more of in the coming years. It isn’t just a great way to surprise the music lover in your family with a thoughtful and cherished present, it’s a way to help sustain the independent music artists out there who otherwise have to rely on the penny fractions from streaming giants to make it through the cold hard winter when live gigs are scarce.
We’re talking about the practice by some independent musicians and songwriters to offer personally handwritten lyric sheets to many of their most cherished songs to dedicated fans that are suitable for framing and perfect for gift giving. It’s probably too late to get in on the action this Holiday season, but both buyers and sellers should put it in their memory banks for next year after 2019’s participants proved it’s worth the effort, and a worthy gift.
This practice isn’t entirely new. Sometimes in crowdfunding campaigns or charity auctions, artists will offer handwritten lyric sheets as an incentive for top tier contributors. Also, songwriters like the Grammy-nominated Mary Gauthier, as well as BJ Barham of American Aquarium have offered handwritten lyric sheets in their online stores year round. But the Christmas season 2019 is when the idea seems to have really caught on with both musicians and fans, making for a much more personal and sentimental gift for the music lover in your family compared to a concert T-shirt and a koozie.
Texas music artist Sunny Sweeney was running a campaign this year for handwritten lyrics, as was Wade Bowen. Songwriter Kaitlin Butts did as well, offering multiple options. You could pick one of her many songs, choose the song “A Life Where We Work Out” co-written and signed by her fiancee and Flatland Cavalry frontman Cleto Cordero, or as a more affordable option, you could purchase high quality prints of song lyrics of your choice. And following the Instagram feeds of these artists, business was brisk.
These efforts are not cheap, nor should they be. Prices range from $45.00 to $200.00 from some artists. Sure, it’s not especially hard to scribble some lyrics on a sheet and drop it in the mail. The daunting task would be fulfilling dozens of orders and getting them in the mail by Christmas. But the rarity of these works is what makes them special. Also, these are musicians, not pre-Gutenberg monks. It’s imperative this enterprise doesn’t eat into their writing of new songs for upcoming albums. It’s the intimacy and rarity that makes handwritten lyrics such a great idea.
And this trend is not just compartmentalized to Texas country. Well-respected heavy metal singer and guitarist Scott Ian of Anthrax got in on the action this year, as did others. Some offer the option to personally inscribe the lyrics to someone, others don’t. But they all come with signatures and/or doodles to make them little pieces of art as opposed to just a set of lyrics transcribed by the songwriter. And hey, who knows. If the career of your favorite musician with good penmanship explodes, they might end up being a quality investment for the future.
The next question is why wait for Christmas to offer this option to your loyal fans? In the streaming era, fans are hungry for something tangible. That is why vinyl is taking off again. Of course it doesn’t appeal to everyone to hang song lyrics on their wall (or to spend hours writing your own lyrics over and over). But for those fans who connect deeply with the music of their favorite artists, there may not be anything more meaningful in an era when finding meaningful gifts is hard to come by.