5 Steps to Your 2018 Christmas Music Release

You still have time. You can still bust out a Christmas EP that might net you thousands of new fans on streaming platforms everywhere. While it may be too late for that $15,000 Christmas music national placement, it’s not too late to rack up streams and gain fans.

Christmas music is ubiquitous. Yes, some fans love it and some fans hate it, but understand that every store, restaurant, hotel, shop, florist, and cafe will be playing it. It’s also a big deal for your family. If you’ve ever released Christmas music before, there is something terrific about seeing your grandma respond to party guests commenting on the music in the house, “Oh this? This is my little bubbeleh’s band. It’s just wonderful, isn’t it?”

Multiple stations on terrestrial and online will be playing it 24/7, literally. Here’s the big shift, those coveted playlist creators on Spotify and Apple Music will be clamoring for the perfect new X-mas track to include every year. I mean, they can’t all be Mariah Carey cuts! So, you need to feed some new music to the machine.

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So, fire up your DAW, and let’s get it done this Christmas.

Step 1 – Pick Songs

Ideally, write three songs and include two Public Domain songs (no licensing needed) on an EP. However, if you can’t do that, do all PD songs. OR just do one. If you have the coin for licensing (see Step 2), you might want to jump on the bandwagon of the most searched and most played song by covering a song not in the Public Domain and paying for it.

Most listened to Public Domain songs on all streamers and radio

  • Silent Night
  • Jingle Bells
  • The First Noel
  • Joy To The World
  • Away In The Manger
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Deck The Halls
  • Hark, The Herald Angels Sing
  • O Holy Night
  • Deck the Halls
  • O Little Town Of Bethlehem
  • It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
  • Ave Maria
  • Angels We Have Heard On High
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • We Wish You A Merry Christmas
  • What Child Is This?
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas

Most covered Christmas songs on Spotify (need licenses):

  • Silent Night    
  • White Christmas        
  • The Christmas Song
  • Winter Wonderland   
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town       
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • Joy to the World
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas   
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer    
  • Silver Bells
  • Sleigh Ride
  • Blue Christmas

Step 2: Write an awesome Christmas song

Look, even if it is just one, write a holiday song. Make it dirty, make it nostalgic, just make it.  People’s careers have been made off of Christmas songs. You do not need to write lush string arrangements for an orchestra either; just a simple keys/guitar and vocal will do.

Step 3: Record awesome Christmas songs

Christmas songs last forever, but the good thing is they come around again every year. So, don’t get caught up in perfection. Nail down some solid tracks with good emotional takes, mix and master, and go. Visuals still matter. Go find some killer album artwork pictures on Unsplash or Archive.org, or even better, go shoot some yourself.  You’ll need 3000×3000 .jpg/png for uploading.

Step 4: License cover songs for digital (or physical)

You have a few choices here but expect around $15 per song. Whichever company you use to distribute digitally probably offers a service, and you can also choose Harry Fox Agency (HFA) if you are a planning on pressing CDs or vinyl.

Just to be clear, this is only for covers where you basically do a rendition of the same work, not derivatives where you change the words or arrangement drastically.

CD Baby: Only does single songs – will secure the proper mechanical licenses AND manage the payment of the mechanical royalties you owe to publishers for every sale. $14.99 per cover song (link: https://cdbaby.com/license-cover-song.aspx)

LOUDR: Can obtain a cover song license in less than 10 minutes. $15 + royalty fees per song, can do album (link: https://loudr.fm/licensing)

DistroKid: $12 per song/year, renewed annually, to manage each cover song for you. (link: https://distrokid.desk.com/customer/portal/articles/1329164-can-i-upload-cover-songs-)

TuneCore: Limited License $15 per song (intend to sell less than 500 digital downloads (units))

Pre-pay all fees, even if units are unsold.  Re-licensing, converting to a Standard License $59 (intend to sell over 500 units) (link: https://www.tunecore.com/cover-song-licensing)

Step 5: Promote

I know this sounds simple, but it’s the hardest part. There is the obvious– go on Twitter, FB, and Instagram and spread the word, do some silly videos and spread on YouTube and your Stories and IGTV. Some deep hints – if you are doing multiple songs, stagger the releases and you will hit new music radar playlists easier. Create your own Christmas playlist (or many) and make sure to put “2018” in it. Be creative, “I Hate Xmas 2018” or “Why Does Christmas Suck So Much? 2018” are good ones. Mail your bloggers, hit up the playlisters on Twitter. Email your fan list and get your fans to start streaming them early to give you feedback, this will juke the algos.

There you go. I hope to hear all of your Christmas songs this year!


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

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