The Holiday Music Licensing Challenge

by | Nov 4, 2016 | Music Licensing

Your challenge: Write (or pick a public domain) Holiday/Christmas song, record it, and release it this weekend. That’s it.

It’s November, pumpkin-spice-everything is inescapable, snow flurries are starting, and all of those damn commercials using tired, old, holiday songs are pissing you off. I know how it is, I’ve been there. “Why aren’t my songs being used in that [insert brand] commercial?” Well, the truth is this, most of those deals were negotiated in August and September. Yep, much of that music was recorded in July; hence, the music publishing and placement mantra of “Christmas in July.”

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Fine, you may have missed this year’s big holiday song placement opportunities. But, don’t lose hope, dear musician/songwriter!  There may still yet be replacement tracks needed for television, web ads, and yes, even some broadcast ad spots. If there are, I can guarantee you that they are either for original Holiday/Christmas songs, or “must be a public domain track” callouts. There isn’t time to clear songs for immediate placement with many of the publishers of well-known Christmas song compositions/recordings. So, they will want you to own the master and the sync (you wrote the composition), or the composition must be in public domain – meaning, any party can use or interpret the work without obtaining permission.

We live in an instant digital music world now. No longer are months of rollouts and marketing needed to release music to basically every country in the world by the weekend.  We also live in an increasingly playlist-driven music discovery world, where even an unknown artist can get traction simply by being added to the right playlist. But you have to have tracks released to play this game. Tracks with metadata, UPCs, and lyrics, delivered by approved aggregators. It has to be a brand new upload. People will search Christmas music + 2016, new holiday music, “song name” covers, etc. Algorithms will be searching for the newest content in balance with the most requested.

Christmas songs are clearly the most obvious choice with the most compositions in public domain, and the annual need for brands and advertisers. However, in 2016, Hanukkah doesn’t start until December 24th, and Kwanzaa on December 26th, so it’s worth considering any “holiday” song for this challenge.

So, you have maybe a week or so to do what I’m going to ask you to accomplish in order to have a shot at any opportunities. However, it will only cost about $25, you’ll create a piece of art that can be used for years, and you will have an instant present for all your friends and family.

Step one: Write/Record

You’re a killer musician, you know lyrics, you have a guitar or keyboard, and some sort of home recording setup.

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Don’t overthink it. Pick or write material that matches your traditions, or go completely oddball – the anti-holiday song. Just do one, two songs tops. No need for full production, unless you are a great producer. Get it done, be honest, perform it earnestly – that’s what really sells holiday music.

Popular public domain holiday songs list:

Angels We Have Heard On High

Auld Lang Syne

Away In A Manger

Coventry Carol

Deck The Halls

For Unto Us

Go Tell It On The Mountain

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Good King Wenceslas

Hallelujah Chorus

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Here We Come A-Caroling (Wassail Song)

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

I Saw Three Ships

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

Jingle Bells

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

Joy To The World

O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come O Come Emmanuel

O Holy Night

O Little Town Of Bethlehem

Silent Night

The First Noel

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Up On The Housetop

We Three Kings

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

What Child Is This?

Step Two: Master

Once you are done recording, if you are not adept at mastering out of your DAW, go here:

LANDR ( and get a 192kbps MP3 for free, or  $6 for one month and get WAVs.

Step Three: Register the song with your PRO

Step Four: Digitally Distribute

DistroKid (head to – my code for 7% off your first year) If you wrote the song, $20 for one year of unlimited uploads. (DistroKid does not distribute public domain works yet).

RELATED: DistroKid Can’t Wait to Pay You: A Conversation with Founder Philip Kaplan

CD Baby (  If you chose a public domain song or wrote one, upload a single for $10.

That’s it. You’re in the holiday music club! Now, go flood playlists. You now have a Holiday/Christmas release (master) that will last for years. Who knows? Maybe a music supervisor needing that last minute, quirky, female vocal, metal banjo cut of Silent Night might just need your track.


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