Christmas in July – Tips for Holiday Song Placements

by | Jul 31, 2023 | Music Licensing

It’s 97 degrees outside, fireworks are exploding outside my window, and here I am sitting in an air-conditioned studio, with a floppy Santa hat on, trying to nail this glockenspiel part. Why? Because this is July, when many in the industry are producing and recording Christmas music; and you should be too.

As a young musician/songwriter in a band and on the grind, this lesson took me way too long to learn. Year after year, the calendar would turn to November and I’d think, “Oh, I should do a Christmas single or EP,” and a few times I did. But it was too late. Not too late to get it to fans necessarily, and not too late to play the new tune(s) live at holiday shows, which were already booked, but we just couldn’t get any traction on those releases.

Then one year, on July 2nd, I was having lunch with an industry veteran who had been the manager and promoter of massive artists. We were discussing a festival booking later in the fall and an upcoming college radio campaign. I was so excited. Our band was getting real traction, radio was falling into place, the shows were getting bigger, and here’s this majorly connected dude giving little ol’ me advice and showing interest, the year was looking good. I felt like I was actually “in” the industry, playing ball with the true professionals.

As we wrapped up, he casually asked me, “By the way, send me your Christmas release when it’s mixed, we are working on some licensing channels for (huge Top 40 artist) in August and I want to include yours.” I played it cool and said, “Of course.” Secretly, I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. I frantically started calling some studio contacts and the first two were already booked with, you guessed it, Christmas sessions. Oh man, I had no idea this was a thing.

I did find one studio with a slot open, and the mixing engineer laid it all out for me. “Yeah, man it’s ‘Christmas in July,’ it happens every year.” I would come to find out hanging in the lounge that tons of artists and most major labels record Christmas releases in July so that they can start pitching in mid to late August and early September for commercial placements, and line up campaigns for October so that when November rolls around they are positioned to get adds and work a release through December.

Now I am in a position to give you the same advice. The time to get into the Christmas mood is right now, in July.

The music game has changed since then — you’re probably not reaching for radio or planning a physical release campaign, but everything else is the same. You probably don’t need to book a huge studio and can bust this out on your own DAW. Spotify editorial still wants a lot of lead time, movie and television companies already know what they are releasing and will be doing postproduction for placements as well as planning station ID promos and trailers. Crucially, the sync world still needs fresh holiday music every year for ads, trailers, and promo spots.

Terrestrial and satellite radio will still be playing holiday music 24/7, literally, and playlists need to be refreshed.

So, put on your ugliest sweater and let’s get you ready for Christmas in July.

An ideal Christmas release for most of you will be a five song EP; with three originals and two Public Domain songs–meaning no mechanical licenses needed for release. If you can’t write three, do all Public Domain tunes. These originals do not have to be overproduced, sometimes a simple piano or guitar and vocal with some harmonies is just perfect, and far easier to record and mix.

If you’re willing to invest a little money, it may be worth doing some compulsory mechanical licenses for the most searched and most played songs to cover. You can do this easily for about $15 (plus fees) per song for 1000 streams upfront as the new rate is $.12 per copy. You’ll go to HFA (, click on “License Music” and use Songfile to license publishing directly.

Especially for streaming, this is crucial to understand. Many people simply search well-known song titles to put together a playlist and you want to be searchable. Last year, we saw countless playlist inclusions and noticed that many of them were themed. Meaning, “Rockabilly X-mas,” “Sad Girl Holidays,” or “Merry Metal Christmas.” Editorial curators are doing the same thing (and so are sync agents). So, don’t make it sound like the original, do it in your style and you may find more success.

Don’t freak out, even one or two singles is good enough. Keep in mind, you don’t have to like Christmas, or the holidays, to play along, either. There are plenty of people who, just like you, would love to add your “F*%$ Off Santa” song to their “I Hate the Holidays” playlist too.

Take a look at the two lists below. The first list includes songs in the Public Domain that you can record and release right now, without any licenses. The second list is filled with those big-time holiday tunes, the perennial favorites which are searched and loved in any style. But again, those require a license and you do not want to be on the other end of a copyright takedown notice or lawsuit during the holidays.

Most listened to Public Domain songs on all streamers and radio.

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

Most covered Christmas songs on streamers and radio (need licenses):

Blue Christmas
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Joy to the World
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Silent Night
Silver Bells
Sleigh Ride
The Christmas Song
Winter Wonderland
The Twelve Days of Christmas
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
What Child Is This?
White Christmas

Obviously, the same rules of any release still apply. You are releasing to an algorithm, not people, so don’t expect it to take off on its own. You’ll still need a good amount of lead time for editorial pitching and promo. Find other artists like you, include them and create your own playlists on YouTube and DSPs. Pitch to other channels which will be focusing on holiday music, etc. All the tricks you normally would do. This may mean running some FB/IG ads if you have the money.

Bonus: now you’ll have new sounds and content to run on TikTok and all the short form video platforms as well.

So, slather aloe on that sunburn, string up some (more) Christmas lights in the studio, and crank out some holiday classics.

I can’t wait to hear 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.