First, I am honored and would like to thank NSAI for allowing me to share here. I may not be considered an expert just yet, nevertheless, Holiday, and particularly Christmas songs are a major focus of my songwriting career. My goal is to write or co-write the next top 10 new classic Christmas songs. Why, one may ask? There are several reasons, the first is that I love Christmas. Ever since I was a child, going to the Christmas production or Christmas choir rehearsals playing on the pews, to writing a Christmas play that my elementary school performed when I was in 5th grade, and even the times going to church before opening gifts and bouncing between my mom and dad sides of the family on Christmas Day, I love Christmas. While not all my experiences were full of nostalgia bliss, the one thing that remains is that Christmas is a time many of us celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus our Lord so this time always has a special place to me.
Of course, there are reindeer, Santa, gifts, a smattering of baked goods and food, and people are usually very friendly, etc that have become seasonal highlights. And let’s not forget the variety of music of Christmas, a soundtrack of the season. For those who may have lost joy, Christmas is a season that can bring joy and can remind us of hope. So, 1) Do you need to feel this way to write Holiday songs? And, 2) Why I am writing this for a songwriting blog?
The answers are 1) No, but it could be helpful, and being passionate about something may certainly help in the songwriting process and with the things we experience (co-writing relationships, industry/business, rejection, etc.) as songwriters; 2- These are a few reasons I decided that Christmas songs would be a major songwriting focus of mine. I may share other reasons throughout my Christmas Thoughts In Process of Songwriting “TIPS”.
Neu’Raye’s Christmas TIPS
- Understand What Your Aiming for With Your Holiday Songwriting.
Are you writing for film/TV? With aims for an artist cut? For yourself as an artist or your own enjoyment? Or for a Christmas Production, Gospel Choir, or SATB choral arrangement? Is it a love song, comical song, sacred song, party song?
With film/TV, it is really important to have a very “Christmasy sound”. This can be accomplished with sleigh bells, glockenspiel, sometimes even church bells. Rhythm/beat may also play a role in the feel. As with many things, I believe it need to be tastefully done and not “overdone”. From what I have heard in lyrics, they tend to be very general speaking of things well known to the Holiday. Also, it is rare that sacred or religious songs are main themes in film/TV. I don’t think I have heard many songs that develop a story or that are very quirky in film/TV but this may be limited to the programs I’ve watched. I do see/hear interesting versions of public domain songs sometimes.
For artist pitches, where my Christmas songwriting goals mostly lie, I like to write songs with fresh angles and perspectives. One of my songwriting superpowers, which we tend to share as a part of our icebreakers at the start of our NSAI Regional Chapter meetings (thanks Annie Bacon!), is “concepts”. There are many concepts that have been explored, but I believe the best concepts are not even cut yet as I am still waiting on opportunities for cuts.:-) Seriously, I know most listeners want to hear their favorite Christmas songs done by their favorite artists. In addition, the artist may have written some of their own original Christmas songs. Original Christmas songs that make it on a Christmas project/album are usually very limited. My goal is to write Christmas songs that add so much value (whether a traditional/sacred or secular song), that the Artist absolutely wants to be the one to share the song with the world. I am still working on this. Presentation/production needs may vary when pitching for artists.
We have more leeway and flexibility if we are writing for ourselves as artists or our own enjoyment. This is how I started. I released a Christmas album before knowing anything about the business and craft of songwriting or songwriting organizations. I also released a single a few years back just because I liked it and wanted to. Songwriting-wise it was fine, the concept wasn’t super fresh but I thought the song was just fun. I performed it, had a few people sing in the background, produced it, and had the experience of releasing my first single to digital retailers. The song is called “Goodwill” by me Neu’Raye and is still available by some digital retailers.
Releasing our own music is a way that our songs could be picked up by other artists as well. If your vocal pipes are not like Ariana Grande, Mariah, or Chris Brown you could collaborate with a singer-songwriter, or just DIY, I did the latter.
Briefly, for Christmas productions, choir, or choral music, it may be best to write to the specific needs of the tasks. Obviously, it would be helpful to understand choral arrangements, the focus/theme of production, etc.
- Understand Song Structure and Use it to Best Serve Your Holiday Song.
Several songs in the Christmas genre have different structures. This may be a place for you to write your AABA structured song!
- Less Tell and More Show.
While this can be challenging, we really want to aim to have our lyrics to paint pictures and appeal to the senses and feelings of others, especially for this genre. We do this by showing and not telling. When well-done, we can help others create memorable moments throughout their Holidays and beyond. Prosody is also helpful and important in this regard. To be clear, I am constantly working at this!
- Make a Playlist of Christmas Hits or Your Favorite Christmas Songs, then Stick Yours in the Playlist and Make an Analysis.
My ultimate goal is to write or co-write the next top 10 new classic Christmas songs. I have always compared my songs to recent Christmas hits similar to the song I was writing/producing but never made a playlist of them. (I would A/B them in the studio which means to go back and forth and listening between the two songs.) I am always learning and recently adopted and expanded this particular TIP from Mark Culley’s Song Journal book. However, instead of the 2-3 current hits in the genre, I applied it to Christmas Hits over the century and a few of my personal favorites. I made a playlist and as I continue to write/produce songs, I plug them throughout the playlist to compare. When we do this and give honest analysis, we can see if our song really fits lyrically, melodically, musically, and production-wise.
- Consider Co-writing your Holiday Song
If you can find a writer that has similar goals as far as direction for a particular song, it may be worthwhile to co-write with them. I am eclectic in my music preferences. One of the beautiful things about writing Christmas songs is that we can write many different styles/genres if we desire to and have the right co-writer. This is super cool to me because no matter what my base genre, I can always write in multiple genres since it is Christmas music. From jazz, to rock, to country, to R&B, to contemporary Christian, folk, Gospel, Pop, Bluegrass you name it, a song could be written with Christmas themes and music. This is super cool to me.
Much Love, Health, and Blessings
Neu'Raye (L.Charleston IV)
Southeast Michigan NSAI Regional Co-Coordinator