How to write a hit Christmas song

December 20, 2016

It's that wonderful time of the year when we turn on the radio and hear the same festive songs, which have endured throughout the years, forever getting stuck in our heads. That's right, we're talking about Christmas songs!

 

However, it does seem there is a lack of new songs being written; are pop artists shying away from writing the next big Christmas tune, even when considering the yearly profits that are guaranteed with a hit? Or is it that all the good ones have already been written?

 

It's certainly time for a new wave of Christmas songs. We've listened to a number of the nation's favourites and worked out which common themes appear in the hits to write a hit Christmas song.

 

 

 Make it catchy

 

Like any 'hit' song, without a catchy melody and a powerful chorus, the song will not be memorable and reach the top of the charts. Making a song's melody catchy is far more easily said than done, but in essence, the melody has to be recognisable and interesting.

 

To make it recognisable, maintain a simple melody by sticking to notes within the key, and working around the scale. To make it interesting, play around with intervals; leaping up an octave, or large interval can be really effective.

 

Take 'Merry Xmas Everybody', a firm Christmas favourite that earns Slade around £500,000 of royalties every year from its radio play.

 

The verse is short with a simple melody moving around the scale, the pre-chorus lifts it up and the chorus melody lifts it up again and gets everyone singing along.

 

Make it Christmassy

 

 

1. Instrumentation

 

Keep elements of Christmas in your music -- it is a Christmas song after all! In Dulce Jubilo, an instrumental piece by Mike Oldfield maintains a Christmassy feel, despite its lack of words, due to the instrumentation (a flute, whistle synth, marching drums).  

 

Bells, particularly sleigh bells, rarely feature in other kinds of music, which is what makes them so distinctively Christmassy. Hits that have used them include  'All I want for Christmas is you' by Mariah Carey and 'I wish it could be Christmas every day' by Wizzard; these songs immediately cry out Christmas.

 

Other Christmassy instruments include: chiming bells (Stop the Cavalry), tubular bells, glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone and the inclusion of choirs (Boney M - Mary's boy child).

 

2. Use imagery

 

Set the scene: using vivid imagery is a powerful tool when it comes to songwriting; 'Let It Snow' is a fine example with lines: "weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, And since we've no place to go Let It Snow!" Setting the wintry, festive and Christmassy scene.

 

 


 

3. Lyrics

 

From an analysis of 20 of the top Christmas songs, unsurprisingly, the traditional Christmas ideals are the most popular. These are the words that we found to feature the most:

 

  1. Snow/ reference to cold weather was featured in almost every song.

  2. Mistletoe was also very popular!

  3. Christmas singing/ carolers - particularly children singing.

  4. Love - many Christmas songs feature romance!

  5. Kissing - see above.

  6. Presents/ gifts - what would Christmas be without them?

  7. Fire - ties in with the many references to the cold outside.

  8. Santa

  9. Celebrating/ partying - rejoicing and being merry were also frequently included

  10. Christmas tree - the Christmas centrepiece!

 

This quote from songwriter of Shakin Stevens on writing lyrics for famous song 'Merry Christmas Everyone'.

 

"I used all the clichés –mistletoe and children singing – but what else can you write about Christmas? It was meant to be a party song and that’s what it’s become. The lyrics were very easy, I just thought of all the Christmassy stuff and wrote it down on paper. At the beginning, the vocals were used to sound like carol singers and there was a little glockenspiel and music-box sounds. When the track starts you get the jinglebells coming in as well."

 

 

Be different!

 

Despite many Christmas songs containing similar elements, when it comes to Christmas songs, there really aren't any rigid rules and there have been many songs that have gone against the grain but still charted well.

 

Songs that offer something different stand out. Stop The Cavalry has a Christmassy sound yet is delivered in a dead pan way. It actually has a much darker subject matter and was initially written not as a Christmas song, but a protest anti-war song.

 

Some anti-Christmas songs which go against the positive cheer have also done well. One of the most famous is the Pogue's Fairytale of New York, which features an aged couple arguing and hurling insults at each other.

 

Other anti-Christmas songs include: Don't shoot me Santa by the Killers, Blue Christmas by Elvis, River by Joni Mitchel and Won't be Home for Christmas - Blink 182.

 

Christmas songs exist across genres, from the Darkness's hard screeching rock sound, to folky Gaudete - Steeleye Span.

 

It has become clear, there are certain elements when mixed together result in the perfect hit Christmas song, and although the popular songs reign strong through the years, there are infinite possibilities still out there waiting to be written.

 

 

Shutterstock/ Africa Studio

Shutterstock/ motorolka

Wikicommons/ Dave Tanner

Shutterstock/ Susan Schmitz

 

 

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London, UK