Writing the Next Great Holiday Song

Sometimes, resisting the urge to write the first thing that comes to mind is all you need to be unique.


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Christmas Holiday MusicThis time of year, where Hanukkah is about to finish and Christmas is about to begin, is an instant source of inspiration for anyone looking to create music. You just need to turn on the festive lights and suddenly the ideas begin to flow.

The thing is, you’re likely to be tempted to write what thousands of songwriters have written before: peace on earth, good will, happiness, and the desire to help others. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But that, in my opinion, is the downside to songwriting seasonal songs: your feeling of inspiration is likely to lead you to write a song that’s not able to rise above the din of the season. Another song that tells the world how happy/peaceful/benevolent you feel isn’t going to grab much attention for itself.

If writing holiday music is in your plans for the next few days, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Don’t write the first thing that comes to mind. The first thing, of course, has been written thousands of times. So when inspiration hits… wait. See if you can let the inspirational thoughts develop into something more interesting.
  2. Develop a unique story. Grab a piece of paper, and start brainstorming. Don’t worry about writing a story, just get the words down. Eventually, you’ll start to see words that you didn’t expect to see. That will lead your brain to come up with other words, and by and by a story will start to emerge.
  3. Allow humour. It might be the slapsticky-novelty kind, like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (Randy Brooks), but it might be more creative and out of left field, like “St. Stephen’s Day Murders“, a quirky-funny seasonal song written by Elvis Costello and Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains, the lyrics of which will raise your eyebrows and make your day!
  4. Allow other emotions. Yes, we all like to write music that plays on the warm fuzziness of the season, but don’t be afraid to allow other emotions to play an important role. It will depend on the story, but don’t be overly reluctant to express feelings of sorrow in Christmas music. And keep in mind that sorrowful topic doesn’t prevent you from turning it around by the end of a song and finishing with something hopeful. The interplay of complex emotions can speak to the situations that many experience during the holidays.
  5. Allow minor keys. Happiness and peacefulness tend to make us immediately think of major keys. But you can create provocative, inspiring music with minor keys: “Carol of the Bells”, “The Huron Carol”, “We Three Kings”, “I Wonder as I Wander”, and so on.

Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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