Now that it’s that jolly time of year again, I thought it would be fun to share how my co-writer Gigi Swanson, and I, went about writing a Christmas song one December. You might think that the muse struck when we were staring dreamily at our Christmas trees flanked with shiny ornaments, or after we made snow angels, or while breathing in the the smell of cinnamon, cloves and pumpkin wafting from the seasonal sweets baking in the kitchen.
Actually, we were on a sunny Mexican cruise. It was about 90 degrees. Hot as hell. We were attending a music conference (yes, on a Carnival cruise liner). We had been debating whether to head out to the port of call and do some shopping or stay on the boat and hang out. Since the port of call was Progresso (not exactly a shopping mecca), we decided to stay on board. We discovered a quiet, little library room on the ship and plopped down in some comfortable chairs as we discussed what to write about. The furthest thing from our minds was a Christmas tune. I had my guitar with me so I was plunking out a few chords as we settled in.
We kept on chatting, as co-writes begin, about nothing of much importance; our plans for the next month and all the things that would need to be accomplished before Christmas. We both laughed and agreed how great it would be if we could “do ” Christmas the way we’d like it.
That was when the hook came to us. I don’t even remember when exactly it was said or who said it, but there it was. “Merry Christmas to Me”.
That started a parade of comments about what a woman might rather be doing during the holidays than the stuff they’re usually strapped with doing. As we talked, we typed madly into our computers, realizing we were at the start of what is referred to in songwriter circles as a “list” song.
The melody and chords I was imagining in my head had a particularly jazz standard vibe, and we liked that they did. So we decided to make it a jazz piece, like something Diana Krall or Jane Monheit could sing. Or some courageous country singer who wanted to put an original jazz song on her Christmas album – like Reba or Carrie Underwood.
We had the first draft of the song in a couple of hours. We completed the song in a session or two after that, doing the usual tweaking.
But we didn’t record the song until the following summer; 6 months after Christmas. Why? Because artists don’t look for Christmas songs to record in December. They look for songs in June. So, we wound up recording the song in June at a studio in Nashville with our buddy (Fett), and started marketing it shortly after that, for the upcoming Christmas season.
We decided we wanted to make a music video out of the song but we had a minuscule budget, so we enlisted the help of one of Gigi’s graphic designer friends to create still cartoon images which we could make into a movie for YouTube. In exchange we agreed to mention her in all our marketing materials.
We wanted a scene to set-up the song: the image of a woman in a tub, luxuriating in bubbles. Below is the still image she created from our input.
I remember working on putting the movie together during a flight from Nashville to San Diego. I created it using the still cartoons and putting the lyrics on the slide images. I didn’t know a thing about making a movie but Apple’s iMovie made it easy to get the job done.
In the next post I’ll share how we marketed that Christmas tune, which resulted in a lot of exposure and getting us a publishing deal. That was the most labor intensive part of the whole process. I’ll also include the finished video of the song.
Stay tuned 😉