You cannot take it any longer. You hate your boss and despise sitting in the early morning traffic. You need some extra cash, especially for Christmas. It’s very irritating to see your friends fly to Miami or New York and go Christmas shopping in those huge malls while your income restricts your distance to George Town.
Well, as a professional songwriter, I have a suggestion for you: Chill up the eggnog, light up a tree and write a Christmas song – a HIT Christmas song.
In the music business, hit Christmas songs are called “evergreen.” In other words, write a good one and the green (money) is forever rolling in. Unlike a typical pop song that has a life span of maybe 3-4 months before being shelved, Christmas songs get radio play about three or four weeks out of the year and their life spans can be endless. They are songs we hear year after year and they dominate the airwaves, no matter where your radio dial resides.
Take, for example, ‘The Christmas Song.’ We all know it – “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” etc. Mel Tormé collaborated with Bob Wells and wrote this monster masterpiece, which was first recorded by Nat King Cole. Tormé said that he wrote the music in 45 minutes and that it was not one of his favorite compositions, yet he and his estate have collected some $30 million in royalties from the tune.
Then there’s “White Christmas,” composed by Irving Berlin and recorded by Bing Crosby in 1942 on a 78 rpm vinyl record. Crosby’s version is considered the biggest selling single recording in history. His adaptation alone has sold more than 50 million copies. Then, when you add up the rest of the artists who have covered it, the tune has sold well over 100 million copies. It took Crosby 18 minutes to record the song with a full orchestra and singers behind him. It has made Mr. Berlin and his estate around $40 million in royalties.
Just think about it – all you need is one … one “Silent Night,’ one “Frosty the Snowman,” and every day can be a holiday for you, followed by your beneficiaries once you’re six foot under.
In Cayman, some local artists have recorded Christmas songs that have had a good life span of their own. Not necessarily on local radio, where local recordings nowadays get little spin, but more through direct sales to fans and internet downloads. They are still in search of that elusive evergreen hit. For example, Hi Tide, Swanky Kitchen Band and Earl La Pierre have delightful versions of all the standard Christmas classics like “Silent Night,” “What Child is This?” “Jingle Bells” and so on.
Andy Martin, Sea N’ B, Samuel Rose, Burmon Scott, Gordon Solomon and I (Barefoot Man) have recorded a number of original Christmas songs, some which have been around for decades.
My “Santa Got a Sunburn” and “Let Me Wrap You in My Arms This Christmas” were also recorded by the Merry Men and other artists with heavy airplay on some U.S. stations. Andy Martin’s “Old Time Cayman Christmas” can be considered a local classic. It received its first air-play in 1976 and was subsequently released on a record, cassette and CD. Andy has sold some 5,000 copies of his “Old Time Cayman Christmas.” That number may be laughable by RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) standards, but when you do the math, that’s a gold record in Cayman.
The Swanky Kitchen Band released an entire holiday CD titled “A Swanky Christmas” which includes originals “Cayman Christmas” and “One Weeping Willow Tree” composed by Samuel Rose.
Gordon Solomon’s “Christmas Breeze” is another timeless local favorite that depicts a true Cayman Christmas rather than “Dashing Through the Snow.”
And then, of course, there’s Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Rudolph toys, videos, games, cartoons, movies and the famous song … they all came together to create a bottomless gold mine. It was first released in 1949 by Gene Autry. Thirty years later in 1980, Johnny Marks’ earnings from the song were around $600,000 a year; adjusting for inflation, that’s around $2 million today. Mr. Marks passed away in 1985, however, his royalty checks are still pouring in and you can bet his living family members raise their glasses of eggnog and toast the him during the holidays.
If at any time before September 2015 you sang the famous “Happy Birthday to You,” you could have been infringing on Warner/Chappell Music’s copyright. In 1990, Warner/Chappell Publishing bought the rights to the song for $15 million; it earned them a lot of money annually. The cost of using the song in a movie or TV before 2015 was $25,000. Due to the short ditty’s value, every uncle, aunt and long lost cousin claimed the original rights to it.
After many court battles, U.S. federal judge George H. King ruled that the Warner/Chappell copyright claim over the lyrics was invalid and that the copyright applied only to a specific piano arrangement of the song, not the lyrics or melody, thus placing the song in the public domain (free for the taking).
So, dear reader, I’m here to tell you that if you are going to try and write any kind of hit song at all, you would be very wise to make it Christmas friendly or a new birthday song. There is a massive fortune out there up for grabs.