In 2011 I produced a Christmas Song with a twist, this article shares the story of a song that I will never forget producing.
At the start of December 2011 my old band Tankus The Henge contacted me out of the blue and asked a favour:
"Can we produce a Christmas song with you? - oh, and it's not fully written yet as we want our fans to write the lyrics for the verses via social media."
This sounded a bit mad but I liked the idea so I accepted. This was at the beginning of December, we clearly didn't have a lot of time to get the song written and produced but we went for it anyway. Front man Jaz Delorean had already the basic chord structure written with the chorus lyrics. We posted the chorus idea to the Tankus The Henge Facebook page and asked the fans to offer up short original Christmas themed lyrics.
The Chorus - Lyrical Theme Of The Song
It just isn't Christmas without you,
My heart is there under the tree.
This hit me right out of the blue there's
Too much ice under my feet,
It's not the way round it's suppose to be...
Fitting The Song Together
The reaction we got from the Tankus The Henge fanbase was massive. Within a couple of hours we received at least ten A4 print outs of short lyric ideas. We chose to arrange the best lyrics in a songwriting style used by David Bowie, cutting out the best lyrics and moving them around the page until the lyrics locked in.
Producing The Song
We knew we wanted to produce a Christmas song with lots of different themes and moods while creating something that sounded like a popular Christmas single. It came apparent quite early on that this song wasn't going to suit a drum groove so we decided to keep the song as open as possible so that we could focus on melody and harmony themes within the instrumentation. We wanted the chorus sections to be in the style of a sing-a-long with the Tankus three part brass section underpinning the vocal arrangements.
We recorded the piano and lead vocals at the same time. Jaz preferred playing the piano and singing the lead vocals for this song within the same performance to a click in Pro Tools. Jaz is an extremely skilled live musician, we all agreed that Jaz's performance sounded better in one take rather to tracking piano separate to vocals. We then moved on to bass guitar played by Dan Mason, brass, percussion and guitars by Tim Fulker and myself. As the production developed we started to see that certain moments in the song needed to be serious with other moments needing to be fun and cliché. This had to be a Christmas song that wouldn't take itself too seriously yet be a song that would stand the test of time for ourselves.
The stand out moment of the tracking stage was when we started recording the group vocals towards the end of the song. I set up 4 condenser microphones in the room with ten of us singing the parts in a Beach Boys vocal harmony style. I recall stacking around 4 lots of the 4 microphones with the goal of getting a massive sounding vocal arrangement, it worked really well.
Pain Points Of The Production
At the time my studio was running a Digi 003 with Pro Tools 8 LE on a first generation Mac Pro. This wasn't the best recording system for running big Kontakt virtual instrument sessions as it was fairly buggy and Kontakt didn't work too well with it either. We had to print a lot of tracks throughout the process as the CPU usage kept hitting the 32bit threshold in Pro Tools of old. "Has it crashed again?" was a fairly common question in my studio in those days. I had Pro Tools HDX on order at the time and remember wishing that Santa would bring it early for me to finish this song.
The pending deadline was quite the struggle as well as Tankus had one of their sellout annual Christmas gigs in London on 21st December. We planned to use this gig to launch the free single. After a few late nights we got there and the single was ready.
We released the song "It Just Isn't Christmas Without You (Cold Turkey)" for free on the Tankus The Henge Facebook page on 21st December 2011 with great success. Fans really enjoyed hearing their lyrics in the production, we enjoyed reading their reactions. Jaz and I spoke recently about this Christmas Song and have agreed to do it again next year as we both feel that there isn't anything quite like recording a Christmas Song for fun as there are no real rules to writing and producing a Christmas song.... except have fun.
What No Royalties?
Christmas singles that make it into worldwide pop culture often earn very good annual royalty payments. We knew we would never earn a penny out of this song as we agreed from the start that we would be giving this song away, most of the lyrics were written by the fans anyway!
With every Christmas that passes I feel this song pays me and the Tankus boys with a different kind of royalty... happy memories of a crazy few weeks when we produced a Christmas Song with a twist for fun.
Merry Christmas from myself and the Tankus The Henge boys - download your free copy of "It Just Isn't Christmas Without You (Cold Turkey)" at the top of this article.