CHRISTMAS IS COMING: Holiday Cover Songs Currently In The Public Domain

The topic of cover songs can be a tricky one. Not everyone loves them, but every year a number of artists new and old rise to the top of their respective music scenes by adding their own take to an already well-known song. The problem with covers as far as young artists and groups are concerned usually involves royalties and whether or not they can afford to market their recording beyond streams and videos. Today we’re going to look at holiday covers, and how you can leverage royalty-free songs to reach new listeners who otherwise may have never discovered your music.

You may or may not be aware of the term ‘public domain,’ but it refers to works whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. In other words, works that are unavailable for private ownership or are otherwise available for public use. You do not need mechanical licenses to sell your version of these works, but certain arrangements me be copyrighted (do your own research). Below is a list of holiday songs currently in the public domain:

  • “Angels We Have Heard On High”
  • “Auld Lang Syne”
  • “Away In The Manger”
  • “Deck The Halls”
  • “The First Noel”
  • “Go Tell It On The Mountain”
  • “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
  • “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”
  • “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”
  • “I Saw Three Ships”
  • “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”
  • “Jingle Bells”
  • “Joy To The World”
  • “Come All Ye Faithful”
  • “O Holy Night”
  • “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”
  • “Silent Night”
  • “There’s a Song In The Air”
  • “Toyland"
  • “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
  • “Up On The Housetop”
  • “We Three Kings"
  • “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”
  • “What Child Is This?“

Many classic Christmas songs that are presumed to be in the public domain are in fact copyrighted, so make sure to double-check your sources before deciding a track is public domain.  PDInfo Online (www.pdinfo.com) is a good starting point if the liner notes and copyright information are unavailable. Here are just a few notable songs that would require a mechanical license: Christmas Songs NOT in the public domain

(Writer/Composer)

  • “Winter Wonderland” (Written by: Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith)
  • “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells)
  • “Sleigh Ride” (Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish)
  • “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin)
  • “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)
  • “White Christmas” (Irving Berlin)
  • “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne)
  • “Jingle Bell Rock” (Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe)
  • “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” (Johnny Marks)
  • “Little Drummer Boy” (Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone)
  • “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” (Edward Pola, George Wyle)
  • “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram)
  • “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” (Johnny Marks)
  • “Silver Bells” (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans)
  • “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano)
  • “Frosty The Snowman” (Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins)
  • “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (Johnny Marks)
  • “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” (Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman)
  • “Carol Of The Bells” (Peter J. Wilhousky, Mykola Leontovich)

There is no question that some of the songs mentioned above have been reinterpreted by so many artists that putting an original spin on proceedings seems impossible, but it’s often the most challenging of endeavors that prove to be the most fruitful. By taking a holiday classic like the ones above and making it your own you’re further engaging already devoted followers while simultaneously creating an amazing opportunity to reach new fans. The holiday season generates a large amount of sales and internet searches for seasonal music, and with proper tagging your efforts will reach countless new listeners who could very quickly be converted into fans.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.