By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — Five years ago, Daniel Baird never thought he would write a Christmas song.
Baird, who works in St. Joseph as a systems engineer for Lakeland Health, found himself writing one before visiting his mother in 2009, who was in a hospital with a serious medical issue.
He had written a few songs before in his downtime. However, those leaned more toward the country genre.
“I thought I could cheer her up by singing her a few songs,” Baird said. “It was December and I thought I should try to write a Christmas song. I wanted to write something happy and fun. I don’t know if I have ever written anything like that. Before this, it was just songs about a broken heart.”
A few chords led to a more firm song structure, which was then accompanied with a bridge and three verses. Baird started singing and before he knew it, he had the beginning of a song.
Baird uploaded the nearly four-minute song called “Hey Santa!” onto YouTube more than a year ago on Nov. 20, 2014. Since then, it has picked up steam.
Making a track
Baird resides in Granger, Ind., but grew up in St. Joseph with his siblings, where he graduated from Lakeshore High School in 1989.
The 45-year-old wrote another song with his sister titled “The Eagle Still Flies,” which was deemed more serious. The two siblings had recorded it back in 2011 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
This time around, Baird was helped by his brother on the lyrics for “Hey Santa!”, which was giving him fits on the second verse.
“My brother came up with the idea of introducing a puppy into the song,” Baird said. “He told me to give him something that rhymed with Claus. When I said paws, he began scribbling down a few lyrics. A few minutes later he had a second verse. That was maybe a month before it was finished.”
After his wife encouraged him to produce the track, Baird reached out to a contact in Nashville, Tenn. – a producer he worked with on a previous song. Baird spent a couple days down there with them, along with a guy who played the electric guitar on all of Garth Brooks’ albums.
The group cut the track in April 2014 in the Nashville studio, where Baird spent no more than four hours on the vocals and background vocals. Once they cut the tracks, it had to be mixed with the actual music and then mastered after a few tweaks.
The video that can be found on YouTube was done by Vizy Labs. Baird said he decided to do an animated video because it was easier, which ended up costing him about $400.
“We were going to shoot a real video, but it was just too complicated,” he said.
On the radio
Last year, Baird had some promoters push “Hey Santa!” and it played on about 20 stations in various markets. This year, Baird has done all the work, by mailing CDs and reaching out to stations through email and phone calls. As a result, at least 25 new stations began playing his song in 2015.
These radio stations have been across the country, which includes ones from Salem, Ore., Santa Maria, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska.
It was a lot of legwork as Baird likes to joke he probably took five days off of work just to make phone calls.
“It’s not that easy. There are so many stations in one market with different formats,” hew said. “My biggest win was back in October when I sent an email to a station in the suburb of Boston. I emailed the owner and he asked for a physical copy.”
About two months later, Baird heard back from the same owner. He proceeded to tell Baird the Boston radio station had added “Hey Santa!” to its Christmas hits playlist and that the station had already received several calls from listeners who liked the song.
Earlier in the year, Baird was tuned into a station out of Iowa because he knew they would be playing it sometime in the day. When he heard his lyrics over the radio, Baird said he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s just validating to hear your song come on the radio,” he said. “Because I believed in the song, but I didn’t know if I should record it.”
Despite the good news that has come his way with the new Christmas song, Baird’s mother passed away in September 2014.
He thought it would be fitting to dedicate the song to her since she was one of the reasons it was made in the first place.
“The song would always make her smile, even when she was on hospice care toward the end at home,” Baird said. “I just think it’s a fun and happy song and I hope it makes people smile like it did for her.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 24, 2015)