Rock holiday shopping is a hit with this songwriter who records personalized tunes for gifts

Fargo's Dan Christianson says don't just buy local — buy musical.

Fargo songwriter Dan Christianson is offering to write and record a tune for patrons to be given as a gift this season. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — This year especially, there is a movement to shop small businesses and buy local when it comes to holiday gifts. Customers will visit regionally owned stores and restaurants and buy from area artists and craftspeople either in person or online.

Dan Christianson says don't just buy local — buy musical.

The singer and guitarist says consider adding a song on the wish list of a loved one. He’s offering to write a special number to give this holiday season, opening his Songshop for business.

“I thought it would be a creative gift for people that are really into music,” he says. “People, especially this year, are conscious about shopping local and I think people are excited for this. It’s like buying something from an art gallery. You also feel good for supporting the local arts community.”

For the Fargo artist, it’s also a way to stay creative and performing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


Fans may remember him from ska and reggae bands like Ska Skank Redemption and Wicked Bees , though he’s also performed solo on area stages and at parties and weddings.

The idea of commissions came from a Kickstarter campaign for Ska Skank Redemption when he offered to write a tune on behalf of generous donors.

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Crafting a song for someone else may be intimidating to some, but Christianson enjoyed the process, which involved talking with the patron to find out more about the subject.

“The more I get out of these sessions, the better it is. The songs I write come quickest when I have a story I want to tell, which is why this excites me,” he says. “It’s so fun when you have a place to start. You can get writer’s paralysis if you don’t have a starting point.”

He took on eight commissions, some for a couple’s wedding, but sometimes the themes were, well, out of this world.

Ben Bernard commissioned Christianson to write a song for his wife, Scarlet, but instead of a love song, she wanted a song about Mars.

“At that time, I was working with the (Minnesota State University Moorhead) Planetarium and had recently produced the ‘Sky Zoo’ show for them, so I had wanted a song to play in the planetarium or possibly use in a show,” she says. “I sent him a few ideas of topics, and he was inspired by the idea of doing a song about Mars. I sent him some resources about Mars, and later he visited with his guitar and sang a draft version of the song for me. It was a good song and a fun experience.”


His ska-inspired composition, “Life on Mars,” had legs, or, maybe wings, or jets. Scarlet, part of the Solar System Ambassador program at NASA-JPL, sent it to an acquaintance at NASA who loved it, winning the singer an audience at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He says finding the right balance of how much of himself to put into a song for someone else is enjoyable.

“I try to find a way to make it heartwarming but also fun. I hope my sense of humor shows up in my writing,” he says.

Some people not only help write the song, but request a child or another relative contribute to the recording of the number.

“That’s awesome,” says Christianson, a band director with Moorhead Public Schools. “Anything that can make it more personalized and better. One of the great things about being a musician is collaboration.”

He’s offering two packages. For $100, he’ll record an acoustic song. For $250, he’ll write and record a full "radio deluxe" arrangement of a tune.

And a guitar solo? That might cost extra, he says with a laugh.

He’s also open to the patron selecting the musical genre they’d like.


“It’s fun to write in different styles. I pride myself in being a chameleon,” he says.

“If I got a request for some industrial death metal, I’d have to think long and hard if I could do it justice,” he adds with a laugh.

Ben Bernard was excited to hear Christianson is taking commissions again and says this may make holiday shopping easier.

“It’s a great way to support musicians, especially now,” says Bernard. “Besides, it’s really frustrating to trade gift cards with people. How many people have ever received the gift of a song?”

He takes great pride in commissioning “Life on Mars” for his wife and says he’s been able to enjoy it as much as she has, as Ska Skank Redemption has included the song in its live shows.

“Whoever you’re gifting a piece of music to, they’re going to play it for friends and family. Talk about a great return on investment,” Bernard says. “It was certainly one of the best gifts I’ve ever been a part of.”

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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