Planning to play Whamageddon this year? It might interest you to know that, every year, George and Andrew’s little ditty rakes in a respectable £300,000 in royalties. Not a bad payday in any line of work. And that’s just UK royalties, not international.
Christmas songs are an enduring testament to the power of a royalty-based income, the holy grail of income for musicians; totally passive and more or less guaranteed, giving you freedom to create high risk, boundary pushing material.
They’re rarely good songs, and almost never great – but once in a while, magic happens; lightning is bottled, and a Christmas song worth listening to is created. And it’s played every year, hundreds of millions of times, generating the artist plenty of cash.
So: how much money are these songs making, and how could you get in on this racket?
How much do the top Christmas songs make in royalties every year?
This list seems surprising – but remember, there’s a balance of quality and quantity at play, here… These are the top Christmas songs for UK royalty payouts.
- Merry Xmas Everybody: £1 million
That’s right – Slade are in first place. Hard to believe that Noddy Holder’s glam rocking, neck-bearded, mutton-chopped crew takes the top spot every year, with an estimated £1 million in annual royalties from Merry Xmas Everyone. Guess there’s nothing more to say but “it’s Chriiiiistmaaaaaas!”.
- Fairytale of New York: £400,000
It’s everyone’s favourite Christmas song (or so they say – apparently we’re all listening to Slade), and it banks a very respectable sum every year for The Pogues and the estate of Kirsty McColl.
- All I Want for Christmas is You: £400,000
The archetype, the one – the power-pop festive belter that signals the start of the season. Mariah Carey’s infinite dominance as the queen of Christmas bags an enviable annual royalty cheque, but we’re actually a little surprised it isn’t the top earner.
- White Christmas: £328,000
Bing Crosby’s baritone gently hums to the tune of £328,000 a year in royalties. It’s featured in Home Alone’s famous aftershave screaming scene, completes Michale Bublé’s repertoire, and appears in many a Christmas playlist and compilation CD. A fine legacy for the best selling Christmas song (and single) of all time.
- Last Christmas: £300,000
We give it our hearts every year, with 723 million Spotify plays (and counting), worth $2,675,100 based on average pay per play. On top of that, the Wham! classic draws in £300,000 in royalties. It never made it to Christmas number one, though. It peaked at no. 2 in the UK in 1984 – and the duo donated all of the royalties to the Ethiopian famine that year.
While probably not his greatest work, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime gets £260,000 a year, smashing Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine – which scrapes in a meagre £100,000 for Cliffy. Perhaps most disappointing is that venerable banger, Stay Another Day by East 17, only makes £97,000. We know, barely enough to buy stocking fillers.
Making your own Christmas song
Clearly, there’s a lot of money to be had in penning a big Christmas track. And there’s nothing stopping you making your own. While you might not get a Christmas number one, you could have a successful Christmas song on your hands if you play it smart.
If all you want for Christmas is royalties, then it’s time to get busy.
Inspiration and creation; a classic or a gimmick?
You could take an emerging trend, or a key focus of the year or the events of the year itself, and turn that into music. This could give you newsworthiness, social shareability, relatability and a snowball’s chance in hell of going viral with your creation with no promotion.
That might not get you the longevity of Slade or Mariah, but you could find yourself in all the right Christmas playlists for at least a couple of years, with a decent enough foothold to gain traction elsewhere in your musical career.
You might find it easier to go the classic route and write from your heart. Look inward to how Christmas makes you feel, your traditions and your attitudes. Even if you hate it. All you have to do is strike a chord (yes, we’re making that pun) with the right audience, and you’ll become a part of their traditions.
Getting it published, broadcasted and heard: how will you promote it?
It’s never been easier to record and distribute music. But while streams are relatively easy, they don’t pay much. If gaining maximum Christmas song royalties is what you’re after, then you’ll need to be published as a songwriter.
If profit is your end goal, self-publishing could be the way – but you’ll need to put in serious effort: you won’t have the backing and clout of a publisher to promote your work.
Or, you could team up with a publisher and give them a cut of the royalties. The publisher’s cut can be up to 50%, which seems excessive until you realise what they can do for you: admin, tax, promo, tracking your music’s use and placement, chasing payments, licensing…
Or, you could capitalise on your creation with performances and live events, digital events and purchased downloads. Create a buzz and get media mentions – with the help of a dedicated music PR agency.
After writing and recording a Christmas song, the next big hurdle is getting it heard – before it can become a hit. And, in today’s world, it’s all about streaming for maximum reach. With the right promotion strategy and support (and the right song), you could find yourself toe to toe with the all-time greats.
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