We are in the middle of the dark days before Christmas. Sinterklaas is out of the country, the Christmas trees are set up and the shortest day of the year is coming. That means it gets dark early and gets late, many of us leave in the morning in the dark and come home in the dark. Together with Chris Rea “Driving home for Christmas”, you can now join Mariah's “All I want for Christmas” and Wham's “Last Christmas” again. One radio station is running more (or not, Skyradio) than the other, and the Christmas playlists cannot be dragged on Spotify either. New Christmas songs are released every year, one more successful than the other. But they do not seem to get along with the classics, which turn out to be a Christmas hit year after year. It is not for nothing that Mariah is in the charts every year, no matter how fake she has sung live. And every year the cash register rattles again for La Carey. And that for 25 years, her Christmas hit dates back to 1994! I am curious what this lady, but also other singers / pop groups actually earn with such a Christmas hit. So I went out to investigate for you!
What makes a good Christmas hit?
Like I said, new Christmas songs come out every year. And many well-known, older Christmas numbers are covered again and again and again. Yet not every song is a Christmas hit, many die a soft death in the year that they come out and we no longer hear the following year. Then how come the songs from Mariah, Wham! but also Chris Rea and Band Aid continue to be popular, even though they have been around for decades? Most Christmas hits use the word Christmas (or Christmas / Christmas) frequently, preferably in the title. Yet there are Christmas songs that do not mention the holidays: Baby, it's cold outside Sleigh Ride The power of Love Winter in America And there are more. If Christmas or Christmas is not mentioned, then it is often about Santa Claus (Santa or Santa Claus), snow and / or winter. Elements such as conviviality, fires, bells, love and gifts should certainly not be missing. Moreover, the Christmas hits almost all have a high sing-along content. I just want to say: who doesn't occasionally sing along with Mariah Carey or Wham !? If only in the car, as fake as possible? But we can also sing ‘White Christmas' too. A second group, much smaller but successful, are the Christmas songs that are not about socializing, but that illuminate the dark side of Christmas. The best known (at least in the Netherlands) is “Flappie” by Youp van ‘t Hek, but also “Lonely Christmas” by André Hazes (Sr.) or “Being Alone at Christmas” by Miss Montreal. Indeed, all Dutch productions. I also don't see it happening so quickly in America that they will ‘screw up' Christmas with negative songs there, but you'll never know. How popular Flappie is, is evident from the answer Kraantje made Pappie a few years ago, and the video of it that now has 1.4 million views on YouTube … But, so a Christmas hit is at least recognizable, evokes a feeling of warmth, love and cosiness and is shot again and again in December. Sometimes to boredom, I have to admit that I am honest.
Artists used to earn money by releasing music on records and later on cassette tapes and CDs. In addition, they earned with performances and concerts, among other things. In addition, royalties were once introduced somewhere: a fee for being allowed to broadcast (in this case) music on TV and radio. Every time a song is played on the radio, but also in television programs, or when a video clip is played, an artist is paid for this. This often involves relatively small amounts, but if you are turned over often enough, then this can result in a nice amount. The rights expire only after 70 years, as long as money can be earned with a number. Even if the artist dies, the royalties continue: the heirs receive them. So if you as an artist have a global hit, which is still played regularly, then you can earn a lot of money with it. Think of Bohemian Rapsody from Queen, which has dominated the “best of” lists for years. Christmas hits are a bit different in this respect. They are actually only run for a few weeks a year. However, some Christmas hits are really among the best earning songs. That's because in that period, the few weeks before Christmas, they are literally almost turned gray. And that provides great amounts for the artists! And then we are not even talking about what it will yield if those songs are streamed a lot on Spotify, for example.
What does a Christmas song on the radio cost?
The money for a Christmas hit is therefore mainly in the royalties. In the Netherlands, a channel pays money per minute to BUMA / Stemra, which in turn passes this on to the artist. The following amounts are known, for a 3-minute number: Radio 3 pays € 23.93Skyradio pays € 33Radio538 must pay € 36.50NPO television pays € 57.52 RTL4 must pay € 112.19During this period Skyradio plays many Christmas songs in one day and can therefore pay quite a bit. This should end up in the pockets of the artists or their relatives. Yet it will be a channel sausage, they have to pay this amount for every number, Christmas hit or not. Only because Christmas hits only have a limited lifespan per year, are they turned around much more often in those weeks. These amounts are even higher abroad. In, for example, the US, UK, but also in Germany, multiples of this must be paid.
The best-earning Christmas hits
Okay, so a nice Christmas hit can earn a lot of money on royalties. But how much is that? Well, that can certainly run in tons every year, especially for the real toppers. And those are the hits that generate more than a ton worldwide every year:
10. Stay another day – East 17 – € 115,000 per year
I almost hear you think: huh, is this a Christmas song? I thought so myself. And the answer is yes and no. No, it was not originally a Christmas song, but a song written for a deceased brother. The brother of writer Tony Mortimer committed suicide. The song was released in November 1994 (indeed the same year as Mariah's Christmas hit) and the sound of bells was added, plus a winter video clip, to make it attractive for the Christmas period. Well, that seems to be successful …
9. Cliff Richard – Mistletoe & wine – € 120,000 per year
We may know Cliff Richard better from his song Living Doll, which he released twice, the latest version of which was a huge hit with The Young Ones. But probably his Christmas hit from 1988 yields more every year, Mistletoe & wine generates more than a ton every year.
8. The Pretenders – 2000 miles – € 120,000 per year
The Pretenders released their Christmas hit in 1984, and then it did not go any farther than place 15 in the UK. Yet this one has lingered, because nowadays it is indispensable for a Christmas playlist or compilation CD. 2000 miles does not cover the distance between two lovers during or leading up to Christmas, as many people think. The song was written for the original guitarist James Honeymann-Smith, who died a year earlier. Here too a not so optimistic Christmas song, which we also mentioned earlier.
7. Jona Lewie – Stop the Cavalry – € 145,000 a year
Another oldie, from 1978 this time. And this song was not meant for Christmas, it was written as a protest song against the war. The word Christmas appears only once, but thanks to the wind instruments in the chorus it still feels like a Christmas song. And for a protest song it is not bad: 40 years later, it still generates a little over one and a half tons …
6. Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmas Time – € 310,000 a year
In 1979, Paul McCartney, the former Beatles star, released his Christmas song. He wrote Wonderful Christmas Time himself and the experts think it is far from his best work. Yet from the moment it was released, the song has been a success, it has been in the top parades in many countries and 40 years later it is also one of the most popular and best-earning Christmas hits.
5. Wham! – Last Christmas – € 360,000 per year
The estimates for “Last Christmas” vary, some say that this Christmas hit just half a million times per year. Anyway, it is clear that George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley have made a bang with their Christmas hit. The song came out in 1984 and came in 1 in several countries. Last Christmas, “Last Christmas” came in second. The first royalties were donated to a charity that fought against hunger in Ethiopia. Whether that still happens, especially after the death of George Michael and the rather nasty aftermath, is unknown. If it is, then the charity receives a nice amount every year, and perhaps it makes listening to this band a little less difficult for some.
4. Bing Crosby – White Christmas – € 400,000 per year
Who doesn't know the classic “White Christmas” by crooner Bing Crosby? The song comes from the film of the same name from 1954 in which Crosby played a leading role. The hit is now 65 years old and almost reaches the birthday date. Originally the song was released in 1942, then by Irving Berlin. With an annual amount of just under half a million (according to some, the amount is still higher than 4 tonnes), the heirs of Crosby, who died in 1977, will still be happy. In the meantime, White Crosby may call itself the best-earning Christmas hit of all time, the counter is at over 40 million euros after those 65 years!
3. Mariah Carey – All I want for Christmas – € 450,000 per year
You might expect Mariah's swipe to be good for first place, but she still has to do it with third place. Perhaps that is because “All I want for Christmas,” which was released in 1994, did not immediately catch on. Only later did it become a classic and the counter started to run nicely. By the way, it could only be that La Carey rakes in more than half a million with her Christmas hit, the amounts are estimates and some sources use even higher amounts.
2. The Pogues feat. Kirsty McColl – Fairytale Of New York – € 480,000 per year
This song from the Irish folk band The Pogues was actually intended as a satire on a Christmas song. The Christmas hit, released in 1987, became popular just like a Christmas song and the band will not be very sad, with an income of about half a million a year. This millennium is the most played Christmas song in the UK and according to fans and connoisseurs the best Christmas hit ever made. You will be told …
1. Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody – € 600,000 per year
Some claim that Slade earned no less than a million on an annual basis with their Christmas hit, which they released in 1973. They now call it their retirement. From the moment the song came out it was a hit, it also achieved the number 1 position in UK Singles Charts that year. Slade is actually a rock band and therefore a bit of a strange duckling for a sweet Christmas song. Yet their Christmas hit has become their best-selling and most famous song. And so things can go weird …
Christmas hits: a multi-million dollar business
A good Christmas hit therefore easily yields a few tons, half a million or even more per year. But well, write and make that one hit that stays popular year after year. What is striking about the list is that there is no single number from this decade, or even this millennium, in it. The two newest Christmas hits in the list are, again, Mariah's “All I want for Christmas”, along with the number of East 17. The Christmas hit of this century has yet to be written. Even Coldplay has not yet managed to get into the list, but who knows what is going to happen. What also works is covering a Christmas hit. There have been many artists who want to hitch a ride on the success of, well, which Christmas hit really isn't. Almost all of them have been released before, including names like Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams and Ariane Grande. Everything for a few dollars, it seems, because at least it is no longer original.