Festive Fortunes: The Timeless Tunes That Turn Every December Into a Musical Cash Sleigh
Written 19th December 2023 | Subscribe to our Christmas newsletter
'Tis the season of giving, and for some lucky musicians, that generosity comes in the form of a festive windfall every December. Christmas songs, those timeless classics that have stood the test of time, continue to fill the pockets of artists with the sweet sound of songwriting royalties.
Hugh Grant's character, Will Freeman, in "About a Boy," might have stumbled upon the secret to a comfortable living – the enduring popularity of yesteryear's holiday hits. Even for artists whose careers may have waned since their initial success (think Jona Lewie, The Waitresses, and more), Christmas remains the gift that keeps on giving.
The revenue stream for these timeless tunes is a multifaceted sleigh ride. It comes not only from Christmas compilations but also from streaming services, physical sales, advertisements, appearances in film and TV, and a plethora of cover versions. George Howard, associate professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music, notes that while new Christmas songs are released regularly, it's the classics that rake in the big bucks.
"It's no longer about new Christmas songs being released; it's about them being recycled. It's just a firehose of money. The more people who cover these songs, the writers make out like bandits," says Howard.
As the holiday season approaches, we delve into the treasure trove of Christmas classics that continue to fill the coffers of their creators. While Mariah Carey, the self-proclaimed queen of Christmas, merits her own spotlight, let's explore the lucrative world of timeless tunes that transform every December into a season of financial cheer.
Although PRS (The Performing Rights Society), keep the exact figures secret to protect their clients, the following guesstimates were published by The Independent in 2021:
Mariah Carey - All I Want for Christmas is You
£2.5M ($3M) per year
Mariah Carey reportedly earns substantial annual royalties, estimated to now be in the millions.These earnings contribute to her overall wealth, supporting her diverse ventures and philanthropic endeavors.
Slade - Merry Xmas Everyone
£1M ($1.26M) per year
Unleashed upon the world in 1973, "Merry Xmas Everybody" has become a perennial winter anthem, echoing through the seasons without fail. It was originally written as a "hippy-trippy thing," far removed from the festive vibe it eventually embraced.. Noddy, having received the all-clear after battling oesophageal cancer in 2018, revealed that he penned the track in a mere couple of hours, seated and sipping a drink in the nostalgic confines of his childhood bedroom.
Wham! - Last Christmas
£470,000 ($595,000) per year
Although the song never reached No.1 due to Band Aid hitting that spot in the same year, this record has a very lucrative annual earing. The money earned goes to the Ethiopian famine relief fund each year.
The Pogues and Kirsty McColl - Fairytale of New York
£400,000 ($505,000) per year
These earnings figures will very likely become outdated this year following the unfortunate passing of frontman Shane MacGowan in November 2023. Anticipated to secure the Christmas Number 1 spot this year, it's a safe bet that the track will surpass the amount on the list, contributing to the singer's estate.
Bing Crosby - White Christmas
£328,000 ($415,000) per year
Bing Crosby's timeless classic, 'White Christmas,' continues to bring in significant annual royalties, with estimates placing the earnings in the millions. The proceeds contribute to Crosby's legacy and estate, ensuring the enduring enchantment of this holiday favorite.
Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime
£260,000 ($330,000) per year
These earnings contribute to McCartney's ongoing artistic ventures and philanthropic initiatives, cementing the song's enduring impact on the holiday season.
Wizzard - I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday
£200,000 ($253,000) per year
The royalties contribute to the band's legacy and ongoing endeavors. These earnings play a crucial role in preserving the enduring charm of this beloved Christmas classic.
Jona Lewie - Stop the Cavalry
£120,000 ($150,000) per year
Jona Lewie's holiday gem, 'Stop the Cavalry,' continues to bring in substantial annual royalties, with estimates suggesting a noteworthy figure.
Cliff Richard - Mistletoe and Wine
£100,000 ($125,000) per year
These earnings contribute to Cliff Richard's enduring musical legacy and support his ongoing artistic ventures, underscoring the lasting impact of this cherished Christmas tune.
East 17 - Stay Another Day
£97,000 ($122,000) per year
Although arguably not a Christmas song, the track continues to annually produce considerable revenues for the band and record label.