Every year, we hear familiar songs on the radio but have you ever stopped to wonder just how much the writers and performers receive from the repeated airplay? The amounts may surprise you as for the biggest songs the amounts are very large indeed. No wonder some artists refer to these hits as their pension funds!
The revenue goes to writers and performers, not always the same people, but if they both write it and perform it, the income is even bigger. Many artists have given it a go but not all are successful. The actual amounts below are amalgamated from multiple sources as the Performing Rights Society does not release this information.
Most of the best loved Christmas songs are not recent ,with the 70s and 80s being a golden era in terms of the UK charts, so the total royalties have really added up over the years. The law in the UK changed in 2011 so that now royalties last the entire life of the songwriter and another 70 years after they have passed away. In the US, they are payable for 95 years following a similar change in legislation in 1998. These earnings can support not only the writers and artists but also their dependents.
Here are some facts and figures about some of the biggest earners.
Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
For some of us, hearing Noddy Holder yell “it’s Christmas!” signals the start of the festive season and as this song was first released in 1973 the cumulative earnings have been substantial. Guitarist Jim Lea took ages persuading the rest of the band to record it as they thought it was a terrible idea.
This very British song has since sold over 1.3M copies and the estimated annual earnings are between £500,000 and £1M a year so that’s AED 2.38M and AED 4.77M.
All I Want For Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
This track was released in 2004 and has had heavy airplay ever since. Mariah co-wrote it as well as sang it, and the song is particularly popular in the US. 25 years after its original release the total estimated royalties are in the region of $60M (AED 220M) with an estimated annual payment to Mariah of some $520,000 (AED 1.9M) each year. This year she sang it in an advert for a popular brand of crisps in the UK for a fee of £9M (AED 42.9M) despite not actually looking as if she likes said crisps!
Wham! – Last Christmas
The song, which was released in 1984, was written, performed and produced by the late George Michael when he was just 21 years old. It reached No.2 in the UK charts that year, being kept off the No.1 spot by the Band Aid charity single, which Michael also performed on, and all their royalties were donated to the famine appeal.
Estimated annual income approx. £400,000 (AED 1.9M) although this is set to go up this year after the release of the film of the same name which is very loosely based on the song.
The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York
This song is still hugely popular especially for those wanting a less saccharine view of the festive season. It reached No.2 in the UK charts in December 1987 and has been back in the top 20 on no fewer than 15 separate occasions since. It is apparently the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK and has also been voted the nation’s favourite Christmas song.
Estimated annual income of at least £400,000 (AED 1.9M)
Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmastime
The Beatles never really did a Christmas song but they were very popular in the 1970s so Sir Paul McCartney released this song in 1979. This one seems to polarise people with some loving it and some calling it the worst Christmas song of all time! It’s undoubtedly festive though so is played regularly every year.
Estimated annual payment to McCartney is in the region of £260,000, which is AED 1.24M.
Bing Crosby – White Christmas
White Christmas was written my legendary songwriter Irving Berlin and was recorded and released by Bing Crosby in July 1942 as part of an album linked to the film Holiday Inn. Apparently Crosby didn’t think it was anything special but it caught the public imagination later that year and is claimed to be the best-selling single of all time with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies according to Guinness World Records.
The estimated annual income is in the region of $430,000, AED 1.56M
Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine
I confess that I loathe this song and refer to it as Mistletoe and Whine but plenty of people seem to like it, or at least it gets a lot of radio airplay each year. It was released in 1988 and reached the No.1 spot. Cliff had another go in 1990 with Saviour’s Day which also reached the top of the charts, as did The Millennium Prayer in 1999, although Mistletoe and Wine joins McCartney’s song as one regularly selected as most hated.
I can’t find any numbers for the other two but Mistletoe and Wine is estimated to earn Cliff a comfortable £100,000 (AED 477,500) every year.
Jona Lewie – Stop The Cavalry
This wasn’t initially intended to be a Christmas song, as it is actually an anti-war protest but in production, the addition of an up-beat backing track gets played every year. It peaked at No.3 in the UK in 1980, being kept off the top spot by two John Lennon songs. The annual income has been Lewie’s main income ever since as the estimated annual earnings are £120,000, so AED 573,000.
Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
Another hit from this 1970s, this time 1973. This was beaten to the No.1 spot that year by Slade but is another 70’s favourite. Interesting fact – Roy Wood decided to re-release it in 1981 but the master tape of the original recording had gone missing so it had to be rerecorded so the 1981 version is the one we hear today.
According to the Performing Rights Society it was the fifth most-played Christmas song between 2012 and 2017. Estimated annual income of £180,000 or AED 859,500.
Chris Rea – Driving Home for Christmas
This song was released in 1986 but its mellow vibe has maintained its popularity. It has to be an essential for a Christmas car journey and always reminds me of driving on a foggy M6 motorway in the UK. It wasn’t much of a hit when first released but has featured in the has made a reappearance in the UK’s top 40 every year since 2007. Estimated annual income in the region of £210,000, AED 1M.
In 2009, 21 years after the song was first released, a new video was made in aid of homeless charity Shelter and all the proceeds from digital download were donated to the charity.
As you can see the numbers are significant and it you get a successful Christmas hit you get a regular income for years. If you are at all musical you might want to have a go yourself, or maybe buy your children instruments for Christmas this year and plan ahead!
Which of these songs is your favourite? Or do you love a different Christmas song? Tell me in the comments.
*** Seasons greetings to you all ***
I write articles such as this one as part of the holistic personal financial planning service and that I provide to expats, and the general consumer, financial and legal information that I provide in The National newspaper, on Capital Radio UAE, and on the Facebook group British Expats Dubai.
To arrange a meeting to discuss any aspect of your personal financial planning, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Please take a look at the other useful articles on this website.
Sources: Channel 5, The Independent, BBC Music, Wikipedia
Exchange rates as at 20/12/19