The Business of Holiday Hits

You come at the Queen of Christmas, you best not miss

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It may seem like Christmas starts earlier every year, but the holidays don’t officially begin until “All I Want for Christmas is You” charts on the Billboard Hot 100, a hallowed week-after-Thanksgiving tradition, right up there with Googling “how long does leftover turkey last in the fridge?”. In 2019, the GOAT Xmas bop became just the second Christmas song to hit #1 overall (“The Chipmunk Song” was the first, in 1958). And it held onto #1 all the way through NYE.

But Mariah is far from the only holiday hitmaker. Christmas music brings in over $177M annually. (And that’s a conservative estimate.) Here’s a closer look at the business of making music that’s technically only meant to be played one month a year.

All hail the Queen of Christmas 

It’s easy for Mariah to say that all she wants for Christmas is you, considering MarketPlace estimates she rakes in $10 million per holiday season. Merry Christmas, indeed. So how does Mariah do it, considering the song – which she famously wrote in 15 minutes – is nearly 30 years old? Royalties.

The gift that keeps on giving 

Music royalties are complicated (really complicated). For every song, there are six different types of royalty payments, plus two sets of copyrights. With “AIWFCIY”, Mariah’s not just the performer, she’s also the co-writer and co-producer, giving her multiple ways to cash in every time you hit play.

It’s also how artists like Elmo & Patsy can become millionaires off of a novelty tune like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”—a song the former husband-and-wife duo paid $500 to record. The beauty of passive income….

Streaming has supercharged the holiday music industry 

December is the only time of year you’ll see artists from the ‘40s chart alongside Drake and T-Swift. Holiday tunes made up 10% of all US music streams the week before Christmas in 2021. Landing on a popular holiday playlist can mean the difference between a white Christmas and a green one for artists: streaming revenues are projected to hit $13.66B this year, and show no sign of slowing down.

So, if anyone’s got a chance at taking Mariah’s crown, bet on Ariana Grande. Her 2014 hit “Santa Tell Me” is already the third most-streamed Christmas song of all time on Spotify, behind Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and, who else, Mariah.