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December 5, 2012 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible for a songwriter or musican to entirely live off the proceeds of a Christmas single? Is it enough to live comfortably off years after release?

Inspired by a conversation about whether the proceeds each year from Slade#s 'Merry Christmas Everyone' provides enough for the members to dine out each night until next December...

I don't mean musicians who have other singles or tracks that get regular airplay as well as their Christmas hits, such as Slade, Mike Oldfield and Paul McCartney. Rather, I was wondering whether the royalties from airplay and compilations mean that someone could have a one-hit wonder (ie. The Waitresses, Jona Lewie, Fountains of Wayne) that gets played again every Christmas and live off the proceeds.

I know PRS licenses are now required for airplay in shops and pubs, but I'm not sure how much difference this makes. I would imagine that airplay royalties, downloads and inclusion on compilations in the pre-mp3 era before it was possible to, in effect, buy any song as a 'single' would be the main income, but how does it work? I also know that in order to make money in pop you need to get your name on the songwriting credits - so how does it differ for, say, a cover (Kylie's version of Santa Baby is played a lot on the radio at Christmas time here).
posted by mippy to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a great article on the topic from last year. And another one, too.

Short answer: yes.
posted by Aquaman at 8:52 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks - I did search but it's been a very long day and my work PC defaults to Bing...
posted by mippy at 9:05 AM on December 5, 2012

I did know About A Boy - the main character lives off the proceeds of his late father's record - but as it's fictional I wasn't sure how true to life it was.

I'm now wondering whether plays of the Live Aid record still make a ton of money for Africa, given that they probably do know it's Christmas time in the age of the internet...
posted by mippy at 9:15 AM on December 5, 2012

Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" has sold more than 100 million copies in all its forms. Of course, Berlin had many other hit songs. But he could have lived quite well off the royalties from WC alone.
posted by ubiquity at 10:17 AM on December 5, 2012

The royalties to the all time greatest Christmas song (Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer) total about $75,000/year. The song writer gets only gets part of that.

I imagine the situation is better for established artists who have Christmas hits, because their name is an important part of the draw. Of course, Justin Bieber probably doesn't need the money.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought only the songwriter gets paid for the Radio play / PRS generally. So you will not make a much in royalties for a Little Drummer Boy cover version and will not be paid a cent for radio play of your version. He would only make money on the CD sales and TV/Film Synchronisation licenses. So the CD would have to continue to sell every year or it would have to continue to be used in Film or TV.

Seriously though who actually buys Christmas CDs?
posted by mary8nne at 10:46 AM on December 5, 2012

The royalties that get paid out for a song being played on the radio go to the songwriters, not the performers. So, if you did a cover song, you don't get paid based on radio play. You get paid based on the record company contract, and that is based on the actual sales.

The songwriter gets a share from every sale, plus all other uses of the song, which is primarily radio play. If you wrote the song in question, than you would make substantially more money than if you just performed a cover.
posted by markblasco at 2:20 PM on December 5, 2012

if you did a cover song, you don't get paid based on radio play.

You do now! At least for satellite radio, internet radio and other digital music broadcasts, anyway.

If you are a credited performer on an album that is receiving digital broadcast airplay, you may have royalties coming to you. (Songwriters and copyright holders also can receive these digital performance royalties.)

Terrestrial broadcast royalties are still another story, at least in the US, anyway. Unlike the rest of the entire planet.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with SoundExchange, but I do receive royalty payments from them.
posted by Aquaman at 5:20 PM on December 5, 2012

It's not one song, but see Johnny Marks. He built a whole empire on just Christmas songs. And now, like in About A Boy, his family can live comfortably off that alone.
posted by fishmasta at 8:55 PM on December 5, 2012

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