Music Industry

Published on December 26th, 2018 | by Alan Cross

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Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” was a Christmas Eve MONSTER this year. And this brings me to the issue of streaming payouts. Again.

For a song that came out in 1994, people can’t seen to get enough of it.

Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was streamed 10.8 million times globally on Spotify, setting a new all-time one-day record for a song on the platform. That beats “Sad!” from XXXTentaction, which achieved 10.4 million plays on June 19, the day after he was killed in a drive-by shooting.

And there’s more. The song also became America’s highest-charting holiday song in 60 years. The #1 position achieved by this song in 1958 remains the champion. For now. (It reached into the Top 20 in Canada, bested by both “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee and Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.”)

So how much did Mariah and her co-writing peeps make Christmas Eve through Spotify streams? Hard to say, but the rate is $0.006 to $0.0084 per streams. Doing to math would result in a payout of $92,400. Not bad for one day, right?

Still, people will complain that this is too low, pointing to how much a song earns per stream. They’ve got this notion that a listen is equivalent to a sale.

This is ludicrous. Let me run through it again.

It is more accurate to compare a single stream to a single play of a song over the radio.

Radio stations have to pay performance royalties. Organizations like SOCAN, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS, GEMA, and a host of others in virtually every other nation around the world collect money due from radio play (and every other sort of public performance) and distribute that to the rightsholders.

In Canada and elsewhere, radio stations can end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each to SOCAN. It’s the same in other countries.

However, it’s also worth noting that terrestrial broadcasters do NOT pay any royalties to rightsholders, believing that they’re doing their part by promoting the song with free airplay. That’s been a sore point between broadcasters and artists/labels/songwriters for years.

Now let’s pull everything apart. Let’s say a song gets played ten times on the radio in ten different cities across North America. Let’s say that each time, the song is exposed to 100,000 listeners. In other words, ten plays of the song reaches the ears of a million people–a million listens, in other words.

The payout for this? Literally pennies. But after a short while, those pennies begin to add up into something substantial. For example, the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” earns about $2,100 a day globally for radio airplay. That’s a steady $800,000 annually.

In the case of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” it was played 12,954 times on North American radio in the last seven days, resulting in less than $100 in airplay royalties. (Blame that low number on American terrestrial broadcasters for reasons I just mentioned.)

These radio plays exposed it to millions upon millions of people. That exposure encourages non-radio sources to play the song and sales (22,000 last week), resulting in even more money.

Since 1994, “Christmas” has earned an estimated $60 million in royalties and has sold maybe 100 million copies. And it took only 15 minutes to write.

Now let’s turn to streaming. A song gets streamed a million times, except that instead of a million people hearing the song as a group, they heard it individually. The payout? Maybe a few bucks. But whatever the rightsholders gets is already more than what American terrestrial broadcasters pay–which is zero.

If artists have an issue with streaming rates, they need to take it up with their record labels. Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer, and all the rest of them pay out what’s demanded by the labels. They get the cheques from the streamers and then distribute fees to the artists.

The labels, then, act as middlemen, proprietors of a big, black box where the money gets dumped on the way from the streaming companies to the artists. How much money goes to the artist is determined by the terms of their deals, not at the discretion of Spotify or whoever.

And yes, those payouts can be pitifully small–extra small if you’re under the impression that streaming should pay as much as record sales.

Once again, streams are not the same as sales and will never will be. Got a problem with those Spotify cheques? Talk to your label which is probably taking at least 50% of that streaming revenue before it passes anything on to you.

Another look at the situation is available here.




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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One Response to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” was a Christmas Eve MONSTER this year. And this brings me to the issue of streaming payouts. Again.

  1. I really enjoyed this, thank you! I appreciate the comparison of a stream to a radio play as opposed to a purchase.

    It’s interesting that using the 12,954 times that the song was played on terrestrial radio and using only a 1000x multiplier to establish listenership (which I’d imagine is really quite modest), it still soars past the 11.8 million streams… and as you pointed out, the payout pales in comparison.

    I assume the reason artists liken it to a purchase is because with streaming services a listener can play the song whenever they please as long as they continue to pay for the service. So if I can play it on demand, why would I ever need to purchase it?

    And although I appreciate the sentiment, hasn’t the artist (at least in Canada) always been dependent on live touring as opposed to record sales? I can only imagine that with the advent of single song purchases through iTunes or what-have-you has only punctuated this point more.

    I’ve spent nearly 20 minutes composing this as I rattle all the differing perspectives around in my head – sign of a great post, i guess! Thanks again.

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