How much do Christmas songs make streaming through the holidays?

The resurgence of Christmas songs in the charts over the last decade is in no small part down to the immense popularity of streaming services.

To take one example, in 2016, Last Christmas by Wham! landed in the top ten of the UK Charts for the first time in 31 years, and it finally reached the coveted No. 1 spot on New Year’s Day this year, with its streaming figures forming the bulk of its combined sales count.

But which song has had the most streams on Spotify on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day over the last few years – and how much money will those streams have potentially generated?

To calculate this, we took Spotify’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day streaming figures from 2017-2020 – daily data doesn’t exist from before 2017.

Figures from outside the UK were excluded, as the money made from streams differs from country to country as a result of different pricings for Spotify’s premium service across the world (e.g., £1.66 per month in Russia, and £14.06 in Denmark), and including other countries would probably have induced multiple headaches.

Across the eight days surveyed, Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey dominate, with 12.1 million and 11.97 million streams respectively.

Rounding off the top five were Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree on 9.9m, Michael Bublé’s version of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas on 9.1m, and Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid from 1984 on 8.7m.

Other songs to feature in the top 20 include Step Into Christmas by Elton John – whose new Christmas collaboration with Ed Sheeran entitled Merry Christmas reached No. 1 last week – as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) and Santa Tell Me from Ariana Grande.

So, how much have each of those songs made from those streaming numbers?

Although Spotify have not officially revealed how much they pay per stream, it is widely-reported the figure is around £0.0033.

This would mean that Last Christmas – the song with the most plays across those eight days – could have generated about £39,939.87 from the 12.1m streams it had in the UK.

But not all the money made from a singular stream goes directly to the artist.

There is much speculation about the exact amount of money received by musicians per stream, although a recent study from the UK government – which has called for a 50/50 split between musicians and rights holders from streams – speculated only 13-16% of the money goes to the performers and songwriters.

The rest is then split between the record label, which takes around 55% – unless the artist releases their song independently, in which case the musician allegedly receives approximately 60% – and the streaming service in question, which takes 30%.

If there are multiple songwriters involved, or if the song is a cover, then the performer may receive around half of that 13-16% figure.

However, if an artist writes, records, and produces the song in its entirety – as Paul McCartney did for Wonderful Christmastime – they will probably receive the full amount of money they could receive as a performer.

With all this in mind, it’s quite difficult to accurately calculate exactly how much each artist has earned for their Christmas song from Spotify on the eight surveyed days alone.

But if we take the very rudimentary idea that 8% goes to the performer if they had other people working on the song with them, and 16% is directed to those who controlled the song completely, then this is what the figures would look like.

Last Christmas still leads the way, since George Michael was solely responsible for everything you hear on that song.

So Wham! would probably receive the full 16%, and perhaps more than that if they have a particular agreement with distributors or the record label.

Of course, the income would now either go to Michael’s estate or his former bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, given Michael’s passing on Christmas Day in 2016.

What all this tells us, though, is that only a fraction of the income those songs make more broadly will come from streams on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

It is estimated that the most popular tracks will make between £100,000 and £1m per year for the artists who make them, with the bulk of that coming from radio plays, digital downloads, and other tangible purchases – plus, of course, streaming.

But if the new reforms pushed for by the UK government are pushed through, then we could see those streaming income figures rise over the coming years, although how likely that is to happen remains another question entirely.

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