Ka-chinglebells, Ka-chinglebells, Ka-chingle all the way

Ever wondered what Mariah Carey earns yearly from one song and why?

by Bindu De Knock


At the end of a bizarre and exhausting year, we all look for a bit of comfort and normalcy. Luckily, there are things that never change: the Yuletide musical canon overtaking radio stations worldwide. One song in particular stands out: All I want for Christmas ……is You. The song originated from a record label bosses mind. Whether you like the song or not, it was an undeniable clever business idea involving some Christmas cheer and a ‘Mariah’ – which actually is s a nineteenth century variant of the name Mary. The income generated with the song amounts to biblical proportions.


Let me take you back to the year 1994…it is the year in which Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas…” was released. The song was an instant earworm. 26 years later, the single once again shines at the firmament of the Billboard hot 100 chart. Carey’s Christmas stockings are filled every year with millions in royalties for her modern Christmas classic.

Mariah’s paycheck for the song – reportedly 60 million USD since its release- is impressive, yet I’d like to break down the income streams which amass that Carey penned the song with songwriter/arranger/producer extraordinaire Walter Afanasieff in 15 minutes. Afanasieff accounts the songs popularity to its simplicity and palatability. The song is timeless in its composition, arrangement and catchy backing harmonies reminiscing the 60’s.

Mariah didn’t even want to make a Christmas album back then but her label boss Tommy Mottola thought it could be a good idea (read commercial success).

The song’s recurring gigantic success is more than the result of good songwriting. It is the result of a good business strategy. Let’s face it, Mariah is a businesswoman with a 4,5 octave vocal range. What is truly impressive about this song, is that Mariah manages to breathe new life into the song every year. Mariah delivers the song each year in a new package under our Christmas trees. This results in her yearly festive paycheck.

Let’s break down the diverse income streams of this one song:

  1. Radio plays: with the exception of the US, radio plays do generate income for neighbouring rights holders. Had Mariah been a European citizen and the master was registered by a European label, the income from radio plays would have been far greater than the contractually agreed royalty Mariah now receives from the label. Yes, you read that correctly, Mariah is leaving money on table;
  2. Royalties: Royalties are a percentual compensation paid to the rightsholders of a track. That income is a direct result of the exploitation of intellectual property rights. Mariah being both co-author and co-performer of the song, receives the lion share of the royalty income. The fewer rightsholders, the bigger the piece of the royalty pie for each and every one of them:
    • Copyright in the song: the authors and their publishers: Walter Afanasieff, Mariah Carey and their publishers respectively;
    • Neighbouring rights in the performance of the recording: performers and label: Walter Afanasieff, Mariah Carey and Columbia Records.
  3. New versions of the songs: In a newly released Apple special with a new version of the song Mariah teams up with the biggest pop star in the world Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson. You think that was just some fun project between gal pals…..?
  4. Record sales: since its release it has made 16 million USD in sales;
  5. Streaming income: on Spotify alone, the songs has over 834 million plays;
  6. Animated film and a children’s book about the song or derivative stories;
  7. Cover versions of the song: every time someone records the song, the original writers receive royalties;
  8. Amazon documentary ‘Mariah Carey is Christmas’ about the song keeps its legacy alive;
  9. YouTube video: the new version has 118.438.343 plays; the original has 679.180.199 plays;
  10. Synchs: For every use of a song in a film or advert, all the rights holders receive a synch fee. The song was featured in another Christmas classic: Love Actually… the 2003 movie has gained holiday classic status meanwhile, which is also boosts attention for Mariah’s song;
  11. TV/on demand broadcasts: he song generates income each time it is performed in a TV show such as The Voice or when its accompanying music video is broadcast.

In conclusion, the magic of Mariah’s festive canonical song is in the combination of excellent songwriting and strategic labour put into keeping the song vibrant for over quarter of a century. The combination of the aforementioned factors is the key to maintaining the songs yearly momentum. I bet Mimi’s perennial holiday hit will remain with us for many years to come.

May your Christmas be merry and your royalty statements great!


  • www.nypost.com/2014/12/13/8-things-you-didnt-know-about-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-you/
  • www.theguardian.com/music/2020/dec/11/mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-you-reaches-no-1-after-26-years
  • www.forbes.com/sites/markbeech/2018/12/19/mariah-careys-multi-million-hit-christmas-tops-youtube-chart-25-years-on/
  • www.businessinsider.com/all-i-want-for-christmas-is-you-earned-mariah-carey-60m-2018-12?international=true&r=US&IR=T

Author Bindu

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