December is a month filled with joy. Presents, warm fires, baking, decorations… and if you’re Mariah Carey… big fat royalty checks thanks to a song she wrote nearly three decades ago.
As you may have noticed, Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic “All I Want For Christmas is You” is basically unavoidable between November 30 and December 25 every year. Good luck walking through a mall in December without hearing the song several times. It’s in movies. Holiday TV specials. It lights up streaming services to the point where back in December 2019 “All I Want For Christmas” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. ” The song was 25 years old at that point and it was Mariah’s first #1 hit in over a decade. It was also the first Christmas hit to make #1 since “The Chipmunk Song,” which accomplished the feat back in… 1958!
Perhaps most impressively, Mariah didn’t even want to write a Christmas song 30 years ago, and when she finally sat down to do it, she and her co-writer spent less than 15 minutes on the lyrics and melody.
So how did Mariah Carey’s now-classic Christmas song come to exist? And, more importantly, how much money does she make from it every December and how much has it generated in total?
All I Want For Christmas… Is Huge Royalty Checks
Back in 1994, 24-year-old Mariah Carey was glowing in the success of her smash-hit third studio album, “Music Box.” Music Box would eventually go on to sell 38 million copies worldwide, which is enough to make it one of the best selling albums of all time. The 32nd best-selling album in music history, to be specific.
At the time Mariah was married to Sony Music executive Chairman Tommy Mottola. And as you would expect from any good manager/husband/record exec, Tommy was hard at work mapping out the best way for Mariah to follow up that massive hit album. And even though Mariah had just firmly established herself as one of the world’s most beloved R&B popstars, Tommy decided her next move should be a… Christmas album???
Mariah adamantly opposed to the idea. She felt that a Christmas album was something an artist did at the end of their career, not at the beginning. Historically, record companies rushed out Christmas albums to capitalize on what they feared might be a flash-in-the-pan artist, or an artist trying to take one last swing in the big leagues. It was felt desperate at worst, and extremely strange at best, for Mariah’s next album to be a Christmas album.
Mariah’s longtime songwriting partner Walter Afanasieff wholeheartedly agreed. They had just put out what was looking like the album of the decade. Mariah’s career was white hot. Why would they take a step way back?
But Tommy Mottola could be persuasive. It probably helped that in addition to being Mariah’s husband, he was also the most powerful person in the music industry.
Oh, and Tommy had an extra final requirement of the duo.
He didn’t want Mariah and Walter to simply throw together an album that was made up entirely covers of pre-existing Christmas songs. He insisted that they write at least one a new, totally original Christmas tune.
As difficult as that challenge may have been, Tommy knew that writing one Christmas song is a tried and true method for generating tons of money in royalties every year forever.
So, in the summer of 1994, Mariah and Walter locked themselves in a studio at The Hit Factory in Manhattan and began putting together an album that eventually would be titled “Merry Christmas.”
During one of those summer sessions at the studio on a fateful day in August of 1994, Mariah and Walter started playing around with a “boogie woogie, rock and roll” riff (as he would later describe it). Mariah came up with some lyrics off the top of her head.
Call it magic. Luck. Divine intervention. Whatever it was, less than 15 minutes later they had composed the lyrics AND music for what eventually became “All I Want For Christmas is You.”
Mariah’s “Merry Christmas” album was released on October 28, 1994. It would eventually go on to sell 15 million copies worldwide thanks very largely to the smash-hit single, “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
As of this writing, “All I Want for Christmas is You” has sold more than 16 million singles worldwide. That makes it the 12th best-selling single in music history. It is the best-selling modern-day Christmas song.
How Much Money Has The Song Generated For Mariah?
This brings us to the central question of this article: How much does Mariah Carey make in royalties from “All I Want for Christmas is You” every December? And how much money has the song generated in total, to date?
Let’s start with the second question first. To date, “All I Want for Christmas” had generated at least $80 million in overall royalties. As the song’s co-writers and co-producers, Mariah and Walter enjoy the lion’s share of that revenue.
Perhaps more importantly, the song has become extremely valuable as an asset. If the song’s rights were ever offered for sale, it would likely sell for a 30-40X multiple of its annual revenue. That brings us to the first question: How much does the song generate every year?
On the low end, it has been estimated that every December, Mariah earns $600,000 in royalties from the song. On the high end, $1.2 million. Using this range, it’s presumable that “All I Want for Christmas” generates $2-4 million in royalties ever year.
Using a 30x multiple on $2 million, that’s a $60 million asset, which Mariah and Walter majority own. That’s a nice little contribution to Mariah Carey’s $340 million net worth. Add that to the $80 million the song has generated overall and you understand why this song truly is the gift that keeps on giving.
Not bad for 15 minutes of work 30 years ago!