Holiday Music Recordings: The Gift that Keeps on Giving (Royalties)
Performance royalties really are gifts that keep on giving, particularly when it comes to Holiday recordings.
The AFM & SAG-AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund (the Fund) receives payments for musicians
and vocalists pursuant to US legislation and agreements with 30 international rights collectives. Year after year,
the royalties we distribute always include Christmas and Holiday recordings, some recorded more than 60 years ago,
some recorded very recently, but from almost every musical genre you can imagine.
Over the last two decades, the holiday, or “festive season,” has expanded to nine weeks, from mid-October through
Christmas Day. Industry sales reports, which now include airplay and streaming, new releases and re-releases,
put many Holiday CDs in the top 20 list during this "festive season" and as recently as 2010-11, according to Billboard Magazine,
Christmas albums have also accounted for as much as 22 percent of all album sales in any given year. When the holidays
roll around again each year, it appears that dozens of old and familiar anthems creep back onto the airwaves,
and the world once again spends eight to twelve weeks listening to music from the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s,
as well as the current holiday offerings.
Some good news for participants in the Fund: Virtually all the recordings on Billboard Magazine’s list of the
“Top Selling Christmas Albums of All Time,” and Rolling Stone’s “25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time”
are also big royalty earners for session musicians and background vocalists. Holiday music by Mariah Carey
(“All I Want For Christmas is You”- 1994), Elvis Presley’s (“Blue Christmas”- 1957), Nat King Cole (“The Christmas Song”- 1963),
Céline Dion (“O Holy Night”- 1998), Vince Guaraldi Trio (“Christmas Time is Here”- 1965), Trans-Siberian Orchestra
(“Christmas Canon”- 1998) and Josh Groban (“Noel”- 2007) are equally popular with listeners today;
regardless of the years when they were recorded. These recordings never go out of fashion, and they continue to
garner royalties for participants in the Fund. Along similar lines, while only 3% of the Symphonic recordings
in our database include the word “Christmas” in the album title, these same albums deliver 12% of all distributed
royalties to symphony orchestra musicians.
Your favorite Christmas tune may have been featured in a movie, such as Louis Armstrong’s evocative rendition of
“It’s a Wonderful World,” or Hall & Oates “Jingle Bell Rock” from Home for the Holidays, or Faith Hill’s
“Where are you Christmas?” from the How Grinch Stole Christmas, or it may be simply saved in memories of childhood,
like the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” But whether you prefer to listen to
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” performed by Michael Bublé, Johnny Mathis, Dion Warwick, or the Cincinnati Pops,
there is probably an iconic recording of your favorite holiday music paying good royalties to US musicians,
and if you were a music maker for one of these recordings, you will be sharing again in these gifts each year.
Bing Crosby’s performance of Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas" is the best-selling single of all time,
according to the Guinness Book of World Records, but their heirs are not the only beneficiaries of this legacy.
This song continues to pay performance royalties to the families of musicians and vocalists who recorded with Crosby back in 1942.
So next time you get a call to record a holiday chestnut, do not fail to say yes! It may end up being MUCH more
than a stocking stuffer for you and for your family.