Mariah Carey’s record-breaking day shows how little musicians make from Spotify

Mariah Carey is not a struggling musician, obviously. She’s super popular. According to Money Inc, her net worth is over $500 million. She’s won five Grammys. Her ubiquitous season hit, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” is so widely adored, it just broke Spotify’s single-day streaming record with almost 11 million listens on Dec. 24.

Yet, relatively speaking, the Christmas jingle won’t make that much money from this record-breaking day. Spotify pays whoever holds the rights to a song anywhere from $0.006 to $0.0084 per play. The rights “holder” can then split these earning between the record label, producers, artists, and songwriters, which means splitting pennies between many parties.

Assuming the popular song is paid at the highest price of .0084 cents per stream for 11 million listens, the rights holder or holders will earn $92,400 before splitting the earnings. It’s not a terrible take for a single day, but it’s also not a lot of money given just how much people seem to love Carey’s Christmas jingle and its enduring appeal. Between them, the parties could all split a luxury car to share rides. Individually, they could maybe each buy a Toyota.

“All I Want for Christmas is You” was written by Carey and a partner, Walter Afanasieff, and they purportedly created the tune in just 15 minutes. It was released by Columbia Records in 1994. Since then, it’s become a holiday standard, popular around the world. According to The Economist, in 2017, the song had earned $60 million in royalties since its release and sold 100 million copies. That’s a lot of money for a song that apparently didn’t take much effort to make, and that’s mostly played during just one month of the year.

However, the Spotify record-day payout pales in comparison. One might imagine that having a major success during a major holiday on the streaming service would yield far greater financial returns. It turns out that’s not the case and this is why music industry insiders—from pop goddess Taylor Swift to record producers like Kabir Sehgal—argue that artists are getting a raw deal from Spotify.

The previous record holder for single-day streams was XXXTentacion. On June 18th, he died in a Florida shooting; the next day, he broke Taylor Swift’s Spotify daily-streaming record with his hit “Sad!” which had 10,415,088 listens. Also in June, Drake broke the Spotify daily streaming record for an album when he released Scorpion. Maybe in 2019, he’ll take single-song record, too—if he releases a popular Christmas jingle.