Among all-time top selling artists, Mannheim Steamroller may be the least well-known of them, yet they are possibly the most fascinating of all.
In fact, everything you think you know about music is challenged by the incredible career trajectory of this artist.
Although they are regarded as a band or a classical ensemble, Mannheim Steamroller are a one-man band: the incredible project of American mastermind Chip Davis.
A trained musician from Ohio, the American artist used to work for an advertising agency by his mid-20s,writing jingles for his company.
Along with his colleague, creative director William Fries, he created the fictional character C.W. McCall, a truck driver featuring a set of ads.
The ads became so popular that the duet started recording non-ads country songs under the C.W. McCall umbrella.
They released as many as 12 country hits, including the monster crossover song Convoy that shot to #1 on the Hot 100, as well as in Canada, Australia and New-Zealand, while hitting #2 in the UK.
This improbable start to his career led Chip Davis to start recording his own music in parallel. The Mannheim Steamroller project was born.
Failing to get a deal with a major label for instrumental records, the artist hasn’t discouraged, instead he created his own label, American Gramaphone.
That’s how he independently issued his debut album, 1975’s Fresh Aire. It was the first of an 8-album series that would go on until 2000.
Unclassified upon release, these albums are now regarded as pioneers of New Age music, with synthetizers-led instrumentals in the vein of Jean-Michel Jarre and Mike Oldfield.
The band developed a cult following, with Chip Davis hiding his former Country Music Writer of the Year-rewarded career during many years to not disappoint his fanbase.
By 1983, the Fresh Aire series was up to the 5th volume. Even if the following was growing, they were selling in the tens of thousands copies only.
It was enough to be profitable and continue to develop the brand. Chip Davis went against the advices of his partners through by deciding to record and release a Christmas album.
This 1984 holiday LP was the first to enter the Billboard 200, peaking at #110. It shifted 190,000 copies during its first Christmas season, topping their previous career-high.
While this could have been the cherry on the cake for this fabulous story, it was only the opening of the door on a whole new dimension that led them to challenge or beat the biggest names.
More than 35 years later, Mannheim Steamroller continues to be a florishing business, with countless of records broken since their early days.
So, how many records have this unique act sold up to date? Is it true that they are the greatest selling Christmas artist ever?
As usual, I’ll be using the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept in order to relevantly gauge their results. This concept will not only bring you sales information for all Mannheim Steamroller‘s albums, physical and download singles, as well as audio and video streaming. In fact, it will also determine their true popularity.
If you are not yet familiar with the CSPC method, below is a nice and short video of explanations. I fully recommend watching it before getting into the sales figures. Of course, if you are a regular visitor feel free to skip the video and get into the numbers directly.
The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC)
There are two ways to understand this revolutionary concept. The first is the Scribe video posted below. If you are unaware of the CSPC method, you will get the full idea within just a few minutes.
If you are a mathematical person, and want to know the full method as well as formulas, you can read the full introduction article.
Now let’s get into the artist’s sales figures in detail in order to apply this concept and define the act’s true popularity!
Mannheim Steamroller Album Sales
Original Album Sales – Comments
We use to display the list of album sales sorted by release date. We changed this here to better fit the band’s discography.
Mannheim Steamroller catalog is built with several types of releases.
As previously mentioned, it all started with the Fresh Aire series. Selling a few thousands upon release, they grew with time especially thanks to the Christmas albums success.
From late 80s, Fresh Aire albums started to hit US Gold certifications, representing half a million sales.
They continued to sell large numbers through the 90s, with the first 7 volumes selling in excess of 600,000 copies each. The 8th one wasn’t as big at 270,000 units.
These numbers are already enormous for New Age albums.
It’s even more impressive once we consider Chip Davis released these records himself, which explain why most of their albums where never released outside of the US.
Christmas titles managed to sell way more still. While the first album did 190,000 units in its first season, it ewnt on to top this figure in each of the following 15 Christmas seasons.
By early 90s, Christmas was moving half a million units per year. So was A Fresh Aire Christmas. This was moved 1.1 million copies in its first year and then started an immaculate 10-year run of heavy sales.
In spite of a Top Pop Catalog Chart that started in 1991 only, these couple of albums occuped the 1-2 positions for 17 weeks in this ranking, spread over 4 years.
It took Michael Jackson‘s passing to see another artist with at least 17 1-2 punches in this chart, and he needed more than two albums to do so.
Both records topped 6 million US sales, putting them both among the Top 5 top selling Christmas albums there.
Incredibly enough, with both Christmas in the Aire and Christmas Extraordinaire they managed to replicate their insane success with these albums coming close to 5 million and 4 million sales, respectively.
As we will see under the compilation section, these albums are now selling less mostly because they were replaced by best of-like holiday releases.
Through the years, the group also issued several themed records like Saving the Wildlife, Classical Gas, To Russia with Love, or even the Disney-axed Meets the Mouse.
They also targeted more special moments with releases like American Spirit, Halloween or Romance.
Many of them have been chart topping New Age albums, with every release up to 2003 selling at least 200,000 copies.
Apart from Mannheim Steamroller, Chip Davis also released albums with his name, most notably the Day Parts series which combined for over a million sales.
This consistant success through many years, with different records, a niche genre and without the push of a major label is incredible.
On top of his talents as a composer, Davis has been handling his brand to perfection.
During the 80s he was already taking good care of his mailing list, which climbed to as high as 600,000 subscribers, feeding them with monthly catalogs.
In a Garth Brooks-like approach, he kept close contacts with retailers, often dealing with drugstores and grocery stores to sell his CDs on shelves selling material fitting with the CDs’ theme, like Halloween.
The method has been used both sides, as the Mannheim Steamroller store sells much more than music for many years.
In fact, they started selling products like cinnamon hot chocolate many years ago to serve their public during concerts, and these products became part of their catalog and remain there to this day.
More than a music artist, Mannheim Steamroller appears to be a brand and an enterprise which runs a very successful business.
Mannheim Steamroller songs sales
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 3 ratio between albums and digital singles.
Naturally, as every New Age artist, Mannheim Steamroller released next to no single at all.
In total, we can identify a mere 5 releases, all minor ones. Obviously, numbers are mostly irrelevant.
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1.5 ratio between albums and digital singles.
Although there are always expections, New Age is definitely not a singles genre.
The purpose of this music is to set up the correct ambiance for your activity. By definition, it isn’t a 3 minutes thing.
The most popular Christmas tracks still gained some recognition. Through time, songs like Carol of the Bells, Greensleeves, Stille Nacht and Deck the Halls amassed nearly a million digital sales.
Faeries is the next song in line, with more Christmas songs selling numbers close to 6 digits.
Besides yuletide titles, the top track from Mannheim Steamroller catalog is their collaboration with Mason Williams on Classical Gas.
To facilitate the reading, only albums with at least 50,000 total digital track sales are listed. Various others are in the 10,000-20,000 range as shown in the final table.
The format remains a modest sales avenue for the band with career to date sales of 2.5 million.
Streaming is made up of audio and video streams. Our CSPC methodology includes both to better reflect the real popularity of each track. The main source of data for each avenue is respectively Spotify and YouTube. To factor in the growing impact of multiple Asian countries where these platforms aren’t always the go-to site for music streaming, more sources have been added.
In order to account for their real popularity in each relevant country, the below sources have been used along with the mentioned ratios that reflect the market share of each area.
– South Korea : Genie streams * 3.05 (consistent with Gaon streaming numbers)
– Japan : AWA streams * 100/5.5 (AWA has 5.5% of the Japanese streaming market)
– Elsewhere : Spotify streams * (370 – 8.5 – 9.5 – 33 – 9) / 207 (370 million global subscribers minus 8.5 million from South Korea minus 9.5 million from Japan minus 33 million from China divided by the number of Spotify only users minus 9 million more Asian users) + Genie streams * 3.05 (uses Genie rather than Spotify to extrapolate markets like Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam)
– China* : Xiami streams * 125/6.5 (Xiami has just over 5% of the Chinese streaming market)
– Elsewhere : Youtube views
*since 96.4% of Chinese streaming platforms are free users, that paid-for users pay less than $2 a month and that they are also used as video streaming platforms, their streams are weighted in par with YouTube streams.
Audio Stream – 1500 plays equal 1 album unit
Video Stream – 11,750 views equal 1 album unit
Equivalent Albums Sales (EAS) = ( Spotify * 310/207 + Genie * 3.05*2 + AWA * 100/5.5 ) / 1500 + ( Xiami * 125/6.5 + YouTube ) / 11750
These figures reveal two things: next to no presence on streaming platforms and no streams whatsoever in several foreign platforms.
Is it surprising when we consider their album sales? Well, not really.
There are two key elements explaining this situation, the evolving DNA of the Christmas market as well as the situation of independent artists.
About the latter, it’s fundamental to understand that if an independent artist doesn’t promote himself, nobody will do.
Mannheim Steamroller has been a brand marketed for decades in the US by Chip Davis. He never made it, or even tried it elsewhere. None of his albums ever saw daylight in the UK.
There have been no TV ad, no performance, no press interview, no article, no presence on shelves, nothing.
Don’t expect to feature high on traditional playlists either. There are no Mannheim Steamroller songs there in spite of their monster sales.
As for the former, how can heavy album sales translate in these tiny streaming numbers?
For decades, the Christmas market has been dedicated to bland artists. The ones who do not make many waves. It has been the evergreen garden of AC vocalists getting too old for proper pop hits.
It isn’t hard to understand why. Christmas albums have always been mostly purchased by housewives who want to create a Christmassy ambiance during the celebrations.
Christmas is a family, unity moment. It’s no time to make statements about musical tastes with songs from a controversial singer.
It also explains why atypical acts like Mannheim Steamroller, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and more recently Pentatonix have done wonders.
As their general public reach is weak, they keep the non-controversial tag, yet they add a layer with their interesting, intriguing sound. You keep the Christmas spirit while also feeding discussions about the record you are playing.
This Christmas DNA is changing in full with streaming. The time of playing a CD during the dinner is over, now individuals stream Christmas music for themselves weeks before December 24.
It downgrades the impact of ambiance artists, while it boosts singers with a poppier sound. Mariah Carey, Wham!, or even Brenda Lee won’t complain, they are now queens and kings as soon as Thanksgiving is over.
Full catalog breakdown
If you are familiar with the artist’s catalog and want to check details of each and every song, you can access to all of them right here.
Keep yourself up to date
Our website provides you a fantastic tool which fetchs updated Spotify streams as you request them, use it to watch these results grow day after day!
Mannheim Steamroller compilations sales
It sounds fairly logical to add together weighted sales of one era – studio album, physical singles, downloads, streams – to get the full picture of an album’s popularity. For older releases though, they also generate sales of various live, music videos and compilation albums.
All those packaging-only records do not create value, they exploit the value originating from the parent studio album of each of its tracks instead. Inevitably, when such compilations are issued, this downgrades catalog sales of the original LP.
Thus, to perfectly gauge the worth of these releases, we need to re-assign sales proportionally to its contribution of all the compilations which feature its songs. The following table explains this method.
The distribution process
How to understand this table? If you check this example of the Christmas Celebration line, those figures mean it sold 1,710,000 units worldwide. The second statistics column means all versions of all the songs included on this package add for 42,066 equivalent album sales from streams of all types.
The second part on the right of the table shows how many equivalent streams are coming from each original album, plus the share it represents on the overall package.
Thus, streaming figures tell us songs from Christmas are responsible for 52% of Christmas Celebration tracklist attractiveness, which means it generated 894,000 of its 1,710,000 album sales and so on for the other records.
Compilations sales figures listing
Full Length related records Sales – Summary
Here is the most underestimated indicator of an album’s success – the amount of compilation sales of all kinds it generated. Due to the dependency of sales of the original studio albums on these releases, they are a key piece of the jigsaw.
These numbers are obtained by applying the method from the section The distribution process to all packages listed under Compilation sales figures listing category.
Unsurprisingly, Christmas titles dominate as they have been extensively milked in recent years.
Total Album (all types) Sales per Country
Please note country-specific numbers may miss sales of a few minor releases, although totals are complete.
Mannheim Steamroller Career CSPC Results
So, after checking all the figures, how many overall equivalent album sales has each Mannheim Steamroller album achieved? Well, at this point we hardly need to add up all of the figures defined in this article!
Albums CSPC results
In the following table, all categories display figures that way, e.g. in equivalent album sales. For example, singles from A Fresh Aire Christmas released in digital format sold the equivalent of 116,000 albums – 770,000 downloads with a 10 to 1,5 weighting.
As a reminder:
- Studio Album: sales of the original album
- Other Releases: sales of compilations generated thanks to the album
- Physical Singles: sales of physical singles from the album (ratio 3/10)
- Download Singles: sales of digital singles from the album (ratio 1,5/10)
- Streaming: equivalent album sales of all the album tracks (ratio 1/1500 for Audio stream and 1/11750 for Video stream)
We conclude this unique study with unique numbers. For the first time, we meet an artist with extreme variation of sales depending on the album’s theme.
Their top 5 albums are their first 5 Christmas outputs, both in pure sales and in equivalent album sales.
The leader is 1984’s Christmas very close to 10 million. No need to say that this is an extraordinary number for a Christmas album that sold next to no copy outside of the US.
A Fresh Aire Christmas, at 8.7 million, Christmas In The Aire, at 6.9 million, and Christmas Extraordinaire, at 4.7 million, are very strong sellers as well.
In total, the Christmas releases add for almost 32 million sales, a number unseen up to now. Elvis Presley, their main challenger, stands at 24 million.
Remaining albums are obviously not as strong, although with multiple New Age albums around a million sales the band does well for its genre still.
The career total of Mannheim Steamroller stands at 44.1 million equivalent album sales.
Of course, this number doesn’t compete with the all-time top selling pop or rock artists.
For a one-man project though, a person who built everything on his own to share his passion for music and nature, Mannheim Steamroller has been a monumental success story.
With two musical troupes touring the US at every Christmas season, this story isn’t going to end anytime soon.
Singles CSPC results
The list is compiled in album equivalent sales generated by each song. Therefore, these figures are not merged units of singles formats. Instead, it includes weighted sales of the song’s physical single, download, ringtone and streaming as well as its share among sales of all albums on which it is featured.
1. 1984 – Mannheim Steamroller – Deck the Halls [Christmas] – 2,890,000
2. 1988 – Mannheim Steamroller – Carol of the Bells [A Fresh Aire Christmas] – 2,510,000
3. 1994 – Mannheim Steamroller – Joy to the World [Christmas in the Aire] – 1,640,000
4. 1984 – Mannheim Steamroller – Christmas Sweet: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen [Christmas] – 1,370,000
5. 1984 – Mannheim Steamroller – Stille Nacht (Silent Night) [Christmas] – 1,350,000
6. 1995 – Mannheim Steamroller – Christmas Lullaby [Christmas in the Aire] – 1,020,000
7. 2001 – Mannheim Steamroller – Away in a Manger [Christmas Extraordinaire] – 1,010,000
8. 1984 – Mannheim Steamroller – We Three Kings [Christmas] – 970,000
9. 1988 – Mannheim Steamroller – Traditions of Christmas [A Fresh Aire Christmas] – 950,000
10. 2001 – Mannheim Steamroller – Do You Hear What I Hear? [Christmas Extraordinaire] – 890,000
If you feel inspired by this list, we just created this CSPC Mannheim Steamroller playlist on Spotify!
Thanks to our new ASR (Artist Success Rating) concept, we know that their sales represent 6,38 million times the purchase of their discography. Coupled with their total sales, it translates into an ASR score of 95. The ranking of all artists studied so far is available too at this link.
Records & Achievements
- At 30,700,000 album sales, Mannheim Steamroller are the greatest selling Christmas artist of all-time.
- At 9,998,000 EAS, Christmas is the most successful Christmas album from the 80s.
- At 8,675,000 EAS, A Fresh Aire Christmas is the 2nd most successful Christmas album from the 80s.
- At 6,425,000 album sales, A Fresh Aire Christmas is the 4th best selling holiday album of all-time in the US.
- At 6,375,000 album sales, Christmas is the 5th best selling holiday album of all-time in the US.
- At 17, Mannheim Steamroller held during 15 years the record for most weeks with the top 2 catalog albums in the US, from 1994 to 2009.
- Mannheim Steamroller have 19 New Age #1 albums since 1995.
NB: EAS means Equivalent Album Sales.
You may be interested in…
… best-selling artists, albums, and singles
To improve your navigation we created several amazing cross-artists lists posted inside the CSPC: Data Collector article. Click on it to see the full listing of all CSPC results compiled so far!
… similar artists
To put figures from this article into perspective, click on the images below to reach career breakdowns of similar artists:
As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!