The Music Industry By the Numbers


Every artist dreams of being at the top. Over the past several decades, we have witnessed musicians come and go, fighting for that coveted number one spot. Opinions and biases aside, there are a few artists that stand out of the crowd due to their immense commercial success. I have compiled several categories and provided a brief list of some of the most successful artists by the numbers. Like it or not, money talks. It is oftentimes the measurement of success in the entertainment industry, and is a definite testament to the popularity of a musician. The top three best-selling artists are:

  1. The Beatles with 600 million records
  2. Elvis Presley with 500-600 million records
  3. Michael Jackson with 300-400 million records

We see hit singles hop around the charts constantly. However, these three songs have achieved a rare form of longevity. Here are the top three highest-selling singles:

  1. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” – 50 million sales
  2. Elton John’s double A-side record featuring “Candle in the Wind 1997” and “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” – 33 million sales
  3. Bing Crosby’s “Silent Night” – 30 million sales

An even more impressive feat, a best-selling album has become more and more of a rarity. With a now single-oriented industry, we don’t see numbers like this anymore. These are the top three best-selling albums:

  1. Michael Jackson’s Thriller – 65-70 million sales
  2. AC/DC’s Back in Black – 50 million sales
  3. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon – 45 million sales

Fans love consistency. Artists who put out quality music that continually please their fans are part of an elite list of “most number one singles.” According to Billboard’s records, the acts with the most number one singles are:

  1. The Beatles – 20
  2. Elvis Presley – 18
  3. Mariah Carey – 18

But the magic doesn’t only happen in the studio. Many artists find their glory on the stage, where they feed off the energy of waves of screaming fans. These are the highest-grossing live tours (numbers adjusted for inflation):

  1. U2’s “U2 360° Tour” – $774,658,859
  2. The Rolling Stones’ “A Bigger Bang Tour” – $637,097,582
  3. Roger Waters’ “The Wall Live” – $465,947,054


I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about Madonna and her reign as the highest grossing solo touring artist, who accrued a total of $1.31 billion for all of her live shows.

Featured image by Mike O'Neill. Beatles image via