LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 13: Freddie Mercury of Queen performs on stage at Live Aid on July 13th, 1985 in Wembley Stadium, London, England (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)

Bankrolling Beyond The Grave: How Deceased Artists Are Cashing In

What’s one thing that Elvis, Prince, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury have in common?

Aside from being definitive voices of their generations, all four of these men are some of the biggest money makers in the music industry today. Despite being, well, deceased.

In an age where artists struggle to make a living from playing to thousands of fans at gigs and festivals around the world, it seems almost unfair that some of the highest earning musicians today are no longer with us.

A recent article courtesy of The Guardian has helped shed light on the issue, breaking down why Elvis is still earning more per annum than bands like Foals and Tame Impala.

Beginning with an analysis of record sales, with Bowie and Prince as the case studies, the article notes that “Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, went to No 1 in the UK and stayed there for three weeks, by which time a dozen of his albums had gone into the top 40, equalling the record set by Elvis immediately after he died.”

“In cold chart terms, Prince’s death has had a lesser impact than Bowie’s passing. While 14 of his albums went into the top 100 the week after his death, including three in the top five, only 10 remain in the top 100 this week, with just one – The Very Best of Prince – in the top 10.”

This all seems both understandable and reasonable.

It’s only natural to expect that fans of artists who have recently passed away will rush to buy their material, honouring them in the best way possible: listening to their music. But the you read these astronomical figures, and the impact sets in.

Speaking of the late Michael Jackson, the article notes that “Forbes reports that [Jackson] generated $115m last year across record sales, stage shows and his other business interests, notably his stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which is currently being sold to Sony and likely to massively boost his estate’s earnings for 2016.”

“The King of Pop has earned nine figures every full year since his death in 2009.”


That statistic has put Jackson at the top of Forbes Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list… Yes, that is a thing.

It seems death is helping former band mates of musicians too, as both Roger Taylor and Brian May of Queen have discovered.

“The Five Live EP reached No 11 in 1993, with (Freddie) Mercury’s place taken by George Michael… In 2000, the spell-check-defying boy band 5ive got to No 1 when May joined them for a version of We Will Rock You. Even The Muppets took a version of Bohemian Rhapsody – using the original Queen backing tracks – to No 1 in 2009. Quality control, it seems, passed away with Freddie.”

However, the most mind-blowing post-death achievements of all belong to only one man- The King himself.

“Since August 1977, Elvis has had 69 singles in the top 100, of which 43 went top 40 and four went to No 1…Elvis has also had 65 top 100 albums since he died, 33 of which went top 40 and three got to No 1, including 2015’s If I Can Dream, featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which has sold over 1 million copies in the UK to date.”

So there you have it- if you are in a band and aspiring to conquer the world with your take on the latest musical fad, just remember…. artists who have passed away will always be earning at least 3 more 0’s than you are.

It seems Elvis’ manager Tom Parker was spot on when he prophetically stated “Elvis didn’t die – the body did.”

“It don’t mean a damn thing. It’s just like when he was away in the army… This changes nothing.”

Image: Collider