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November 7, 2012 • Gear Bits, Music Diary

Forbes Lists the 6 Top Earning Dead Musicians

There is an old maxim about an artist suddenly becoming much more wealthy and famous after death, which has been turned into countless ‘movie of the week’ plots about faked deaths and so on. The reality is the more often than not – famous people remain famous for some time, and unknowns tend to stay that way as well.

But there is still considerable interest in those artists who continue to generate loads of revenue for years and even decades after their deaths. Last week Forbes rounded up 6 artists who made more than $5 million in the last year, but I only caught it when author Bobby Owsinski wrote about it this week. Here is the list with some context:

1. Michael Jackson – $145 million. A full year after he died, Michael has sold more than 8 million albums in the US, more than twice what runner-up Taylor Swift has done. His 50% stake in the Sony/ATV publishing catalog will continue to throw off cash pretty much forever, and his Cirque Due Soleil show already grossed $160 million on only the first leg of its tour. This number won’t go down much in the near future.

2. Elvis Presley – $55 million. Believe it or not, the King’s revenues were flat this year, yet he still continues to be a goldmine in the afterlife.

3. Bob Marley – $17. In death he’s bigger than in life, at least revenue-wise, having sold more than 75 million records since 1992 alone. Now that the reggae king has added an energy drink and lifestyle company to his brands portfolio, expect this revenue to climb in the future.

4. John Lennon – $12 million. The Beatles have sold more that 62 million albums in the US alone since 1992, and the Love Cirque Du Soleil show continues to be a big hit.

5. Richard Rogers – $6 million. Rogers and Hammerstein vast catalog of show tunes continue to be standards, and their publishing throws off cash accordingly.

6. George Harrison – $5.5 million. As with Lennon, GH still gets a cut of The Beatle empire as well as publishing from perennial favorites “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something.”

While things like the Beatles generating royalties is unsurprising, new brands for Bob Marley and Richard Rogers making the list DOES surprise me. The context is from Owsinski, who incorrectly assumes the revenue comes from Rogers and Hammerstein – that catalog was sold off years ago (for $200 million!) so this money is from his own works and some very popular Rogers & Hart compositions.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absence of Whitney Houston – it is a surprise to the extent of earning its own article! Apparently since she didn’t write songs and had signed a $100 million contract in 2001 that gave her between $30-$40 million upfront … she has a long way to go before recouping that advance (in spite of being one of the top-selling artists last year).

Jimi Hendrix earned close to $5 million but came up just shy of making the list, which isn’t bad for someone with a career that lasted less than four years and four albums. Les Paul and Tupac Shakur also earned more than $3 million each last year but didn’t make the list.

So … if you wonder why you will see most pop singer’s names appearing in the songwriting credits these days in spite of dubious contributions – this is why.

Head to Forbes and check out the whole list!

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