Sad But True: Death Has Been Very Good for the Music Industry This Year

With just a couple of days to go in the fiscal year for the music business, a number of people throughout the industry will end up getting bonuses because of big sales bumps from artists who died this year. I know, I know–that’s pretty morbid and mercenary. But whenever a musician dies, sales/downloads/streams of their music go through the roof. Previously moribund catalogues suddenly experience double- triple- or even quadruple-digit growth. And where there’s growth, there’s profit.

A lot of industry people made out like bandits after the death of Michael Jackson. This year, with its unusually high number of deaths by big-name musicians, catalogue departments at labels around the world have been pacing ahead of budget for much of the year. In other words, death has been very good for business.

  • Since he died on Monday, streams of George Michael’s music has spiked 3,158%. More than a dozen songs are in the Top 100 on iTunes.
  • Prince streams jumped 5,600% in the days after he died. Digital album sales were up a whopping 14,000%. Overall, Prince sold two million more albums than he did in 2015.
  • Bowie’s Blackstar album has sold nearly 500,000 copies in the US alone, making it his biggest seller in decades. At one point, he had 10 albums on the Billboard Top 200 charts.
  • Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker tripled in sales in the week after his death. “Hallelujah” streams rose 1,000%.

This phenomenon is not new, of course. Music sales have always gone up in the wake of a musician’s death (cf. Elvis, John Lennon, George Harrison). But in the Internet age, instant access to streams and downloads has intensified the effect.

It would be interesting to see full sales analysis for Earth Wind and Wire (Maurice White), Emerson Lake and Palmer (Keith Emerson and Greg Lake), Merle Haggard, Leon Russell, The Eagles (Glen Frey), Dead or Alive (Pete Burns), Frank Sinatra Jr., Sharon Jones (The Dap Kings), A Tribe Called Quest (Phife Dawg), Inspiral Carpets (Craig Gill), The Beatles (Sir George Martin), Vanity, Jefferson Airplane (Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson), Black, etc. etc. etc.

Here’s a good running tally of musicians we lost in 2016.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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