Michael Jackson: Still the king of pop ten years after his death
Ten years and five months ago one of the most iconic pop idols passed away. It was October 2009 when Michael Jackson, who was due to perform a record-breaking residency at the O2 Arena, was found dead. In the following months, 33 of Jackson’s songs entered the British charts.
Known as the King of Pop, the Billie Jean singer (technically his estate) made over $60m in 2019, making him the highest-paid dead celebrity, according to Forbes. His total earnings reached a staggering £2.46bn.
The back catalogue of Michael Jackson is so lucrative because his songs are iconic, timeless pieces of pop music. And most of the earnings come, apparently unexpectedly, from radio plays. In fact, radio stations make over 55% of their profits from “gold” music, which are those songs that aren’t part of the current output of the music industry. It’s really a demographic reason: older people still turn to the radio when they crave music, instead of embracing streaming services. It’s estimated that roughly half of the singer’s revenue comes from radio.
The fact that the estate of the King of Pop has made over two billion is also because of some really smart moves Jackson made during his lifetime. A fan of the Beatles, the singer acquired the back catalogue of the British band for $47.5m (the state sold it for $750m in 2016, after his death). In 2018 they also sold their 9.8% in EMI Music Publishing, for a further $287.5. That’s over a billion dollars.
The core business remains Jackson’s songs, which BMI have renewed to represent for the royalty collection for the next 41 years. If you want a comparison, Elvis, the second highest-paid late musician, made about $530m.
These numbers are impressive but not so surprising if we stop and think about the list of successful singles published by the King of Pop – which has scored 13 solo number ones in the US. Beat It, Bad, Man in the Mirror, Black or White and Dirty Diana are just some of the titles we all remember.
This infographic was created by Betway.
As you might expect, Jackson’s hits spiked in popularity immediately after his death too. Just a month after his death, 33 of his songs featured in the UK’s Top 100 charts. This is pretty common in the music world. For example, in the eight days after Amy Winehouse’s death, she sold 281,000 songs. What’s key to making money here though, is a song’s “standards”.
A track’s standard is determined by how many years that the song has remained popular for, which Jackson’s hits clearly have no issue with. These highly popular songs trade at a much higher price because they are well-known to be liked, and you can confidently anticipate how they will be received. This reduces the risk in purchasing a beloved song. In comparison, a new hit poses a much higher risk, because it has yet to be proven whether that song will always be as successful as it was when it first aired.
Last but not least, there’s streaming to consider. Streaming music on services like Spotify or Apple Music makes artists less money than radio. Nonetheless, Jackson has a big presence on streaming too.
He currently has 13 million followers on Spotify, which is far more than many artists who are currently alive, such as J Cole. Despite his death, it seems as though Jackson’s music shows no signs of slowing down. As more people start using streaming services in the future, we can even expect Jackson’s popularity to increase; The King of Pop’s work will remain as universal as it was during its genesis.
The editorial unit