How Are Dead Artists Still Earning Millions?

The success of some famous people never dies. And this is especially true for artists, scientists, and inventors who left the world with their music, creations, or findings. Whether it’s their evergreen television shows, books, or songs, every time these contents are used by a publishing house, the celebrity’s estate makes money from selling the license to be able to use it.

The estates of dead celebrities and artists can generate revenue long after they have sung their last note or wrote their final sentence. In fact, it is sometimes in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, the Neilsen Soundscan released figures that show British singer Amy Winehouse, who died of unknown causes in July 2011, has become a music-selling machine just after a week. In that same week, here 2006 album titled Back in Black re-entered the Billboard album chart and was able to sell 37,000 units, which was more than what was sold over the last three years when she was still alive.

This shoes that death can stop the music but not the royalties, and it proves that dead artists and musicians can generate profits for decades.

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Post-Mortem Success is Common

Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a list of the top-earning dead celebrities, and you can see that the numbers are very impressive. For example, in 2010, Michael Jackson was number one in the list, earning $275 million. Most of his earnings came from a new seven-year, multi-project record deal between his estate and Sony Music Entertainment. There were also generated income from album sales, radio play, and even in a video game.

According to Eb Reinbergs, a Toronto-based entertainment lawyer, post-mortem success happens always. It’s because the death of the artist usually draws heavy media coverage, which can rekindle the interest of the fans, and as well as send others on a shopping spree to know what that famous person made him or her popular in the first place.

Long time fans also get satisfaction from discovering previously unknown materials of the artist, giving them one final chance to enjoy, because there’s not going to be anything new generated by that artist ever again.

How Do They Still Earn a Lot?

The artist’s death can actually generate more profit than when that person was still alive. This is true, especially in the case of Michael Jackson, because he was the biggest liability of his estate. It’s because the estate no longer has the artist around spending more than what he makes.

Estates can generate revenue because the copyright on works of art gets passed on to relatives or organizations after the death of the artist. In the United States, those rights expire 75 years after the living artist has died. After that specific time, the work of art will become a part of the public domain. It means that the estate will no longer receive royalties for that.

It means that for the heirs of music stars, big money usually comes from songs sold on iTunes, played in bars, and used in ads. To add to that, the celebrity’s name and image, when put on products or even back on stage in holographic forms, can also make them earn a lot.

Some of you might even wonder who gets the profits? For the estate lawyers, their cut is usually 10 percent or more. Aside from them, record labels and marketers also get a share of the revenue stream, and income tax can also grab as much as 40 percent of the earnings.

Success Depends on Longevity

It is also possible that what gets released after the death of an artist is sub-par, which can tarnish the legacy of that person. But there is always a spike in sales immediately after an artist dies, and sometimes it eventually slows. Therefore, in the long run, it truly depends on whether the artist’s work is of classic status. For example, we can say that Elvis Presley’s song will be popular for centuries. This can explain why creative artists, such as Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, continue to earn millions, respectively, every year.

Aside from having classic hits, another thing that can push sales higher is a controversial death, as it can draw a great deal of media buzz. It’s because when you compare an artist that has lived a full life and dies at 90 to an artist who dies at 27 in a hotel room, and nobody knows the clear reason why or what happened, the latter will get more media attention and will spark the interest of fans more, as well.

The King of Rock and The King of Pop

Every time a list of the top-earning celebrities is being released, you will notice two names that are always topping the chart, and they are the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

  • Elvis Presley

The popularity of Elvis Presley proved that once a king, always a king. Since Elvis Presley passed away in 1977, his legacy continued to be powerful, thanks to his dedicated fans. Up until today, his image is still pretty much alive. Together with Michael Jackson, it’s kind of challenging to imagine another male artist who has so many impersonators in different parts of the word.

With this, the image of Elvis Presley is still precious. In 2018, the King of Rock was able to make $40 million, and he sold a million albums. The highest-earning came from the new $45 million entertainment complex at Graceland, which is called Elvis Presley’s Memphis.

  • Michael Jackson

Since Michael Jackson passed away in 2009, he always tops the list of dead celebrities who make or earn more money. In 2018, based on the list released by Forbes, he was able to make $400 million. When you compare this to the earnings of U2, who lead the list of highest-paid musicians in 2018, Michael Jackson still earned more because they only earned $316 million.

Most of Michael Jackson’s profit comes from the EMI Music Publishing stake. Aside from that, there are also other sources of income, including projects like specials for television, his Mijac Music catalog, and a new Sony record deal.

It just means that the songs of iconic artists, even if the artists are long gone, like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, live and breathe through the marketplace. And the value of good music is likely to increase as older listeners adjust to the changing industry by using different streaming services and devices to listen to them.

The infographic was originally created by Betway