Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists
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Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists

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Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists

Fame, fortune, and adoring fans—this is often the dream-turned-reality for the world’s most popular music artists.

Thanks to their relatability and creative prowess, these artists have not only boasted longevity in their record sales, but they’ve also dominated the charts year after year.

Today’s video from Data is Beautiful visualizes the world’s best-selling music artists from the past 50 years (1969 to 2019) and highlights the length of their reigns.

Do you see your favorite artist or group in the mix?

The Best Selling Artists, By Decade

Of all of the artists in the past half-century, two stand out: Michael Jackson and Eminem. Michael Jackson has the highest cumulative number of years in the top spot (~12 years), while Eminem holds the longest continuous best-selling artist slot (8.5 years).

Let’s dive into each decade to uncover defining moments and key technology advancements that pushed the art of music into exciting new areas.

top selling music artists

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1970s

This era of music is defined by the emergence of the rock genre, with artists like The Eagles and Led Zeppelin, the latter of which is widely considered a forefather of hard rock and heavy metal.

The Beatles became known, not just for their music, but for pushing the envelope with how they recorded their music. They used analog sound editing techniques—utilizing a sound effect “bank” to record overtop finished music tracks to add depth and texture. This left a huge mark on the music world, and in many ways influenced how modern music is recorded.

The introduction of 8-tracks and cassette tapes enabled people to play albums in their vehicles, opening up new possibilities for on-the-go entertainment.

1980s

Enter the age of electronic music—synthesizers, theremins, electronic samplers, and electronic drum kits popped up in the music scene, most predominantly in the United Kingdom and the United States. The German-based group Kraftwerk was one of the first to pioneer using a synthesizer in their sets.

For example, one of the reasons for Michael Jackson’s success was that the technology of the time allowed for much wider distribution at much lower costs. In addition, Thriller was one of the first albums recorded on compact discs (CDs), which were introduced in 1982.

The MTV era (launched 1981) also significantly impacted the sales of albums, as music now offered both visual and audio experiences—and broadcast directly into people’s homes.

1990s

A predominant factor of the 90s music scene was the explosion of popular music artists being commissioned to record the theme songs for blockbuster films.

The most notable artists and their corresponding blockbuster movies of the time include:

  • Elton John ─ The Lion King
  • Celine Dion ─ Titanic
  • Whitney Houston ─ Bodyguard
  • Bryan Adams ─ Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
  • Madonna ─ Evita

While the 1990s marked a decade of great variety in top-selling artists, it was also the peak of the music industry’s sales, at a whopping $21.5 billion in 1999—a figure not since repeated.

2000s

Eminem dominated 2000s record sales, but the decade also featured brief stints from the Backstreet Boys in 2000 and Rihanna in 2009.

Eminem helped to launch hip hop music into the mainstream. Being one of the most controversial best-selling artists of all time, he pushed genre boundaries through his technical prowess, wordsmithing, and relatability to wider audiences.

The 21st century also brought music streaming services such as Spotify to the forefront, forever altering how people listen to their favorite artists and bands.

2010s

Only three artists have hit the best-selling artist spot in the current decade: Rihanna, Drake, and Luis Fonsi—the Puerto Rican singer most well known for his hit single “Despacito”.

In 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified that Drake was the first music artist ever to reach #1 through streaming platform sales and downloads, instead of through physical album sales.

According to RIAA, streaming revenues jumped from almost half of all music industry sales in 2017, to over 75% of sales in 2018—with $4.6 billion in total record sales as of Q1 2018.

The Future Of Music

Musicians are a creative breed, continuously experimenting with new instruments, sound effects, and recording styles.

Some artists are even going so far as use only an iPhone to record their work—showcasing the modern-era ability to record high-fidelity quality and achieve studio-like results.

With a new decade just around the corner, we may see even more possibilities for technology to revamp how we access our favorite tunes—and how artists distribute them to their fanbase.

Who might become the next Beatles, Michael Jackson, or Drake?

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Demographics

Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries

These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.

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beautifully rendered population density maps of six major countries

As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.

In the last 100 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.

This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.

France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs

Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.

This image shows a map of France and its population spread.

France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.

Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.

This image shows a map of Germany and its population spread.

Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.

That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).

Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast

In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.

This image shows a map of Italy and its population spread.

Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.

The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.

This image shows a map of Chile and its population spread.

Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.

However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.

Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes

Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.

This image shows a map of Türkiye and its population spread.

Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.

Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.

This image shows a map of Canada and its population spread.

In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.

Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.

Increasing Urbanization

According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.

By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.

It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.

As Teo puts it:

“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”

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