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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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Maps

Wired World: 35 Years of Submarine Cables in One Map

Watch the explosive growth of the global submarine cable network, and learn who’s funding the next generation of cables.

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submarine cable network

You could be reading this article from nearly anywhere in the world and there’s a good chance it loaded in mere seconds.

Long gone are the days when images would load pixel row by pixel row. Now, even high-quality video is instantly accessible from almost everywhere. How did the internet get so fast? Because it’s moving at the speed of light.

The Information Superhighway

The miracle of modern fiber optics can be traced to a single man, Narinder Singh Kapany. The young physicist was skeptical when his professors asserted that light ‘always travels in a straight line’. His explorations into the behavior of light eventually led to the creation of fiber optics—essentially, beaming light through a thin glass tube.

The next step to using fiber optics as a means of communication was lowering the cable’s attenuation rate. Throughout the 1960-70s, companies made gains in manufacturing, reducing the number of impurities and allowing light to cross great distances without a dramatic decrease in signal intensity.

By the mid-1980s, long distance fiber optic cables had finally reached the feasibility stage.

Crossing the Pond

The first intercontinental fiber optic cable was strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in 1988. The cable—known as TAT-8*—was spearheaded by three companies; AT&T, France Télécom, and British Telecom. The cable was able to carry the equivalent of 40,000 telephone channels, a ten-fold increase over its galvanic predecessor, TAT-7.

Once the kinks of the new cable were worked out, the floodgates were open. During the course of the 1990s, many more cables hit the ocean floor. By the dawn of the new millennium, every populated continent on Earth was connected by fiber optic cables. The physical network of the internet was beginning to take shape.

As today’s video from ESRI shows, the early 2000s saw a boom in undersea cable development, reflecting the uptick in internet usage around globe. In 2001 alone, eight new cables connected North America and Europe.

From 2016-2020, over 100 new cables were laid with an estimated value of $14 billion. Now, even the most remote Polynesian islands have access to high-speed internet thanks to undersea cables.

*TAT-8 does not appear in the video above as it was retired in 2002.

The Shifting Nature of Cable Construction

Even though nearly every corner of the globe is now physically connected, the rate of cable construction is not slowing down.

This is due to the increasing capacity of new cables and our appetite for high-quality video content. New cables are so efficient that the majority of potential capacity along major cable routes will come from cables that are less than five years old.

Traditionally, a consortium of telecom companies or governments would fund cable construction, but tech companies are increasingly funding their own submarine cable networks.

tech company submarine cables

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Amazon, Microsoft and Google own close to 65% market share in cloud data storage, so it’s understandable that they’d want to control the physical means of transporting that data as well.

These three companies now own 63,605 miles of submarine cable. While laying cable is a costly endeavor, it’s necessary to meet surging demand—content providers’ share of data transmission skyrocketed from around 8% to nearly 40% over the past decade.

A Bright Future for Dark Fiber

At the same time, more aging cables will be taken offline. Even though signals are no longer traveling through this network of “dark fiber”, it’s still being put to productive use. It turns out that undersea telecom cables make a very effective seismic network, helping researchers study offshore earthquakes and the geologic structures on the ocean floor.

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Markets

The World’s 25 Most Successful Media Franchises, and How They Stay Relevant

This infographic ranks the most successful media franchises of all time, and explores how they innovate to stay relevant.

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The World’s 25 Most Successful Media Franchises, and How They Stay Relevant

Great stories come and go, but there are a certain few that can truly stand the test of time.

Tugging on the heartstrings with nostalgic stories can be a powerful tool. Yet, even the most world-renowned storytellers like Disney face pressure to constantly innovate.

Today’s infographic from TitleMax illustrates the highest-grossing media franchises, and dives into how they generate their revenue and adapt to new mediums in changing times.

The Supreme Storytellers

According to the infographic, the majority of franchise revenue comes from merchandising. Video games, comic books, and Japanese manga are also significant drivers of income.

Rank
FranchiseYear CreatedRevenue (USD)Main Revenue Source
#1Pokémon1996$92BMerchandise
#2Hello Kitty1974$80BMerchandise
#3Winnie the Pooh1924$75BMerchandise
#4Mickey Mouse1928$70BMerchandise
#5Star Wars1977$66BMerchandise
#6Anpanman1973$60BMerchandise
#7Disney Princesses2000$45BMerchandise
#8Mario1981$36BVideo Games
#9Jump Comics1968$34BComics and Manga
#10Harry Potter1997$31BBox Office
#11Marvel Cinematic Universe2008$29BBox Office
#12Spiderman1962$27BMerchandise
#13Gudam1979$26BMerchandise
#14Batman1939$26BMerchandise
#15Dragonball1984$24BComic and Manga
#16Barbie1959$24BMerchandise
#17Fist of The North Star1983$22BVideo Games
#18Cars2006$22BMerchandise
#19Toy Story1995$20BMerchandise
#20One Piece1997$20BComics and Manga
#21Lord of The Rings1937$20BBook Sales
#22James Bond1953$20BBox Office
#23Yu-Gi-Oh1996$20BTrading Cards
#24Peanuts1950$17BMerchandise
#25Transformers1984$17BMerchandise

Perhaps surprisingly, Marvel is not included in the top 10. Despite nearly $30 billion revenue and a long history rooted in comic books, the entertainment behemoth still has much ground to cover as the newest franchise in the ranking.

Reinventing a Classic

While the list proves that success builds over time, these classics need to constantly reinvent themselves as their audiences become reliant on new technologies and demand more immersive experiences.

Pokémon

As the highest grossing media franchise earning roughly $4 billion a year, Pokémon’s strength lies in it ability to adapt to new technology.

The Japanese phenomenon has continued to reposition itself since it first introduced Pokémon cards in 1996. These days, the franchise is perhaps best known for bringing augmented reality to the masses with Pokémon Go—an app that attracted 50 million users in just 19 days.

Hello Kitty

Yet another Japanese brand tops the list of media franchises. With 50,000 product lines available in over 130 countries and cumulative revenue of $80 billion, Hello Kitty is famous for harnessing the power of cute.

The fictional character has evolved into a globally recognized symbol as a result of big name partnerships and licensing deals with the likes of Puma, Asos and Herschel—and is etched onto almost every type of accessory thinkable.

More recently, the brand announced its foray into video games, and will collaborate with the global esports organization FNATIC on content and merchandise.

Winnie the Pooh

The chronicles of Winnie the Pooh have transcended time by providing a connection to the innate wonder of childhood.

Originally created following World War I, the newest movie rendition “Christopher Robin” became the highest-grossing film in the franchise, grossing $197 million worldwide.

Mickey Mouse

With 97% brand name recognition, Mickey Mouse is officially more recognizable than Santa Claus. Similarly to Winnie the Pooh, Disney introduced Mickey Mouse as a symbol of hope following the World War.

Over 90 years later, global brands such as L’oreal, Beats, Uniqlo and more recently, Gucci are paying homage. In 2019, the luxury fashion brand licensed the Mickey Mouse image for a 3D printed bag worth $4,500, making it even more of a ubiquitous symbol of pop culture.

Star Wars

Another Disney favorite, Star Wars holds the title of most successful movie franchise, with cumulative revenues of $65 billion.

The franchise successfully appeals to a multi-generational audience by mixing old characters with new storylines, such as ‘The Mandalorian’, broadcasting on the new streaming service Disney+—hailed as one of the more exciting moves to come from the saga.

Making Magic

Disney owns three out of the top five highest grossing franchises, so it comes as no surprise that the media conglomerate is investing heavily in digital innovation to provide a more immersive customer experience.

In fact, every franchise in the ranking relies on multiple touchpoints and revenue streams to create a more interactive and emotional experience for their audience.

By harnessing a compelling combination of both imagination and technology, Disney and other top global franchises can continue to lead in the business of making magic.

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