Leading artists build brands to deliver revenue streams beyond traditional record sales

PRS for Music analyses how successful bands exploit their ‘brands’. Musicals, computer games, clothing lines allow artists to stretch brands. Beatles #1 band; Michael Jackson #1 solo artist

The study looked at a range of factors around awareness and popularity including record sales; use of band members in advertising; subject of a computer game and even if they had appeared in The Simpsons. The research identified The Beatles as the biggest of the “brand bands” despite breaking up four decades ago with Michael Jackson coming in second place and Queen in third.

The top 5 artist brands

1. The Beatles

Selling well over a billion albums world-wide The Beatles are one of the most commercially successful and popular bands of all time.  Recently being honoured with their own Sony SingStar video game, the band have been the subject of musical shows – ‘Beatles Love’ and ‘Cirque Du Soleil’, art exhibitions, various advertising endorsements and made 3 individual appearances on The Simpsons. 

2. Michael Jackson

AKA The King of Pop, Michael has been one of the most prominent global figures in popular culture for over four decades.  His album Thriller remains the best selling album of all time.  He had lucrative advertising deals with brands like Pepsi and has been the subject of a musical show – Thriller Live and the Moonwalker computer game.  He also appeared in The Simpsons as the voice of Leon Kompowsky.

3. Queen

Queen has sold over 300 million albums worldwide and was voted the greatest British band of all time in a national BBC poll.  The band has their own musical ‘We Will Rock You’, a Sony SingStar video game and also features heavily in the Guitar Hero franchise.  Other commercial deals have included being the subject of an art exhibition, various advertising endorsements and also an appearance in the video game - Lego Rock Band - as playable Lego avatars.

4. Spice Girls

The Spice Girls are the most successful girl band of all time with an estimated 65 million record sales.  The group have had various high profile endorsement deals with brands including Pepsi and Walkers, and also have been the subject of a computer game and film – Spice World.  The group has always embraced merchandising and their recent reunion tour was estimated to have grossed $70 million worldwide.


The Swedish group dominated the charts worldwide in the 1970’s and are considered to be one of the most commercially successful acts of all time.  They sold over 370 million records worldwide and have been the subject of musicals including ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘ABBA, The Show’ as well as the box office hit Mamma Mia.  They were also recently honoured with their own SingStar video game. 

It would seem that bands are riding the crest of a creative wave – from live appearances, merchandising, advertising and licensing deals becoming just as important as record sales.  Out of the 20 bands researched the top 3 have all been around for decades hinting that longevity is important when exploiting the brand and yet many of the ‘brand deals’ have been made in more recent times.   

PRS for Music also linked up with brand expert Robert Bean, author of ‘From Band to Brand – How?' to gain additional insight into the transition from band to brand. 

Brand expert and author Robert Bean said: 

“A helpful definition of a brand is ‘Promises Delivered.’ At the heart of every powerful brand around the world is an outstanding product. The top artists have transcended being bands, into becoming iconic brands in their own right. Great brands have great products, they stand for something that they extend as a ‘promise’, and they’re consistent about their values in everything they do. That’s how, over time, they become famous. And that’s when the advertisers and the appearances on The Simpsons arrive. Because they want to appropriate a brand’s values. So, put simply, if you don’t have any, they won’t come.”

Ellis Rich, Chairman at PRS for Music, said: 

“Clearly, longevity helps when building a global music brand. However, the appearance of bands likes Sugababes and Girls Aloud in our list shows how the increase in the number of potential revenue streams provides younger artists with new ways to develop their brand profile. The days when record sales - or even touring - were the sole or main source of income for artists have gone. The good news story for the music industry is how this growth of new means of exploitation of their profile will allow successful artists multiple ways to generate wealth in the years ahead.”

The full top 20 artist brands (see appendix for full analysis)

  1. The Beatles
  2. Michael Jackson
  3. Queen
  4. Spice Girls
  5. ABBA
  6. Rolling Stones
  7. AC/DC
  8. Elvis
  9. U2
  10. Pink Floyd 
  11. Take That
  12. Aerosmith
  13. The Who
  14. Madonna
  15. Elton John
  16. Bee Gees
  17. Led Zeppelin
  18. Girls Aloud
  19. Bon Jovi
  20. Sugababes
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