Many of these discussions are opinion-based and lead to fun arguments, but listing the bestselling artists of all time is fact-based. There’s no negotiating or convincing involved because we’ve tracked the numbers (for the most part).
There are some older band and artist names listed here that won’t surprise you, but some of them will make you think How in the world did they pull that off? and/or make you question the world’s taste in music. The speed at which some of the newcomers climbed this list is staggering.
It’s interesting to cross-reference these artists with the the 10 richest musicians in the world because there’s not as much overlap as you’d expect. That’s partially due to exorbitant spending or lack of investment. But many of these artists got it right, too. Let’s jump right into the list of the bestselling artists of all time…
Top 10 Best-Selling Artists of All Time (2023 Update)
This is the table for the top 10 best-selling artists in the World, containing the names, net worth, and nationality.
|1||The Beatles||600 Million||UK|
|2||Elvis Presley||500 Million||USA|
|3||Drake||434.4 Million||Canada, USA|
|4||Michael Jackson||400 Million||USA|
|5||Rihanna||334.4 Million||Barbados, USA|
|7||Elton John||300 Million||UK|
|9||Led Zeppelin||300 Million||UK|
|10||Justin Bieber||283.3 Million||Canada|
#10 – Justin Bieber
Certified Sales: 283.3 million
Justin Bieber was discovered in 2007 by Scooter Braun, a record executive, as he was looking for another singer on YouTube and clicked on one of Bieber’s videos by accident! Braun convinced Bieber’s mother to take him to Atlanta where he signed for Usher’s record label RBMG (Raymond-Brown Media Group). The rest is history.
With 261.4 million albums sold, Justin Bieber is now a household name and pop music royalty.
He released Purpose, his fourth studio album, in 2015, which drew a wider audience than his primarily young fan base. The album’s first three tracks all charted #1 on Billboard Hot 100. The success of this album paved the way for more collaborations with other artists. He addressed the challenges of growing up famous in his 2021 hit “Lonely”, with surprisingly deep and personal lyrics.
Trivia: Australian police stopped one of his performances in April 2010 as they were concerned for fans’ safety, as many were fainting in the crowd.
#9 – Led Zeppelin
Claimed Sales: 300 million
Though Led Zeppelin worked in the blues-rock and folk-rock genres, they’re considered progenitors of heavy metal. That lets you know how much of a wide appeal they have. Their single “Stairway to Heaven” remains one of the most popular and influential songs in rock history.
Their tours broke records for attendance. Their albums are among the bestselling of all time. All of their nine albums broke into the top 10 and six hit the #1 spot. Their legacy is monumental among fans and musicians alike. They’ve won an incredible amount of awards. They deserve their spot on this list.
Trivia: It’s been almost 40 years since their last album. Since that time, the internet has compiled a list of songs the band were, shall we say, “heavily influenced by.”
#8 – Madonna
Claimed Sales: 300 million
Madonna has spent decades pushing pop hits up the Billboard charts, each one further fueling her rise up this list. She’s one of the few artists who constantly reinvents her image and message to stay relevant or exciting. Perhaps more important than any of this is her constant touring, which is additional marketing.
She’s a Golden Globe-winning actress, owner of Maverick Records, has authored a handful of children’s books, is a fashion designer, and owns several health clubs. In music, attention is a currency and Madonna knows how to get it.
Trivia: Madonna is the highest-grossing solo artist of all time, the most-touring female musician ever, and the bestselling female recording artist of all time, globally. In the U.S., she’s only second behind Barbra Streisand.
#7 – Elton John
Claimed Sales: 300 million
Elton John is an extremely talented songwriter, performer, and entertainer known for his flamboyance and magnetism onstage. Among his many successes, he holds the record for the bestselling single of all time in the U.K. and U.S.A. He constantly tours and wins awards, but perhaps his work in movies such as “The Lion King” and “Rocketman”, the biopic about his life, has continued to fuel his sales.
One awesome aspect of his career was his long residency (11 years so far) at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. You know that made him some serious cash. Billboard ranked him as the most successful male solo artist and 3rd place overall, only behind Madonna and the Beatles (both on this list). He’s released 30 studio albums, let alone his collaborations, greatest hits, and soundtracks.
Trivia: Sir Elton John’s middle name is Hercules. He was born as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. He was knighted in 1998 for his services to music and charitable services. He’s performed at many royal events at Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.
#6 – Eminem
Certified Sales: 327.1 million
Eminem’s initial role as an shock rapper quickly faded as people began to realize they were witnessing the evolution of one of the best rappers ever. His many controversies, beef with other artists, and connections with one of the best hip-hop producers in the game led to more and more sales as he maintained a steady release schedule.
Eventually, he began releasing and starring in movies, launched his own record label, Shady Records, and went on to earn 15 Grammy Awards. Nobody can deny the technical ability and raw entertainment value in the man’s music, which is the true explanation of how he launched himself up this list fairly quickly.
Trivia: Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, is the first rapper to receive an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which came out of his movie “8 Mile”. He was once sued by his own mother for slander. A bully who beat him up in elementary school sued him for telling the story in rhyme form. The judge dismissed the case and did so while rapping.
#5 – Rihanna
Certified Sales: 334.4 million
Rihanna, like Madonna, is known for her artistic evolution, starting with Caribbean-influenced albums and moving into dance-pop, R&B, EDM, and hip hop. It may come as a surprise because it all happened steadily over time, but she has to her name 14 #1 singles, 31 top-10 singles, 9 Grammy Awards, 13 American Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, and more.
Rihanna has been on a hiatus, growing her cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty, her non-profit, and her fashion house. These other ventures have built up the anticipation for her upcoming ninth studio album. She’s broken into Hollywood and TV, starring in some major box office films.
Trivia: Rihanna uses her surname Fenty to represent her non-music businesses. She turned around and sued her own dad to stop him from using his Fenty Entertainment brand, saying he’s misleading the public and trying to assert association with her brand.
#4 – Michael Jackson
Claimed Sales: 400 million
Nobody needs an introduction to Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. He’s easily the greatest entertainer of all time and one of the most influential humans of the 20th century. From the Jackson 5 to his solo career, he spent his entire life making some of the best music to ever be recorded, leading to him being the most-awarded musician of all time.
Jackson’s album Thriller remains the bestselling album of all time (if you don’t count the one “greatest hits” album that beats it). Before his run ended, his wealth was so staggering that he owned the Beatles catalog, was being sued and accused of everything under the sun, and his concerts were spectacles.
Trivia: Michael Jackson’s estate still brings in around $825 million a year, the highest amount for any celebrity of any kind. He once won 8 Grammys in one ceremony, tied for the record with the band Santana. During the Thriller years he had the highest royalty rate in the music industry at $2 a sale.
#3 – Drake
Certified Sales: 434.4 million
The Canadian superstar started his career circulating a mixtape in 2006, receiving a bit more than $300 for the 6,000 copies sold. His second and third mixtapes, released in 2007 and 2009 respectively, were both extremely successful, leading to an unusual bidding war to sign him.
He is known for blurring the lines between rap music and more mainstream pop, giving him broad appeal and recognition. Like many other famous rappers, his business activities go well beyond music. He owns an entertainment group, a fashion brand, and a spirits company that produces a well-known whiskey!
Trivia: Before becoming a hip-hop sensation, he used to work as an actor. He was a regular to the show “Degrassi: The Next Generation”.
#2 – Elvis Presley
Claimed Sales: 500 million
Elvis Presley is similar to Michael Jackson in many ways. They called him the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and is also considered one of the most important cultural icons of the 20th century. His output was monumental, including 24 studio albums, 17 soundtracks, and starring in 33 Hollywood films in 25 years.
He holds the record for the most songs to chart in Billboard‘s top 40 (115 songs) and their top 100 (152 songs). He has 25 multi-platinum records, and 101 gold albums (the all-time record). The man even has a spider named after him, the Paradonea presleyi. The upper bound of his sales estimates reaches one billion.
Trivia: Elvis Presley was drafted into military service in 1958 at the height of his career. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2018. His home Graceland became the second-most visited home in the US after the White House. It’s been a National Historic Landmark since 2006.
#1 – The Beatles
Claimed Sales: 600 million
The Beatles were only acting as a band from 1960 to 1970, yet hold the clear lead as the bestselling artists of all time. If you add in their solo material, nobody will ever beat them. A huge part of their success was leading the “British Invasion” of British pop and rock into the United States. Their art evolved with each release, as did their controversies.
They hold all the awards, have starred in films, broke many records, and one of their songs is the most covered ever. The Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo will likely never be topped. Beyond the pop appeal, they were truly some of the best musicians to ever walk the earth. They’re so good that kids these days think it’s cool to dislike them.
Trivia: Since 2001, January 16 is recognized as World Beatles Day under UNESCO. There are five asteroids named after each band member and the band itself. Eric Clapton was almost the Fifth Beatle at one time.
Runners-Up: Who Almost Made The List?
What fun is only listing the top 10 when we can quickly tack on a handful of runners-up? They’re so close to breaking into the main list that we have to do them justice by mentioning them.
Certified Sales: 253.5 million
Taylor Swift got started early, being professionally signed at age 14. Her narrative songs about her personal life were endearing but also created much media gossip, which contributed to her popularity. She started off topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, ultimately bridging over to the pop charts. She’s won countless awards, including the Grammys’ Album of the Year.
She’s even been named Woman of the Decade and Artist of the Decade. For years on end, she’s been the highest-grossing artist. She is as popular as ever, having released two albums during the COVID pandemic, and another, Midnights, for which she will tour.
Trivia: For the longest time, Taylor Swift was the sole songwriter for most of her material. Her former record label Big Machine was purchased (including the masters for her first six albums) by a big wig recently. Taylor has been open about her displeasure with the event, saying she’s been blocked from even performing her own music now.
Claimed Sales: 250 million
Pink Floyd had a strong start in 1967 with their first album while being led by Syd Barrett. Later when David Gilmour joined, they became an international sensation. Interestingly, they only had two singles to ever enter the top 10 in the U.S. or U.K., though they had four albums top both charts.
They’ve had a six-decade run, plenty of time to establish themselves as one of the best bands ever over the course of 15 albums. To top it off, they even composed a handful of scores for some lesser-known films. Two of their albums, The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall are among the top-selling albums of all time.
Trivia: Pink Floyd were huge fans of Monty Python and put up a good chunk of the money needed to finance the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The band name comes from two of Barrett’s favorite blues players, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Claimed Sales: 220 million
Mariah Carey is known as the Songbird Supreme for good reason. She has an unbelievable five-octave vocal range and can reach the whistle register, which very few can do. From her first album, she’s been breaking records and consistently winning with every release. Funnily, a huge part of her success has been her Christmas single “All I Want For Christmas Is You” running up the charts year after year.
Many fans consider her to be the greatest voice in music ever. Her sales prove it. She holds the record for #1 singles by a solo artist. Her first five singles all reached #1 on the charts. And her first album topped the charts for 11 consecutive weeks. Not much has changed since then!
Trivia: If you ask Mariah Carey, she’ll tell you that she’s an alto, but music critics and professionals give her the label of a Coloratura soprano. She says she can reach her highest notes due to polyps on her vocal cords.
Claimed Sales: 200 million
In a nine-year run starting in 1971, the Eagles made an incredible impact. All of their albums had several high-performing singles but rarely reached the #1 spot. But their consistency has led to their greatest hits album becoming the highest-selling album of all time, with their album Hotel California being the third-best-selling.
In 1994, they reformed and released an album with new material and live recordings, released a documentary, and started a huge tour, so it only stands that they’ll continue to push their sales further. Their blend of R&B, soul, bluegrass, and rock reached the masses and continues to touch hearts and minds today.
Trivia: One member of the Eagles was fired from the group after demanding a higher percentage of the group’s profits instead of the five-way split they’d had since Day 1. He later sued tried to get $50 million in damages. The judge dismissed the case outright.
Certified Sales: 184 million
Queen will undoubtedly keep climbing the list. They started in 1970 and are still creating music and touring today, albeit with a new vocalist. Freddy Mercury was a huge part of their success, but their new singers are great as well. Their pop-rock and arena rock music is well received, so much so that many of us are coming to dislike some of their most popular songs since they still get played too much.
Their songs are so powerful that they’ve become go-to anthems for fans in sports stadiums. They’ve won all the awards, done some of the best movie soundtracks ever (like for the awesome “Flash Gordon” film and “Highlander”), and had a movie based on the band. That’s when you know you’ve hit the big time.
Trivia: Since 2004, they’ve been touring again under the name “Queen+” with Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert as their vocalists. Though they’ve recorded 15 studio albums, they’ve had 21 tours. They even have a musical based on their music.
Claimed Sales: 200 million
Whiney Houston remains the most awarded female artist of all time. She’s the first and only singer to have seven singles in a row all reaching #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Her transition into acting was a great move because she also created the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard”, which is one of the bestselling records of all time.
Like others, she was given an honorific or two, known as “The Voice” in the music industry and sometimes the “Queen of Pop”. She’s in pretty much every list of the best singers ever and her pleasant mezzo-soprano range doesn’t hurt. She’s probably named as an influence by other artists more than anyone else, too.
Trivia: When she passed on at an early age, fans mourned around the world. Her life has been the subject of many documentaries and is arguably as famous now as she was in her heyday.
Honorable Mentions for the Bestselling Artists of All Time
There are so many great artists on this list that we just didn’t feel right capping it off without providing a quick rundown of other artists who are all really close to breaking into the top 10.
- Ed Sheeran is the British pop-folk star that took the world by storm, selling 250.5 million units.
- Garth Brooks is a country mega-star, proving his mass appeal by reaching 165.3 million units sold.
- Celine Dion is a wonderful pop vocalist who’s achieved 143.6 million certified sales thus far.
- AC/DC have reached 130.7 million certified sales, thanks to their wide audience in the hard rock and blues-rock genres.
- The Rolling Stones also work in the rock and blues-rock genres, pushing 102.9 million certified units thus far.
- Billy Joel has been in the music industry for decades in the pop and rock genres, reaching 134.4 million sales and going on countless tours.
- U2 are the arena-rock giants that put on an amazing show, and that has helped them reach 114.8 million certified units sold.
- Ye (Kanye West) is currently one of the richest musicians alive, thanks to his huge business success, but he has also managed to sell an incredible 260.1 million units.
- Chris Brown, the talented R&B artist and dancer from the US, has captivated fans around the world, selling 206.8 million units.
- Bruno Mars is the charismatic Hawaiian singer-songwriter who dazzled the music scene with his pop-R&B fusion, selling 204.6 million units.
- Lil Wayne, the New Orleans rapper with a distinctive style, has been a major force in hip-hop for decades, selling 193.1 million units.
- Katy Perry, the American pop powerhouse known for her catchy hits and colorful performances, has sold an impressive 173.2 million units.
- Lady Gaga, the innovative and avant-garde pop artist, has dazzled music lovers and sold 161.5 million units.
- Aerosmith is the iconic rock band that rocked generations with their blues-infused hard rock sound, selling 104.8 million units.
- Bee Gees, the influential British-Australian trio, defined the disco era with their falsetto harmonies and sold 74.9 million units.
Following the list any further than this gets less interesting, especially since the names become less well known and they have such a long way to go to crack into even the top 20, so we’ll stop there. I hope they can do it though since a little shake-up is always fun.
The crazy thing about all of this are these are either bands with real musical skill or vocalists that, to be frank, aren’t remotely on the same level of talent as the others. They don’t even qualify as one of the top 10 best singers of all time, but they’re getting all of the sales, fame, and money. What a world we live in.