No matter how they come to music or what genre they fall into, almost every recording artist privately shares the same dream: to become an icon in the industry, transforming the face of music along the way. And while there are hundreds of talented and successful artists out there, very few will end up doing all of that. Most will have a hit or two, and many may even achieve a string of successful albums, but few will change the course of popular music or pave a new path for those who follow.
But of course, there have been a handful of modern musicians who have done that. Stacker has rounded up the 50 most successful musical artists of all time. These folks have been trailblazers and icons. They’ve sold millions of albums and singles, performed countless live shows, and even invented new genres.
In order to come up with this list, Stacker looked at data from both the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Grammy Awards. The RIAA gives out certifications based on the number of albums and singles an artist has sold. Gold albums have sold 500,000 copies; platinum albums have sold 1,000,000 copies; multi-platinum have sold 2,000,000 (with increments of 1,000,000 thereafter), and diamond albums have sold 10,000,000 copies. Stacker then came up with an index to rank each artist that takes into account the total number of RIAA certified units (70%), Grammy wins (20%), and Grammy nominations (10%). Additionally, to be considered for this story, artists must have sold 10 million RIAA certified units.
Some artists found on the list are predictable, like Michael Jackson and The Beatles, while others might be more surprising, like Eminem and Kenny G.