Whitney Houston’s Music Will Live On

Within 24 hours of pop songstress’ Whitney Houston’s death, the Nielsen SoundScan retail sales monitoring service reported that 91,000 digital albums and another 10,000 physical albums, as well as with 887,000 digital tracks had been sold.  The top-selling album that day was her 2000 compilation “Whitney Houston — Greatest Hits,” which sold 64,000 copies, enough to place it in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, possibly inside the Top 5.  The most popular song was her hit rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” which accounted for 195,000 of the downloaded tracks.  Additionally, according to Nielsen BDS, that song was played 2,137 times on U.S. broadcast radio stations Saturday and Sunday.

Sales figures constitute an incredible jump in interest in Houston’s music.  Compared with the previous week, her digital album sales increased more than 17,000 percent; sales of the greatest hits collection jumped by more than 10,000 percent; and digital track downloads rose 5,730 percent.  Radio airplay of “I Will Always Love You” was just 134 plays before her death.

“In terms of sales impact, it won’t quite be like Michael Jackson, but it will be big,” Billboard’s associate director of charts Keith Caulfield told MTV News said about the spike in sales for Houston’s albums and songs.

Although Houston only released a single greatest hits package in the United States, it has been the album fans have turned to since her passing.  It is, however, considered “a flawed greatest hits to a lot of people,” Caulfield said.  “Half of it is remixes of her dance songs, so it’s not the familiar version of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody.’  It’s not the perfect greatest hits package for fans to turn to, so I don’t think it’s going to sell as well (as Jackson’s).”

Throughout her career, Houston was one of the world’s best-selling music artists, selling more than 170 million albums, singles and videos globally.  Her work includes seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have gone diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification.  Her crossover appeal on the popular music charts, as well as prominence on MTV influenced several African-American female artists to emulate her.

Allmusic saluted her contribution to the success of black artists on the pop scene, noting that, “Houston was able to handle big adult contemporary ballads, effervescent, stylish dance-pop, and slick urban contemporary soul with equal dexterity” and that “the result was an across-the-board appeal that was matched by scant few artists of her era, and helped her become one of the first black artists to find success on MTV in Michael Jackson’s wake”.  The New York Times said that “Houston was a major catalyst for a movement within black music that recognized the continuity of soul, pop, jazz and gospel vocal traditions”.

Houston’s legend will continue to grow with her untimely death.  According to Theo Peridis, a professor of strategic management at Canada’s York University, “It’s a very predictable pattern that happens with all famous artists.  They become valuable commodities.  Fundamentally, it’s the realization that it’s the end of the artist’s productivity, that they won’t produce anything more, that sparks the buying frenzy.”

Although Houston’s estate will grow from residual profits, it’s the people who own the rights to her work that will gain the most, Peridis said.  In fact, he said that Houston could be in line to make Forbes magazine’s list of top-earning dead celebrities this year.

Zack O’Malley Greenburg of Forbes doesn’t believe that Houston’s post-mortem earnings will equal those of Michael Jackson.  According to Greenburg, “The details of who will handle Houston’s estate are still in flux, but industry insiders agree that there’s no way she’ll approach the King of Pop in terms of earnings for a number of reasons.  First of all, Michael Jackson left a trove of unreleased material — enough to land the record-breaking deal with Sony.  Though her estate will get a boost from the album sales spike in the wake of her death, Houston didn’t leave behind much in the way of new songs.”

“There will undoubtedly be an immediate hit from people buying music,” said entertainment attorney Donald David, who has represented the Tupac Shakur estate.  “But if she doesn’t have unrecorded tracks, you’re looking at bargain bin best-of albums…those sorts of things don’t have any kind of lifespan, and they don’t produce a lot of money.”

Of the revenue generated by increased sales of Houston’s music, her estate won’t see as much as Jackson’s because he wrote or co-wrote many of his greatest hits, including ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It.’  Other songwriters wrote the majority of Houston’s work, from ‘I Wanna Dance (With Somebody)’ to ‘I Will Always Love You.’  Dolly Parton wrote the latter, and will receive the publishing revenues from U.S. radio play and licensing to commercials and films.

There’s no denying that Houston’s estate has the potential to take in plenty of money from the artist royalties generated by future album sales.  Michael Jackson sold more than eight million records in the U.S. during the six months after his death, and between 20 and 30 million globally.  If Houston can achieve half of that, her estate has the potential to earn more than $10 million in the coming year from recorded music alone.