The British Invasion and the Future of the UK Music Market

The British Invasion of the United States music market began when the Beatles performed live on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. According to American Songwriter, nearly 60 percent of US television viewers were watching. The British Invasion changed the global music market. Artists began writing their own songs. Music became more melodic, which was a huge change for the industry. Technology changed as well. “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles used feedback. This hadn’t been used before in popular music. The Beatles’ appearance in the US sparked an obsession with British music, culture and film.

Before the British Invasion, 1950s rock and roll was rampaging through the US and the United Kingdom. Elvis Presley and other American artists were popular in the UK. But for a while, UK artists were merely an imitation of the US. They were clean-cut, pure and non-threatening (Rolling Stone). Trying to join in the creative process, UK artists tried their own do-it-yourself style with gifted lyrics. The result was the Beatles and other bands. In 1963, the United States experienced the disappointing and astounding loss of President John F. Kennedy, which affected the younger generation. Theorists say that the need for a youthful revolution led to the excitement of the Beatles crossing into the US (Rolling Stone). In addition, the US had acquired a sense of materialism and consumerism from the 1950s, which was nostalgic for the younger generation. This led to fads and the growth of the television market (Anderson 9).

A great amount of planning went into the marketing for their visit to the US, which led to a more modern mass marketing of music. Capitol Records put $50,000 into the promotion of it. Posters and “The Beatles are Coming” stickers were put everywhere (CNN). Venues, including Carnegie Hall for February 12, 1964, were reserved months before. Ed Sullivan happened upon the name of the group after being stuck in Heathrow Airport in London with his wife, due to delays caused by the band’s arrival in October 1963 following a show in Sweden. Weeks later, Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was meeting with Sullivan in New York. Sullivan wanted them for 3 shows. Mass marketing through television helped the Beatles hit the charts in America after making landfall on February 7, 1964.

UK Artists Invade the US – 1960s

British artists hadn’t had success in the US market until then. In fact, only two British singles were at the top of Billboard’s 100 before 1964 (Vanity Fair). And while only three songs appeared on the US Top 40 in 1963, 65 and 68 British songs appeared on it in 1964 and 1965, respectively (Vanity Fair). Numerous other British artists, who thought they’d have no success in the US, had gotten onto the US charts. This included The Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits. In addition, The Beatles re-released their albums in the US market, making them unique to US listeners, although Meet the Beatles wasn’t that different from its British counterpart, With the Beatles. Capitol Records rushed the release so that it would hit in time for the Beatles invasion of the US (The Beatles Image, page 10).

When asked, Beatles manager and agent Brian Epstein described his relationship with his artists as “unusual” and “personal” (Managing the Beatles), noting that he played both roles with little experience. “I like my artists as people, very much,” he said. “I enjoy the company of my artisits, it’s quite true.” He went over to the US to research and get a sense of the market. He was honest with The Beatles that their music hadn’t been right for the US until “I Want to Hole Your Hand”. He also said that the timing of The Beatles visit “could not have been more right.” He also communicated with the band and rejected writers until he found Alun Owen, who he agreed with the band to be right for their first film, A Hard Day’s Night (Managing the Beatles). He researched different “sounds” in the industry to try to predict where the industry might go.

The Dick Clarke Five was another band that showed promise in the global market, and competed with the Beatles (Rolling Stone 1988). In fact, their single “Glad All Over” had overtaken “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. But the music of the Dick Clarke Five failed to progress and change like that of the Beatles, so it didn’t survive the changing winds of the global music market. Although Liverpool was home to the Beatles, London music made its way into the US just as strong. The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Manfred Mann eventually made their way into the US. These bands helped to contribute an electric rhythm and blues sound to UK music exports. The Yardbirds, helped give credibility to British guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page (Rolling Stone 1988).

Even though the Rolling Stones didn’t break into the US and global music scene until 1965 (Rolling Stone 1988), they have a permanent standing in the British Invasion. They signed with Decca, who had rejected The Beatles. Andrew Oldham, who had done public relations work for The Beatles and work in the fashion industry (Adweek), branded The Rolling Stones first in the uniform, matching fashion of the Beatles before moving them to less-uniform clothing style. He micro-managed every part of their image. He added “I Can’t Get No” to the song title of “Satisfaction” in order to present the band as a darker reflection of The Beatles. And he added the comma to “Paint It, Black” to surprise the record company for publicity. His choice to keep the band’s name off of record covers was done to make them more mysterious to consumers (Adweek).

Recorded music in the 1960s was analogue. This was before digital music, which was not released in commercial music until 1977 (Jamcast). A four-track tape machine was common for recording in the mid-1960s. Many parts were recorded on one track and could not be separated, so there was no tolerance for error like there is today in recorded music.

A Surge in British Films

The British Invasion gave way to the spread of British marketing on a global scale. The Beatles’ release of Hard Day’s Night continued the marketing and branding strategy to spread British musicians through film and television. The film was distributed by American company United Artists, and with an estimated budget of $560,000 US, it grossed over $12 million in the US alone (IMDB). In addition to music films, American Robert Broccoli produced and helped introduce the British spy genre to American viewers (Smith, NYT), starting with the James Bond films Dr. No in 1962, From Russia with Love in 1963 and Goldfinger in 1964. James Bond was While the first two films were successful, 1964’s Goldfinger, which was also distributed by United Artists, has grossed an outstanding $124.9 billion US worldwide (IMDB). And with British music and spy films came British pop culture.

1960’s British Fashion

The British Invasion also led to an expansion of London fashion. Long hair, jackets without collars and slim-fit pants came along with the British music artists, as pointed out in Newsweek in 1963. Swinging London and mod fashion were spread to the world.

According to BBC News, photography helped the fashion industry boom in the 1960s as well. Two prominent photographers in 1960s UK were David Bailey and Terrence Donovan. These photographers not only exposed British culture, but also innovated the advertising and entertainment industry. They especially helped access the youth market (BBC News). Donovan experimented not only with the setting of his photography, putting them near factories and other unusual places, but the poses of the models as well. Donovan also experimented with “spy” photography, which preceded the James Bond films, and even got model Peter Anthony a screen test for 007 (BBC News). Bailey, on the other hand, gained attention when he photographed a girl for an autumn copy of Vogue, with her appearing to be leaning down to kiss a squirrel. This sort of unusual photography helped British fashion and photography break into a global spotlight.

The Counterculture

The counterculture started to emerge later into the 1960s in both the UK and the US. Although Bob Dylan had been active for years, protest music had gone from underground to mainstream. Jimi Hendrix, who had travelled to the UK and immerged himself into their music, was also a major artist in the market (Candaele). The youth were grateful for any music that added to their revolution. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones both contributed. Evolving from their original rock and roll roots, the Beatles released Rubber Soul and St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Even American artist Bob Dylan admitted their influence on the industry later (Rolling Stone 1990): “Everybody else thought they were just for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction that music had to go. It seemed to me a definite line was being drawn. This was something that never happened before.” Conservatives who rejected the youth movement and music industry at the time criticized The Rolling Stones and Dylan. Dylan, in fact, helped to politicize The Beatles by encouraging them to access the youth counterculture (Rolling Stone 1990). The US and UK relationship helped to define the generation and the global industry through protest and rock experimentation.

The Present Market

In recent years, the British music market still has a major influence on the global market. New artists, including Adele, One Direction, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, and Mumford & Sons, are prominent in the industry. Modern record companies have a lot of parents. For example, Adele is currently signed with XL Recordings, a company parented by the Beggars Groups, a distributor who is aligned with Warner Music Group. Her US released is through Columbia Records, parented by Sony Music Entertainment. Adele gives XL rights to release and market her recordings worldwide (Sisario, NYT Blog).

According to IFPI, 45% of global music sales came from digital downloads. 39% still comes from a physical format. The rest comes from both performance rights and synchronization. Digital music finally overtook physical sales last year, a 10 percent increase in digital revenues. 19 percent of that comes from streaming services, including Spotify and Pandora. British artists released half of 2015’s top selling albums worldwide. $2.2 billion pounds ($2.7 billion US) of British music revenue were made overseas alone in 2015 (Sky News).

The future of the British Music Industry is bright. In addition to bringing in 4.1 billion pounds ($5.1 billion US), the UK is promoting the education of the industry. UK Music is a pro-music body funded by many British companies in the industry, including UK Live Music and the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. According to UK Music, they’ve launched the Skills Academy for Music, which helps college students find a stepping-stone into the music industry.

A Prediction: UK Artists to take over Americana Genre

The Beatles, influenced by American rock and roll, crossed the Atlantic with their own brand of rock. In all likelihood, we might be seeing a similar trend in the coming future. According to the Guardian, the Americana Music Association formed a new branch in the UK 4 years ago. This year’s conference saw a notable increase in British artists. Mumford & Sons pushed to reintroduce Americana into the industry (Guardian). In order to subsidize the high costs for these British artists going overseas, the Arts Council England pays 75% of travel costs for the artists to come to the US and play music conferences. Artists have to receive invitations to showcases and produce a general business plan of their expenses. As soon as they do that, the Arts Council handles all of their marketing and press. Artists can get 5,000 pounds (Guardian). For each pound spent on these grants, artists generate revenue of almost 9 pounds back in the UK according to the PRS for Music Foundation. There is a silver lining for US artists as well; these organizations are interested in helping them cross to the UK market. So the UK music industry will likely create a strong foothold on the Americana genre in the future. In addition, UK artists, encouraged by these organizations, will continue to fund the education and prosperity of this creative industry.


The recent “Brexit”, resulting in the UK leaving the European Union (EU), also creates concern for the future of the UK Music Industry. According to Digital Music News, the US and UK had an open skies policy. This allowed artists to fly between the two countries at lower costs and higher frequencies. But the Brexit may raise the cost for artists and fans that wish to travel to the UK (Hassan). Also as a member of the EU, UK artists could work in any country in Europe who is connected to the EU. But under the Brexit, the EU may require special work permits for UK artists, among other complications (Hassan).



Anderson, Terry H. The Sixties, Third Edition. New York: Pearson Longman: 2007.

Managing the Beatles: Brian Epstein Interview