By Scott T. Sterling
It’s easy to forget that most of those songs that make you dance and cry and laugh and love are written by filthy rich, savvy business people. Billboard released its 2014 list of “Music’s Top 40 Makers 2014,” ranking the artists who pulled in the biggest pile of bucks in the industry over the last year.
It’s a very exclusive cavalcade of superstars, especially when it’s been determined that the top 1% of artists earn a whopping 77% of all money generated by recorded music. Compare that to the U.S. economy, where the top 1% of the country earned only 20% of all household incomes. We’re no economists, but that is some a pretty insane distribution of wealth in the music industry.
Breaking down the list of this year’s top money-makers, we take a closer look at where exactly all of that money is really going.
The Richest: Taylor Swift (No.1)
Country-pop’s reigning princess rules over all at the bank with $37 million, thanks in large part to her robust concert ticket sales and ability to move albums in large quantities. If the Billboard metric used to calculate the list included sponsorship revenues (which it doesn’t), she’d be No. 1 by an even larger margin, thanks to a wide range of deals from Papa John’s pizza to Elizabeth Arden cosmetics.
The Youngest: Justin Bieber (No. 11) and Niall Horan, Liam Payne & Harry Styles of One Direction (No. 13)
No wonder the Biebs is such a brat – at the tender age of just 20, the increasingly controversial Canadian pop star generated a cool $18.8 million bucks all by himself. British boy-banders Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Harry Styles of One Direction are also only 20 years old, but having to split the band’s collective $18 million five ways seems to have kept them from going “full Bieber” in the bratty category.
The Oldest (Band): Rolling Stones (No. 5)
It’s no surprise that the Stones took this category, with both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards being 70 years old, which is still two years younger than drummer Charlie Watts, who’s 72. Thanks to a big 2013 world tour, the band made more than $26 million last year. Fleetwood Mac (No. 10) isn’t that far behind in age or revenue, with the recently returned Christine McVie at 70 and bassist John McVie at 68, while the band made over $19 million in 2013.
The Oldest (Solo): Paul McCartney (No. 21)
The Beatle has become one of the most beloved figures in music, pulling in a healthy $13.7 million, thanks to massive concerts (including performing for more than 100,000 people in Mexico City over two shows alone) and the Beatles’ 50th anniversary.
Country Music’s Richest Male: Kenny Chesney (No. 2)
While no one was going to dethrone Taylor Swift from the top spot, fellow country artist/NFL aficionado Kenny Chesney was hot on her heels with $31.4 million between his latest album, Life on a Rock, and the ensuing stadium tour.
The Most Unexpected: Trans-Siberian Orchestra (No. 24)
You rarely hear the band’s music on radio outside of the holidays, but progressive rock juggernaut Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of the world’s richest bands, making $12.4 million last year, even without releasing a new album.
The Most ‘80s, Rock Division: Bon Jovi (No. 4)
More than 30 years after first blasting onto FM radio airwaves with the band’s debut single, “Runaway,” Bon Jovi continues to be one the most popular bands in the world. Selling out stadiums as far away as Bulgaria and South Africa on last year’s aptly titled “Because We Can” tour, Jon Bon Jovi and the gang raked in more than $29.4 million in 2013.
The Most ’80s, Pop Division: New Kids on the Block (No. 29)
Getting the band back together in 2008 was obviously a good idea, as the ‘80s boy band icons have all but returned to its former glory, making just under $10 million last year, mostly from women of a certain age packing arenas to recall the good ol’ days on the group’s latest tour.
The Most Country-est: George Strait (No. 15)
While the list is packed with a slew of country music artists, you really can’t get more genuinely country and western than the perennial George Strait. At 61, he still raked in more than $16 million last year, most of it from his “The Cowboy Rides Away” tour. Spry enough to school artists more than half his age, Strait is wisely contemplating hitting the road again and stretching that farewell tour for as long as it can continue to put fans in arena seats.
Hip-Hop’s Richest Rapper: Jay Z (No. 16)
While critics were lukewarm on his latest album, Magna Carter Holy Grail, Jay Z’s deal with Samsung to release the collection helped him generate more than $15.6 million last year. His relentless touring also helped, including a stadium run with buddy Justin Timberlake (N0. 3), who made over 31.4 million in 2013. Jay Z’s bacon-making wife, Beyonce (No.6), helped kick the couple into an even higher tax bracket by earning over $24.4 million of her own dough.
The Newest: Imagine Dragons (No. 31)
Forming in 2008 and releasing the band’s debut album, Night Visions, in late 2012, Imagine Dragons are a bona fide breakout success, pulling in $9.4 million in 2013. Thanks to a string of chart-rocking singles and regularly sold out shows, the group looks to become a regular presence on this list for years to come.
The “Poorest”: Carrie Underwood (No. 40)
This is obviously said with tongue firmly in cheek, as making more than $8 million in a year is about as far from poor as you can get. Sneaking in to snag the last spot on the list, Underwood is such a genuine country music star that many of her fans don’t even remember/realize that she got her start by winning American Idol back in 2005.