Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, you’ll have heard that the Covid-19 era has been incredibly difficult for musicians. Unfortunately, performing artists depend on all the things that the virus also thrives upon: large groups of people gathering in public spaces to listen to the same music and breathe the same air. Venues have closed down, festivals have been cancelled, and promoters have gone bust – it’s been a very hard couple of years, but, apparently, only for some.
Rolling Stone recently published a list of the top earners in music in 2021. The names are big, but the earnings are bigger – revealing just how much the artists we love the most are raking in. You can check out the full top ten and estimated earnings below.
I should point out that these figures aren’t simply based on streaming royalties, live tour revenue, or record sales. Bruce Springsteen, for example, earned a gargantuan $550m from the sale of his publishing copyright and master recordings to Sony.
The rest of the money came either from his Renegades: Born In The USA book and podcast with (big name alert) Barack Obama, or his immensely successful Springsteen on Broadway residency. As Josh Gruss, CEO of the music publishing company Round Hill Music, said of major publishing sales: “These are almost like pieces of art. It’s a very steady stream of revenue that’s there, and that makes it very attractive for investment.”
Seven out of the top ten earners were on that list because of major back catalogue sales to record labels and investment companies. In fact, only Only Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift made the list without selling off their publishing rights. Jay-Z made his income from the sale of his share in Armand de Brignac champagne and Tidal, while the majority of Kanye’s earnings stemmed from Yeezy footwear.
Taylor Swift, however, stands in stark contrast to the likes of Paul Simon and Springsteen, because, while she has made money from partnerships, it is actually the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) – both of which were re-recorded in response to Swift’s publishing rights being sold without her permission – that has secured her place alongside the other top earners.
The highest-paid musicians 2021:
- Bruce Springsteen ($590 million)
- Jay-Z ($470 million)
- Paul Simon ($260 million)
- Kanye West ($250 million)
- Ryan Tedder ($200 million)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers ($145 million)
- Lindsey Buckingham ($100 million)
- Mötley Crüe ($95 million)
- Blake Shelton ($83 million)
- Taylor Swift ($80 million)