While country music may still come across as appealing to a predominantly rural, or southern audience, the fact is, in 2014 many country artists have not only actively shed that perception, but also crossed over into the mainstream music world, appealing to everyone; from college kids at the club to the farmer in the Midwest. Furthermore, in 2014 country music performers as a whole are earning more than ever, but not merely through their music and not solely in the southern United States, or even solely in the United States as a whole. Because the days of the outlaw country singer are fading, and glossy pop-laden country music is dominating the airwaves more and more, country music is becoming less and less a niche market and more of a global mainstream juggernaut. As the ten performers on this list can attest to, it pays big to be a country star in 2014.
10. Florida Georgia Line: $24 million in 2014
Based on the massive success of their 7x platinum single “Cruise” and further buoyed by selling two million copies of their debut album, Here’s To The Good Times, the country music duo of Florida Georgia Line are the first entry of top earners on this list for 2014. Despite criticism from the press of their less than faithful flavour of country music, being labelled ‘bro-country’ more than once, Florida Georgia Line don’t appear to be losing their profitability anytime soon. Their current album, Anything Goes, released on October 14, with the lead single “Dirt” has sold over a million copies while hitting number one on the Billboard Hot country Chart.
9. George Strait: $26 million in 2014
From ‘bro-country’ to a country legend, the inimitable George Strait finally decided to hang up his cowboy boots and hat and put down the guitar in 2014, but not before embarking on the tried, tested and true farewell tour. Strait’s aptly named Cowboy Rides Away Tour sold over a million tickets nationwide and pulled in a whopping $100 million in sales. Furthermore, the grand finale at AT&T Stadium in the heart of the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Arlington, Texas broke not one but two country music records by drawing over 100,000 fans and earning $18 million in sales. Not a bad way for the “King of Country” to call it a career.
8. Rascal Flatts: $27 million in 2014
Despite the fact that Rascal Flatts are the sixth most popular group among children in the 10 to 12-year-old age range, the band has been able to maintain their commercial success. Collecting royalties on previous albums that continue to sell (22 million thus far), as well as adding another chart topping album, Rewind, to their illustrious resume has helped Rascal Flatts earn $27 million in 2014. Revenues from the Rewind Tour with Sheryl Crow also have certainly added to the band’s coffers.
7. Keith Urban: $28 million in 2014
Keith Urban, the New Zealand via Australia, guitar virtuoso moonlighting as a country music performer and reality TV judge (seriously, on record: boring, live: Keith Urban can hold his own with anybody on the guitar) sits at number seven on the list of highest earning country performers in 2014. Thanks to revenue from live shows, continued sales of his 2013 hit album Fuse, and a multi-million dollar deal signed with network TV to remain a judge on American Idol, Urban brought in $28 million this year. Regardless of how you feel about his music, if you’re a guitar player and get a chance to see him perform live without having to shell out big bucks, go. It really is worth it.
6. Zac Brown Band: $29 million in 2014
Though the last full album the Zac Brown Band released was 2012’s Uncaged, sales of the album have remained strong through 2014. The Grammy winning band also released a four-song EP this past spring to critical acclaim. Beyond the continuing album sales, the Zac Brown Band has remained most profitable in 2014 on the strength of the success of their live shows, which started at the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year’s Day.
5. Luke Bryan: $34 million in 2014
With the seventh best selling album in the country, regardless of musical style, Luke Bryan has officially crossed from country artist into the mainstream. Crash My Party, released in 2013, sold over 1.5 million copies last year, and a further 500,000 this year. The ‘bro-country’ superstar has also grossed over $30 million thus far on his That’s My Kind Of Night Tour which wraps up on October 25 in Los Angeles. While many purists chide his musical style, there is no denying that the masses love Luke Bryan and that, like Florida Georgia Line, his brand of ‘country’ music isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
4. Jason Aldean: $37 million in 2014
Another ‘bro-country’ artist, though he apparently hates being called that, Jason Aldean may be as famous to non-country music fans for his affair with a former American Idol contestant, but the rocking country singer is a huge success on the charts. Every one of Aldean’s albums have gone platinum with a million units sold, with his latest album Night Train still selling well two years after its release. In 2014 Aldean has more than doubled his earnings from last year, with the majority of that money coming from the $32 million the as yet unfinished Burn It Down Tour has racked in.
3. Kenny Chesney: $44 million in 2014
How Kenny Chesney managed to make $44 million and end up number three on this list, having just released an album at the end of September and having only played 29 shows so far in 2014, is a testament to his immense popularity. Album sales of The Big Revival have been high, with the album debuting at number one on the Billboard Top Country albums chart and even reaching number two on the Billboard top 200. So far, his current tour has seen him play to over 30,000 fans in every city, bringing in millions of dollars with no signs of stopping.
2. Taylor Swift: $64 million in 2014
It comes as no surprise to see Taylor Swift in the top two of highest earners in country music. Although only 24, Swift has amassed a fortune, and only added to it in 2014. Her major revenue stream came predominantly from the massive success of her The Red Tour which brought in over $150 million between March of 2013 and June of this year, but also from some very high profile and lucrative endorsement contracts with the likes of Diet Coke and Cover Girl. Swift also acted in the film The Giver released this past summer. Already sitting pretty in 2014, Swift is also releasing the album 1989, which will not only add to her bank account this year, but also ensure another high entry on this list next year.
1. Toby Keith: $65 million in 2014
Not only the number one highest earning country star in 2014, Toby Keith was the highest earning musician period in 2013. With no new album released this year and a tour of Australia as his only live shows, Keith made the vast majority of his money on his various business ventures in 2014, business ventures that have helped him accrue a net worth of nearly $500 million. Among Toby Keith’s business enterprises is a successful chain of bar and grills, his own record label, his own brand of whisky and a mega-bucks endorsement deal with Ford. Not only is Keith a wildly popular and successful country artist, but also a deft entrepreneur making it no surprise that he’s number one on this list.