The music industry is a love/hate business. In the digital age where the Internet enables streaming, downloading and the dissemination of music as a lightning fast and most often free medium, it can be very difficult for artists to stay relevant and make money. There’s so much music readily available, to be downloaded freely at the click of a mouse, that the days of buying albums in physical brick and mortar shops is nearing its end.
Making maters worse, modern technology has enabled bands and artists to stop relying on record labels to help record and promote their music, creating a dizzying array of new music to discover daily. As such, music fans are more fickle than ever, and even bigger named, more widely promoted artists are not immune to the short memory of the music consuming public. Nowadays an artist can find their new, even heavily promoted hit single on top of every chart in the world one minute, and the next find the song has disappeared, usurped by another internet-produced one hit wonder, forgotten as quickly as it appeared.
With all that in mind, it’s no wonder that the majority of the artists on this list have two things in common; that they are very well established, some with careers spanning decades, and that they tour incessantly. Touring is by far the biggest moneymaker for a musician in today’s musical climate with record sales considerably lower than they used to be. Because of this, the list of highest-earning musicians changes year to year depending on who releases an album when and who tours the most. Here’s the list of highest-earning musicians in 2013, with 2014’s list no doubt going to be completely different.
10 Beyoncé: $53 million in 2013
Last year Beyoncé Knowles maintained her position as a firmly established top earner in the music industry. In 2013 she launched her Mrs (Jay Z) Carter world tour, and earned a staggering $2 million in every city that she performed in. Beyond the massive success of the tour, Beyoncé collects royalties regularly from her plethora of hits that are still being played on the radio, downloaded at a cost, and yes, even bought in stores. Not one to limit herself solely to music, Beyoncé also earned plenty of money from her non-musical ventures as well, which included endorsements with both Pepsi and clothing line H&M, as well as House of Dereon, the singer's own clothing line.
9 Elton John: $54 million in 2013
The man who penned classics like “Crocodile Rock” and “Tiny Dancer” as an eccentric rocker in the 1970s and went on to have an illustrious career writing ballads and songs for Disney movies in later years, showed no signs of stopping in 2013. Elton John was the ninth highest grossing musician of the year due to, once again, touring. Understanding the necessity of touring as well as anyone, John pulled in $1 million-plus per night in every city he visited. With an album release and a further world wide touring this year, it won’t be any surprise to see Elton John claim a spot on this list again in the near future.
8 Taylor Swift: $55 million in 2013
The lower earners on this list are all extremely close in revenue made from 2013, with Taylor Swift only out-earning both Beyoncé and Elton John by a mere $2 million, but in the entertainment industry, each dollar counts. A relative newcomer compared to those she out-earned last year, Swift actually made a good chunk of her change based on the strength of her album sales. Thanks to the strength of the Billboard topping hit single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” sales of her album Red remained steady in 2013, and the tour that followed cashed in on the album's success. Like most musicians with star power, Swift signed major endorsement deals with Diet Coke, Sony and Covergirl, making her the eighth-highest earner in 2013.
7 Justin Bieber: $58 million in 2013
Canada’s newest entry into worldwide mega stardom, Justin Bieber, better known lately for repeatedly running afoul with the law, earned mega dollars last year. Bieber made money mostly through touring the world, but has also branched out into the world of venture capitalism by investing in and owning stakes in media companies such as Enflick, Tinychat and Spotify. Depending on how his legal troubles go and how successful his investment portfolio is, Bieber will either be on this list again in a few months time, or nowhere near it.
6 Bruce Springsteen: $62 million in 2013
Rock and roll legend and cultural icon Bruce Springsteen has had a successful career spanning over 40 years, and the Boss shows no signs of stopping. Earning a handsome $62 million over the course of last year, Springsteen, like Elton John, is a veteran who knows the value of touring. While album sales may be down for everyone due to downloading, nothing can replace the revenue of a live concert if you’re still a relevant force in music, as Springsteen surely is. With ticket costs hitting upwards of $400 and merchandise in the double digits as well, bringing in $1 million per city over the course of Springsteen’s tour doesn’t seem all that surprising. Make no mistake, merchandise is a big part of the financial success of many artists; after all, you can’t download a t-shirt.
5 Coldplay: $64 million in 2013
British ‘rockers’ Coldplay have been consistently high earners since arriving on the scene over a decade ago. Owing to their appeal of jaded fans of U2, who have either grown tired of Bono’s politics, or the lacklustre material the Irish band has generally released since the early 2000s, Coldplay’s latest world tour routinely made the band an astounding $3 million a night. That feat is something only a few rock bands, like the aforementioned U2, have been able to pull off in recent years.
4 Toby Keith: $67 million in 2013
There’s no question country music is huge, predominantly in the United States and parts of Canada, and Toby Keith was country music’s shining star in 2013. The singer pulled in plenty of cash via touring and album sales, but his business model for making money goes well beyond the music. Much of Keith’s earnings come from the 18 restaurants he has a stake in, including I Love this Bar and Grill, his brand of liquor and a clothing line. All told, Keith has a total net worth from his music career and business venture that is over $500 million.
3 Bon Jovi: $79 million in 2013
Love him or hate him, you can’t argue with how Jon Bon Jovi has manoeuvred his band from the pseudo 1980s hair rock icons they started their career as into one of the most formidable and consistent earners in rock music over the past thirty years. The “Because We Can” tour of 2013 in name sums up the place Bon Jovi holds in the music business today. The band, and its eponymous frontman, really can do whatever they want at this point in their career. They're playing their old hits, dabbling in country music, and have put out a few lacklustre albums lately, but people will still pay, and pay top dollar, to see the band perform. Based on the strength of earning of over $3 million per city on the “Because We Can” tour, Bon Jovi is third on this list.
2 Lady Gaga: $80 million in 2013
The ever eccentric, always creative Lady Gaga made a lot of money in 2013 thanks to continued sales of her albums, an acting gig and her massive “Born This Way” tour that was set to traverse the globe with 110 shows in all on nearly every continent in the world. The tour had grossed over $168 million before Lady Gaga had to ultimately cancel the last leg of the tour due to a major hip injury. Even still, $80 million in the singer’s pocket alone is fair worker’s compensation.
1 Madonna: $125 million in 2013
The original Gaga, the original controversy-causing diva and far and away the original trailblazer in female pop music, the Material Girl was as profitable in 2013 as she has ever been. Thanks to her “MDNA” tour, which grossed a staggering $305 million world wide, Madonna made massive amounts of money on ticket prices and the sale of tour merchandise. Madonna also added to her coffers with endorsement deals and sales of her clothing and perfume lines. 30 years on and Madonna is still the queen of pop, and, at least for 2013, she holds the title of the reigning highest earner in music.