Guy Laliberte [Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage]Guy Laliberte is the wealthiest fire-breather in the world, and he's getting even richer. The former street performer founded Cirque du Soleil in 1984 and still owns 80% of the company; revenues topped $1 billion for the first time this year, placing his personal net worth at $2.6 billion, up $100 million last year.
The increase in Laliberte's fortune can be partially traced to music—more specifically, the success of Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, a joint venture with the Jackson estate. Since its October debut, the show has grossed over $2 million per night across 85 show dates, with hundreds more to come.
Laliberte isn't part of the music business in the traditional sense—he doesn't own a record label or a publishing company—but he's one of a handful of moguls on our recently-released Billionaires list benefiting from the increasing value of music. Overall music sales are up for the first time since 2004, and the top 50 global tours grossed 3.7% more than last year.
"Live music is going great, radio stations will always continue to do well," said Richard Branson, whose V Festival is among Europe's biggest music events, in an interview with me last fall. "Those are the territories we think will continue to have a future."
Though Branson is now more focused on other industries—space exploration, for example—he's one of the few billionaires who actually got his start in the music. Among the others on the list, most are more recent entrants in the industry. For example: Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who launched a music service earlier this year; they're now competing with a similar product from billionaire Jeff Bezos' Amazon.
Russian-American industrialist Len Blavatnik bought his way into the business, snagging Warner Music for $3.3 billion this summer. Judging by the combined sale price of EMI's recorded music and publishing divisions for $4.1 billion months later, he's already gotten a solid return on his investment.
On the live music side, Philip Anschutz owns AEG, the second-largest live music company in the world. The outfit operates dozens of the world's greatest concert venues, including the Staples Center and Nokia Theater in L.A., London's O2 and Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz Arena. He fills his halls with his own in-house entertainment, including Usher, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and the Black Eyed Peas.
Then there's Sean Parker, who's looking to fix the very music industry he nearly destroyed with Napster in 1999 as investor and board member for Spotify. The 32-year-old former hacker is already worth $2.1 billion and should see his fortune surge even higher after Facebook goes public this spring.
Parker and most of the other names on this list made the bulk of their fortunes outside of music, but a new crop of music moguls may one day join them as billionaires. Tops on the list of up-and-comers are two actual entertainers: Diddy, who boasts a fortune of $500 million, and Jay-Z, who has amassed $450 million.
Someone who may have an even better shot at reaching the billionaire ranks is Spotify founder Daniel Ek. Though the Swedish entrepreneur is barely a third of the way to becoming a billionaire, he's only 29 years old, giving him plenty of time to catch up.