What does it take to become one of the highest-paid musicians of the 2010s?A career that peaked in the '80s. Nearly half of the artists that make up thisyear's list of the top-earning music acts have been around long enough thatthey could have appeared on the soundtrack to Back To The Future.
That U2, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna could collectively make anestimated $372 million between June 2009 and June 2010--a little more than halfof the $700 million that the top 10 acts in music brought in--highlights theway that the music business has changed over the last decade. Apple's iTunesaside, few young consumers have shown that they are willing to pay for musicthat they can easily get for free. Album sales have plummeted by more than halfsince 2000, taking away a lucrative earnings stream for musicians and one ofthe ways that artists have traditionally broken through into the mainstream.
All of which makes the success of Lady Gaga all the more unexpected. The24-year-old New York City native went fromplaying gigs on the Lower East Side to selling out Madison Square Garden within 30 months,thanks to an album that sounded like the best of early Madonna and videos thatseemed to come from another dimension where wearing sunglasses made out ofburning cigarettes makes perfect sense. With a worldwide tour andmillion-dollar endorsements with Polaroid, Virgin Mobile and Monster Cable,Lady Gaga netted an estimated $62 million over the last year, the seventhhighest on the list. Madonna, meanwhile, came in below her, at No. 8 with $58million.
Eighties super group U2 made more money than anyone else in music last year,netting an estimated $130 million on the strength of a worldwide tour that sold1.3 million tickets at an average price of $94 a seat in North America alone. The band, which recently postponed some dates onthe tour until 2011, will likely end up in one of the top spots on next year'slist as well. Fellow classic rock staple AC/DC followed U2 with $114 millionafter finishing up a tour that grossed $2.3 million a night.
Acts that began their careers in the '90s--back in the days when it wasstill relatively easy to make money from recorded music--round out the rest ofthe top 10. With a net of $87 million, Beyonce once again proved to be thehighest-paid female musician and No. 3 overall, though more than half of hertotal earnings came from endorsements with companies ranging from Nintendo toL'Oreal and from her growing fashion line. Kenny Chesney, whose $50 million inearnings landed him at No. 9, was the highest-paid act in country music lastyear.
Musicians may be less likely to break the $100 million mark in annualearnings next year, however. The concert business, which has long stood out asthe lone bright spot in the industry, is wilting. Live Nation, which recentlymerged with Ticketmaster to become the most dominant force in the live musicbusiness, now serves as an industry bellwether. It recently announced thatticket sales for its top 100 acts dropped 9% for the year, amid a 17% drop inthe concert business at large, and it expects sales to fall further.
The real drop in music industry earnings may be yet to come. "Everybodywas surprised by how well the business held up last year, despite the economycrashing around us," says Gary Bongiovanni, the editor of Pollstar, a concert trade publication.The biggest fear of some promoters is oversaturation of the market, as the sameacts tour year after year without a new album to support. That may soon lead toa decline in both ticket sales and ticket prices. "In today's worldartists have to tour to make money because they can't just sit at home andcollect their royalties and expect to make their mortgage payments,"Bongiovanni says.
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