Money Makers 2016: Why Dance Music Moguls Don't Make the List (And the DJ Who's Likely On Top)

Kirsten Ulve


Where are the DJs on the Money Makers list? Like their rock, pop and hip-hop counterparts, dance artists rake in a majority of income from performing, but those earnings are rarely reported in full to Billboard Boxscore, due to live dates that favor casino clubs, festivals and overseas gigs not counted in the Money Makers’ calculus, which uses only U.S. data. But using a combination of U.S. earnings from sales, streaming and publishing, plus touring estimates based on interviews with industry insiders, Billboard ranks Calvin Harris as the highest-paid DJ of 2016, with a take home of roughly $28 million -- placing him between Justin Bieber (No. 7) and Luke Bryan (No. 8). 

In 2016, Harris (the top dance artist on Forbes’ recent list of the 100 richest celebrities) made a combined $2.4 million in publishing, sales and streaming, thanks to hits "This Is What You Came For," featuring Rihanna, and "My Way." Last April, he became the first DJ to headline Coachella, for a low-seven-figure fee, according to insiders. While he played only a handful of U.S. festivals in 2016, his partnership with Las Vegas powerhouse Hakkasan Group more than made up for it, with over 40 shows at its Hakkasan, Omnia and Wet Republic properties. "Calvin is obviously a cornerstone of our Las Vegas nightclub business," says Hakkasan Group CEO Nick McCabe. Though Harris’ management and Hakkasan reps declined to comment on his fees, nightlife industry sources confirm he could make upward of $500,000 per show, plus a hefty cut of the bar profits. 


Unlike traditional acts’ labor and gear-intensive outings, DJs can play multiple shows with only a USB drive and an overnight bag. "A DJ’s touring staff is rarely more than five people," says Deckstar Management co-founder Matt Colon, whose roster includes Steve Aoki. "A DJ can make $50,000 to $100,000 a night with less than $5,000 in expenses, while a band can make the same and barely break even."

That means hefty take homes for Harris -- and for his competition. While his 2016 artist and music publishing royalties totaled only $249,000, Dutch veteran Tiësto, who also has a Hakkasan residency, played over 80 shows in the United States alone. Meanwhile, relative newcomers The Chainsmokers led dance with a combined $3.7 million in sales, publishing and streaming, along with over 110 U.S. shows. With a three-year Wynn Nightlife residency kicking off, plus a U.S. arena tour, the duo could knock Harris off his throne as early as next year.

This article originally appeared in the July 22 issue of Billboard.