Chainsmokers Dethrone Calvin Harris & 7 Other Surprises From Forbes' Richest DJs List 2019

Jared Siskin/amfAR/Getty Images
The Chainsmokers attend the amfAR New York Gala 2019 at Cipriani Wall Street on Feb. 6, 2019 in New York City.  

Every year since 2012, Forbes has crunched the numbers on the business of electronic music and gifted the world a list of the highest-paid DJs. In the innaguaral edition of Forbes' so-called Electronic Cash Kings, Tiesto took the top spot at $22 million, and Calvin Harris wasn't even in the top 10. The Scottish hit-maker made a big splash in 2013 by taking the lead with a curb-stomping $46 million, a statistic that put him above even Jay-Z and Katy Perry for the year.

In the years that followed, DJs have earned even bigger paychecks, becomcing staples of Las Vegas entertainment, earning commercial endorsement deals, moving from club to stadium tours and crossing over into mainstream stardom. Between July 2018 and July 2019, the top DJs earned more money than ever before, with Forbes author Monica Mercuri noting that "the top 15 acts clocked $358 million in pretax earnings over the past 12 months, $272 million of that coming from the top ten, up a tick from last year’s collective $260 million."

How is that possible when the cost of electronic entertainment has actually come down from a market peak? We've got the answers to those and seven more surprises from Forbes' 2019 list of highest-earning DJs.

1. Calvin Harris' Six-Year Streak as the Richest DJ Is Over

Harris fell not one but two spots in 2019. The Chainsmokers are the new kings of cash with a total revenue of $46 million before taxes. A three-year residency with Wynn Nightlife, which was recently extended until 2021, has a lot to do with it. The Chainsmokers raked in more dollars from festival sets, private performances, endorsements and music sales. According to Forbes, the going rate for a Chainsmokers performance sits in the mid six-figure range. 

2. Marshmello Doubled His Money While the DJ Market Slumps

Marshmello came in at No. 2 with $40 million. His recent $60 million residency deal at Las Vegas' Kaos Dayclub and Nightclub at the Palms Casino Resort helped nearly double his annual earnings. It was the Marshmello-infused cash influx that gave the 2019 top 10 its $12 million advantage of 2018. Wayne Kamemoto, senior partner at business management firm NKSFB, told Forbes, “The average gross guarantees had already plateaued and have decreased for electronic acts ... but the biggest acts are still commanding high guarantees.”

3. Vegas' DJ Obsession Is Slowing Down

Almost all of the DJs who make this annual list have residencies in Las Vegas. It's a lucrative business to be in, usually one that comes with at least a year gaurantee, but Las Vegas mainstay Steve Aoki thinks the market is harder to break into now than during the big EDM boom of the mid 2010s. “They need to hit harder through the ceiling to be able to draw that kind of attention,” Aoki is quoted. “For the guys and girls that are in that space, if you ain't bringing in the money, then you're going to be out.”

4. Steve Aoki Played More Shows Than Any Other DJ

Aoki, for his part, is not resting on his laurels. The Dim Mak label head recently extended his Vegas deal with Hakkasan, but he's also hittig the tour circuit harder than any other DJ on the scene. He played more than 200 shows during the summer 2018 to summer 2019 scoring period, and also landed endorsement deals with Diesel and Samsung, launched a pizza delivery service, published an autobiography and a comic book and continued running his label and clothing brand for a total of $30 million, landing him at No. 4. 

5. Pauly D Makes as Much Money as DJ Snake and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike

He might not have the cross-genre hits or European popularity, but the Jersey Shore star has never been left wanting. DJ Pauly D appeared on Forbes' initial 2012 list with about $11 million banked, and in 2019, he stays steady in a three-way tie for 15th place at $11.5 million. He's joined by French producer turned global star DJ Snake and Belgian Tomorrowland poster boys Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. Who needs dance-pop hits on international radio when you've got hair like his?

7. There Has Still Never Been a Woman on the List, But Alison Wonderland Was Close

It's unfortunately unsurprising that a woman has never graced the Forbes' list of highest-paid electronic acts, but it is slightly comforting to know Alison Wonderland was only a few million shy of the top 15 this year. Nervo almost cracked the list in 2014, too. There's no lack of female talent on the market, and as DJ crowds become more discerning, we're hopeful women behind the decks will rise among the ranks. Here's to your hustle, ladies. We've got our fingers crossed for next year.

Read the full top 15 via Forbes' 2019 list of highest-paid DJs on Forbes.com.


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