Adele‘s album megasales aside, touring is once again the determining factor for the 40 genre-spanning acts that topped Billboard‘s ranking of music’s highest-paid musicians of the past year. For proof of that, just look at this year’s No. 1 (or Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… you get the idea).
(Scroll down to read the methodology of how this list was formulated.)
The country star-turned-pop sensation added yet another milestone to her résumé in 2015 — top earner of the year — thanks to her 1989 World Tour, which included cameo appearances by Julia Roberts, Mick Jagger, Joan Baez and… Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade. Swift’s $61.7 million in touring revenue accounted for the lion’s share of her 2015 haul, but Ryan Adams‘ stark reinterpretation of her 1989 album also helped make her the top earner of publishing royalties.
The Big Revival turned out to be an apt name for Chesney‘s 2015 tour. After sitting out 2014 (and last year’s list) he re-emerged as country’s top road dog, earning $38.1 million playing for his Barefoot Nation fans.
Fifty years after “Satisfaction,” the Stones pocketed $37.3 million playing North American stadiums for the first time since 2007. A “flex pricing” strategy for tickets maximized grosses and minimized scalping.
Joel held his year-to-year standing on this ranking thanks almost entirely to live gigs. Ninety-five percent of his earnings came from just 29 shows, including his monthly Madison Square Garden residency.
Despite Zayn Malik‘s exit in early 2015, 1D raked in $19.6 million on the U.S. leg of its On the Road Again Tour. Box office eclipsed other revenue categories, but the band was the fifth-highest earner in the streaming category.
Deadheads aren’t big on streaming, judging from the band’s $114,800 in digital revenue. Instead they spent their cash on the Fare Thee Well and Dead & Company tours, to the sweet magnolia-scented tune of $22.5 million.
Bryan isn’t just one of the top live acts in music. He finished sixth among all artists in combined physical and digital sales ($4 million) and is country’s No. 1 streaming act — 13th among all artists — after generating a massive 667 million streams in 2015.
U2‘s sales numbers sputtered in 2015. The Irish band moved just 181,000 albums and 718,000 tracks in 2015 but still made it into the top 10 due to earnings from its hot-ticket Innocence + Experience Tour.
The British superstar wowed the industry the old-school way — by moving records. She sold more than 5.5 million copies of 25, making her the top-selling act of 2015 and the only artist on the list who didn’t tour.
The band’s 2014 album, V, helped Adam Levine & Co. rack up 1.3 billion streams, making it one of the eight acts on the list to break the 10-figure threshold and netting M5 almost $800,000 in royalties.
Aldean‘s recorded output generated more than $1.7 million in sales and streaming revenue but only $23,500 in publishing royalties, because the indie country artist relies heavily on outside songwriters.
Twain‘s North American Rock This Country Tour was billed as her last, but don’t be surprised if she returns to the road. Her $13.8 million payday dwarfed her revenue from sales, streaming and publishing.
DMB‘s touring revenue was up $800,000 over 2014, and, surprisingly for a heritage act, scanned an estimated 92,000 digital albums, almost three times the estimated number of physical copies sold (34,000).
Always-evolving Madonna would probably bristle at the designation, but she was one of a few heritage acts on this list — including U2, Dave Matthews Band and Elton John — who sold more digital downloads of albums than physical copies (plus 934,000 individual tracks).
John‘s residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas doubled his 2014 touring revenue. Streaming of his recordings rose $83,100 from the prior year, while sales fell $225,100 during the same period.
The Canadian prog-rockers celebrated their 40th anniversary with the 34-date North American R40 Tour, which earned $10.7 million. Not surprisingly, the trio sold more albums than track downloads stateside.
The Grammy-winning Sheeran wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on his 2014 record, X, which helped earn him an impressive $2.4 million in publishing royalties when the album sold 1.4 million copies in 2015.
After being hospitalized for pneumonia in 2014, Gabriel recovered and embarked upon the biggest Latin tour of 2015 — 13th overall in the United States — becoming the year’s top-earning Latin act in the process.
FGL hasn’t put out an album since Anything Goes in 2014, but the duo still rose 13 notches this year after almost tripling its touring revenue. The band also racked up 460 million streams, second only to Luke Bryan in country.
Christine McVie’s return helped raise Fleetwood Mac eight places on the list. Greatest Hits and Rumours accounted for two-thirds of the band’s strong album sales (600,000), and physical sales outpaced digital 3-to-1.
Diamond‘s fans haven’t exactly embraced streaming and, without a new album in 2015, sales fell from 545,000 to 240,000 units. But because Diamond owns his recorded masters, he makes much more per album sold.
Vegas has been good for Spears. For an act without an album, she sold a respectable 923,000 digital tracks, generated 350 million streams and earned her songs $500,000-plus in publishing royalties. She reaped only $31,000 of that though, because she uses outside songwriters.
Even though Church‘s fifth album, Mr. Misunderstood, arrived with little promotion in 2015 and sold 275,000 copies, he moved a total of 816,000 albums and another 2.7 million digital tracks from his catalog.
Thanks to AC/DC‘s ownership of its catalog, higher royalty rate and strong sales, driven by the late-2014 release of its Rock or Bust LP, non-touring revenue amounted to $4.5 million — nearly half the group’s 2015 take.
Despite having to cancel performances during her Caesars Palace residency due to the failing health (and eventual death) of her husband, Dion still rose five spots and earned $8.7 million at the box office.
Midler‘s fans may be digitally challenged — she generated just 10 million streams, the lowest of anyone on this list — but they love her live, which is why her touring revenue accounted for 97 percent of her earnings.
J. Cole is one of just eight artists on the Money Makers list (five more didn’t make the cut, according to Billboard estimates) to rack up more than 1 billion streams in 2015. Cole also was one of eight acts on the list to generate more than $1 million in publishing revenue.
Everything was working for The Weeknd in 2015. His $5.1 million in combined sales and streaming royalties is the fourth-highest on the list, and he’s one of just eight artists that sold more than 1 million albums.
Grande continued to push her 2014 album My Everything with her Honeymoon Tour, which earned $6.7 million and helped her sell 250,000 albums and 2.5 milllion digital tracks and generate 848 million streams.
The pop-punkers sold 496,000 albums and almost 1.6 million tracks thanks to the popularity of their second album, Sounds Good Feels Good. For a group that popular, streams were low, at 347,000.
In addition to four Grammy Awards for his debut, In the Lonely Hour, Smith was one of eight artists on the list to make more than $1 million in publishing royalties and sell 1 million-plus records.
Drake was the No. 1 streaming artist (2.9 billion plays) and No. 3 in artist royalties ($6.7 million), while he sold 1.7 million albums, including his share of sales for his mixtape with Future.
Based strictly on his solo work, McCartney would have finished at No. 44, but his cut of The Beatles sales — he gets 25 percent of the band’s sales royalties and 45 percent of songwriting royalties — raised him higher.
The former Gap Band singer is one of the surprises on this list, and it’s all due to his rigorous touring schedule: He earned close to $6.5 million at the box office, while just 6 percent of his income came from royalties.
Paisley earned more than $800,000 in artist royalties after his catalog sold 190,000 equivalent albums and 1.4 million in track sales and spurred 228 million streams. He added another $574,000 through publishing.
The Dragons‘ recording revenue surpassed their live take. The Las Vegas band finished No. 5 in publishing royalties ($1.7 million), and its recording earnings totaled $2.4 million, due in part to 623 million streams.
Anthony‘s appearance on the list is almost entirely due to his live performances. Of his $6.5 million in total earnings, $6.2 million came from touring. His artist royalties totaled $348,000, the second-lowest on the tally.
The country vet‘s Good Times and Pick Up Lines Tour earned him $5.5 million, more than compensating for the underwhelming sales and airplay of his 18th studio album, 35 MPH Town (189,000 copies).
Strong album sales, to the tune of 425,000 units, and impressive streaming numbers — 1.3 billion — fueled Minaj‘s year as she continued to promote 2014’s The Pinkprint album and tour.
While Santos had meager album sales of 71,000 units and moved a modest 377,000 track downloads, he was a streaming star with 714 million plays. He also had a hand in writing most of his songs, so his publishing and artist royalties totaled $792,000 –13.3 percent of his 2015 earnings.
CONTRIBUTORS: Ed Christman with Bob Allen, Leila Cobo, Brooke Mazurek, Gordon Murray, Ray Waddell, Natalie Weiner, Nick Williams
METHODOLOGY: Money Makers was compiled with Nielsen Music and Billboard Boxscore, using 2015 U.S. data only. All revenue figures cited are Billboard estimates and may not equal the sum of the subcategories due to rounding. Revenue from merchandising, synchronization and sponsorship is not included. The following royalty rates, minus a 4 percent producer’s fee, were used: album and track sales, 22 percent of retail revenue; streaming revenue, 22 percent for current artists and 50 percent for heritage artists. Publishing royalties were estimated using statutory mechanical rates for album and track sales; the Copyright Royalty Board streaming formula; and an average of $2.50 per play for hit radio and 60 cents per play for heritage spins. For labels’ direct deals with interactive services, blended audio and video rates of, respectively, $0.0063 and $0.0015. (A 10 percent manager’s fee was deducted from each category.) Touring revenue, after the manager’s cut, equals 34 percent of an act’s Boxscore. The top 10 lists for sales royalties were calculated based on physical and digital albums and track sales, the streaming royalty list, track on-demand audio and video streams, and estimated royalties from webcasting, SiriusXM and Music Choice.