Kang Hyo-won is not a marquee name in the music industry. The South Korean producer is better known as Pdogg, the studio wizard behind hits by K-pop supergroup BTS and other acts on the roster of Korean entertainment company HYBE. Because Kang played a key role in HYBE’s global success, his employer gave him 128,000 stock options in 2016 that turned into about $35 million when Kang exercised them. (All currency conversions to U.S. dollars in this story are based on the average 2021 exchange rate.) That made Kang the second-highest-paid music industry executive last year among those whose earnings are publicly disclosed.
Yoon Seok-jun (aka Lenzo Yoon) and Kim Shin-gyu, co-CEO of HYBE America and chief artist management officer, respectively, also benefited from HYBE going public. Yoon netted nearly $34 million and Kim gained $24 million from the 2021 sale of stock options — thanks to the common corporate practice of tying top employees’ compensation to the valuation of its common stock.
“HYBE grants stock options to members who have contributed to the establishment and management of the company, overseas sales or innovation in accordance with the Commercial Act and the articles of incorporation,” the company said in a statement to Billboard. “The members of HYBE, who are granted stock options, are diverse, including creators, management and key personnel.” The practice also extends to key artists. HYBE chairman Bang Si-hyuk even gave the seven members of BTS shares equal to a 1.4% stake in the company.
HYBE may be an extreme example of equity-based wealth in the music business, but it’s hardly unique. As the industry has grown since the mid-2010s, a few companies have tapped into investor interest by going public. That has turned some founders into billionaires and enriched executives who helped build the biggest corporations.
Billboard’s inaugural Executive Money Makers breakdown of stock ownership and executive compensation shows who is most handsomely rewarded for founding and leading the publicly traded companies that made the modern music business appealing to investors. (story continues after charts)
The more recognizable names on these lists are, in many cases, executives who spent over a decade building corporate giants. Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge would have topped the compensation list with only his $48.4 million (40.9 million euros) standard salary and performance bonuses. But in 2021, Grainge earned several one-off bonuses from UMG’s former parent company, Vivendi: $230.5 million (195 million euros) for guiding the company to its September 2021 listing on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange and two bonuses worth a combined $45.4 million (38.4 million euros) related to investments from a consortium led by Tencent Holdings and Pershing Square Capital. Vivendi got a fantastic return on its investment under Grainge’s leadership. It passed on an $8.5 billion takeover bid in 2013 and entrusted Grainge to guide the company through the post-CD doldrums and into a streaming-focused golden age. UMG’s valuation when it finally went public? $55 billion. Had UMG been public over the last decade, Grainge would have likely amassed stock ownership. UMG didn’t have a stock incentive plan prior to going public, so Vivendi paid Grainge in cash.
SiriusXM CEO Jennifer Witz, the top female on the best-compensated executives list, joined the company in 2002 and has held various senior finance and operations roles within the company. She was promoted from president of sales, marketing and operations in January 2021 after Jim Meyer stepped down. Only 5% of Witz’s total compensation came from a guaranteed salary. As is common with publicly traded companies, SiriusXM bases much of its top executives’ compensation on the growth of its share price and performance against certain financial and other metrics. About 75% of Witz’s compensation came from stock options and restricted stock units (that will vest in the coming years), and the remainder was a performance-based bonus. Under Witz’s guidance, SiriusXM excelled in 2021, growing 8% to a record $8.7 billion in revenue. SiriusXM’s satellite radio subscriptions grew by 1.1 million to 32 million during the pandemic and a nationwide slowdown in auto sales, the company’s key method for acquiring customers.
Michael Rapino became Live Nation president/CEO just before it went public in December 2005 and led the company through its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster, as well as countless acquisitions of promoters, festivals, management firms and ticketing companies. In 2005, Live Nation traded at $13 and had an annual revenue of $3.7 billion. Now, with revenue on pace to easily surpass the $11.6 billion reached in pre-pandemic 2019 and Live Nation shares trading at nearly $100, he lands on both lists, along with Warner Music Group CEO Stephen Cooper, who led the major from an annual revenue of $2.9 billion in 2011 to $5.3 billion in its latest fiscal year.
The individuals who top Billboard’s ranking of stockholders tend to be company founders who own double-digit shares of outstanding common stock. (Note: All stock ownership valuations are based on the companies’ closing share prices as of Aug. 24.) Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and co-founder Martin Lorentzon lead the list with $3.7 billion and $2.4 billion worth of shares, respectively. Ek owns 16% of Spotify’s common shares, about half of which are deemed to be beneficially owned by him but held by Spotify investor Tencent Music Entertainment and other foreign companies. (Ek’s D.G.E. Investments holding company has an irrevocable proxy with regards to those shares.)
No. 3, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg ($2.1 billion), the CEO of German promoter and ticketing company CTS Eventim, acquired an early incarnation of the company in 1996 and took it public four years later. Schulenberg indirectly owns his shares through his KPS Foundation.
Next is Bang ($1.7 billion), who founded Big Hit Entertainment — since renamed HYBE — and created a global powerhouse that extends well beyond K-pop. No. 7 on the list, Denis Ladegaillerie ($106 million), co-founded French music company Believe in 2005, guided it through investments and major acquisitions such as distributor TuneCore and took it public in 2020.
It’s worth noting that Ek, Lorentzon, Schulenberg, Bang and Ladegaillerie have something else in common besides large holdings of valuable shares: None of them appear on the most-compensated list.
These rankings are based on publicly available financial releases — such as proxy statements, annual reports and Form 4 filings that reveal executives’ recent stock transactions — that publicly traded companies are required to file. Securities laws require companies to show shareholders the amounts they compensate their executives and the various ways they are rewarded, such as guaranteed salaries, grants of stock and stock options, and bonuses.
The Money Makers executive compensation table contains only executive officers named in these reports: the CEO, the top financial officer and the next most highly paid executive officers. Conglomerates that own numerous companies — such as record labels and music publishers — disclose compensation for corporate-level officers only, not well-paid label heads or superstar artists on their rosters.
Take Warner Music Group’s December 2021 acquisition of 300 Entertainment for $400 million. The deal was surely a windfall for 300 co-founders Kevin Liles, Lyor Cohen, Todd Moscowitz and Roger Gold, but they are not named executive officers, and the transaction doesn't qualify as compensation for WMG's reporting purposes. Sony Music Entertainment’s executive compensation is not revealed by its parent company, Sony Corp., and No. 2 concert promoter AEG Presents is owned by privately held Anschutz Entertainment Group, for example. Were they stand-alone, publicly traded companies, they would be required to make such disclosures. As a result, these rankings should not be considered exhaustive. But, if recent trends persist, there will be more public music companies in 2023 and more executives will be eligible for future lists.