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Music’s Top 40 U.S. Money Makers of 2021

The Rolling Stones crowned the domestic ranking with $50.8 million on the strength of the group's blockbuster No Filter Tour.

The three months that The Rolling Stones spent touring the United States in the fall of 2021 enabled the veteran rockers to overtake Taylor Swift — who did not tour — as the top-earning act on Billboard’s annual Money Makers ranking for that year.


The Stones’ U.S. live dates, which represented the conclusion of their No Filter Tour, resulted in a $44.5 million box-office take and played the biggest role in boosting the veteran rockers to No. 1, with a total income of $50.8 million.

Swift, who topped the global ranking with $65.8 million in take-home pay, finished second domestically — she and the Stones have swapped the top two spots since 2018 — and was not far behind with $38.8 million, largely on the strength of her master recording royalties.

Compared side-by-side, the top five earners on the global and U.S. Money Makers rankings are nearly identical, with Harry Styles holding the No. 3 spot on both, with $41.3 million and $37 million, respectively; and Drake at No. 5, with $30.7 million and $23.8 million. The big difference can be found at No. 4, where K-pop superstars BTS reside on the global ranking, with $38.4 million in 2021 take-home pay, and the hard-touring Eagles occupy the U.S. tally, with earnings of $27.3 million.

Looking at the combined earnings of 2021’s top 40 Money Makers on the U.S. ranking, artist income rebounded as touring resumed. Total take-home pay jumped from $378 million in 2020 to $679 million last year — a 360% increase due largely to a much-improved box office. In 2020, the top 40 Money Makers took home a collective $79 million. In 2021, that total ballooned to $363.6 million, a sum that is still slightly less than half of the $779 million music acts took home from touring in pre-pandemic 2019.

The top 40’s collective sales royalties rose 17.8% from $59 million in 2020 to $69.6 million last year, while $195.3 million in 2021 streaming royalties was up just 1.2%. Total publishing royalties for the group fell to $51.1 million from $55 million in 2020.

Recorded masters accounted for 46.5% of the top 40’s take-home pay in 2021, significantly down from 79% in 2020, when touring shut down due to the pandemic. But it’s more than double the 20% average of total income that royalties typically comprise when touring is unimpeded.

Composition-wise, the U.S. 2021 Money Makers top 40 comprised 23 current artists and 17 heritage artists, which Billboard defines as acts that have released a minimum of 10 albums or have been active for at least 20 years. By genre, rock once again retained the largest position on the list at 14, up one from 2020. Pop and Latin held steady with nine and two acts on the ranking, respectively. R&B and hip-hop artists fell from 12 to seven as a result of high-grossing tours crowding them out. On the other hand, the number of country artists in the top 40 almost tripled from three to eight now that the genre is seeing exponential growth in streaming.

Of the top 40, nine artists benefited from owning some or all of their master recordings. Those acts include the Stones, Swift, Dead & Company (Grateful Dead), Olivia Rodrigo, Genesis, the Beatles, Metallica, Queen and Billy Joel.

So, what’s not represented in the Money Maker earnings totals? Sale prices of artists’ song catalogs, such as the estimated $550 million that Sony paid to acquire Bruce Springsteen’s publishing catalog and master recordings were not factored into the calculations, nor were song synch and merch income because there are no reliable resources that track those transactions. Also, DJs are not generally included on Money Makers because their recorded master royalties usually aren’t large enough to make the cut, and they rarely report their live earnings, which constitute most of their income. Deceased artists also are excluded from the rankings.


Money Makers was compiled with 2021 Luminate and Billboard Boxscore data, the RIAA’s physical and digital revenue report for 2021, and IFPI global revenue statistics. All revenue figures cited are Billboard estimates and may not equal the sum of the subcategories due to rounding and the omission of revenue categories. Global sales were extrapolated for 21 artists that ranked highest on the 2020 Money Makers list. Global artist royalties were extrapolated using U.S. revenue totals, minus 30% of international royalties in line with major-label contractual clauses for foreign distribution.

U.S. formulas were used to estimate publishing revenue. Calculating royalties from master-recording performance rights was not possible because those rights do not exist for most uses in the United States. Unless otherwise noted, references to streaming totals consist of combined on-demand audio, video and programmed streams. References to recording-career totals are the sum of an act’s sales, streaming and publishing earnings. Revenue from featured-artist appearances, merchandising, synchronization and sponsorship is not included. Touring revenue, after the manager’s cut, equals 34% of an act’s Boxscore. Sales royalties were calculated based on physical and digital albums and track sales. Streaming royalties consist of on-demand audio and video streams, and estimated royalties from webcasting, SiriusXM and Music Choice.

The following royalty rates were used: album and track sales, 22% of retail revenue; 66% of wholesale if the artist owns his or her masters. On-demand streaming royalties were calculated using blended audio and video rates of, respectively, $0.0053 and $0.0038 per stream, applied against a 37% superstar-artist royalty rate; 50% for heritage artists (acts that have released at a minimum of 10 al-bums or been active for at least 20 years); and 79% for artist-owned masters. Further, a blended statutory subscription per-stream rate of $0.0024 was applied to programmed streams and per-play estimated rates of 74 cents for Music Choice and $46 for SiriusXM. Royalties for programmed streams were calculated on a similar basis using a 50% base royalty rate; 68% for artists that own some of their masters and 100% for artists that own all their masters, minus 5% for side performers.

Publishing royalties were estimated using statutory mechanical rates for album and track sales. The Copyright Royalty Board streaming formula produced an average rate of 13.4% of streaming revenue, an average of $2.50 per play for hit songs; $1 per play for heritage spins and genre songs that didn’t attain hit status; and per-play publishing rates of 40 cents for Music Choice, $8.33 for SiriusXM and $0.0003 for programmed streams. A 10% manager’s fee and 4% producer’s fee were deducted from the appropriate revenue streams.