The top 10 highest paid musicians of 2021 are revealed

17 January 2022, 11:50

Watch the trailer for Springsteen on Broadway

By Mayer Nissim

No tours? No problem for heritage acts who rake in millions with back catalogue sales.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved tough for many musicians last year, with live venues shutting down and festivals being cancelled with little notice.

With the backdrop of controversial royalty rates for streaming and CD sales at a fraction of their turn-of-the-century peak, you might think that no-one made any serious money in 2021.

But there are some pretty big exceptions.

Rolling Stone has published a list of the top earners in music in 2021, and there are some major names and massive numbers all the way down.

The full top ten and estimated earnings was:

  1. Bruce Springsteen ($590 million)
  2. Jay-Z ($470 million)
  3. Paul Simon ($260 million)
  4. Kanye West ($250 million)
  5. Ryan Tedder ($200 million)
  6. Red Hot Chili Peppers ($145 million)
  7. Lindsey Buckingham ($100 million)
  8. Mötley Crüe ($95 million)
  9. Blake Shelton ($83 million)
  10. Taylor Swift ($80 million) 

Bruce Springsteen Performs At NFL Super Bowl

It's worth noting that it wasn't record sales, streaming royalties or live concert revenue that contributed most of the money to the list.

A whopping $550m of chart-topper Bruce Springsteen's earnings last year came from the sale of his publishing copyrights and master recordings to Sony.

The rest came from his Renegades: Born in the USA book and podcast with Barack Obama and, oh yes, his return to the live stage with the next leg of his Springsteen on Broadway residency.

September 11, 2021

"These are almost like pieces of art," founder and CEO of music publishing company Round Hill Music Josh Gruss told the magazine about the high-profile purchases dominating the list.

"There's a finite number of real, super-high-quality hit songs from the past — and there's this sort of all-out grab to own those rights.

"It's a very steady stream of revenue that's there, and that makes it very attractive for investment.”

Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (Taylor's Version) (Lyric Video)

In fact, seven out of the top ten were there off the back of back catalogue sales to record labels or investment companies.

Only Jay-Z, Kanye West and Taylor Swift made the list without handing over their rights.

Of that trio, most of Jay-Z's income was from the sale of half his stake in Armand de Brignac champagne and the bulk of Tidal, while it was Kanye's Yeezy footwear that propelled him up the rankings rather than his records.

While Taylor Swift has made some significant money from partnerships, it's ironically the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) – only conceived when her own rights were sold out from under her – that has earned her spot in the top 10.