Billboard’s 2020 Global Money Makers: The 5 Top Highest Paid Musicians

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Queen photographed in 1980.

Although the music business is an increasingly global enterprise, reliably measuring the income of artists who are popular on an international scale remains an inexact science. The September 2020 launch of Billboard’s global charts, which are based on digital track sales and streaming reports from over 200 territories, has made the process more accurate, but many key metrics, such as authoritative physical and digital album sales, are currently not obtainable.

In order to determine sound estimates of music’s top global artists for 2020, Billboard employed a multistep calculation process. To estimate global sales, we compared the RIAA’s physical and digital revenue report for last year with IFPI’s global revenue statistics and found that domestic physical sales made up 30.6% of total global sales (physical music video sales were not counted), while domestic digital sales accounted for 56% of global digital sales.

Using these percentages, we extrapolated global sales for 22 artists, based on their high rankings in the top sales and international touring categories used to determine the 2020 U.S. Money Makers list (which Billboard Pro will publish July 19). Likewise, without hard sales numbers, we used U.S. formulas to estimate publishing revenue. Industry sources say international publishing payouts are slightly higher, but they differ among territories. Calculating royalties from master-recording performance rights was also not possible because those rights do not exist for most uses in the United States.

To accommodate label holdbacks for international sales, Billboard deducted 30% of royalties from all non-U.S. sales and streaming revenue. All estimates are before contractual recoupments, such as recording costs, which vary by artist and would be impossible to calculate. Livestreams, such as BTS’ June 2020 Bang Bang Con, were also not included in our calculations because of reporting issues.

Given this methodology, the results for the following five acts are most likely conservative.Except for 2020’s No. 1 Global Money Maker, Queen, the remaining four are contemporary pop acts, three of which are American: Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Post Malone. Although K-pop group BTS ranks No. 4 on this list, its massive global popularity had the most impact on its standing when compared with the U.S. Money Makers ranking: The other four acts landed in the top 10 of that list, while BTS ranked at No. 19.

1. Queen

Total income: $48.7 million
Box-office take home: $15.1 million
Streaming royalty estimate: $15.2 million
Global stream count: 7 billion

The British rock superstars — once led by the late Freddie Mercury and now touring with Adam Lambert — top this ranking for two reasons: $44.1 million in pre-pandemic 2020 touring revenue, which was distilled down to a $15.1 million payday, and its original members own their master recordings, which enables them to keep most of their royalties after distribution and marketing fees are deducted. Queen is also one of the few heritage rock bands with strong streaming numbers — 7 billion globally in 2020, which translated to $15.2 million. With no new studio album to promote (since 1995), no 2020 U.S. concert dates and (a still-strong) $5.5 million in domestic streaming earnings, the act is No. 7 on the 2020 U.S. Money Makers list with earnings of $13.2 million.

2. Taylor Swift

Total income: $41.4 million
Box-office take home: $0
Streaming royalty estimate: $19.8 million
Global stream count: 11.6 billion

Swift ranks No. 2 globally for the same reason that she’s No. 1 on the 2020 U.S. Money Makers list: She owns the masters to the two post-Big Machine albums she released last year,  folklore and evermore, which helped give her one of the year’s strongest performances. Billboard estimates that, in the United States at least, she takes home 46% of her sales and streaming revenue. The $19.8 million she earned from 11.6 billion global streams played the largest role in boosting her income to $41.4 million — 75% more than her domestic take of $23.8 million.

3. Billie Eilish

Total income: $32.8 million
Box-office take home: $1 million
Streaming royalty estimate: $13.6 million
Global stream count: 13.7 billion

Eilish is the sole American artist who ranks higher on this list than she does on U.S. Money Makers, where she is No. 5. That has much to do with her streaming strength. She has the second-highest global numbers in the category: 13.7 billion, which translates to a $13.6 million payday — $6 million more than her domestic take alone. Her extrapolated global sales and publishing are also strong and were a significant factor in boosting her $14.7 million in U.S. earnings by $18.1 million internationally.

4. BTS

Total income: $31.5 million
Box-office take home: $0
Streaming royalty estimate: $14.6 million
Global stream count: 17.3 billion

BTS is the only act on this list that doesn’t also appear in the top 10 of U.S. Money Makers. The K-pop group ranks No. 19 on the latter list, and its No. 4 finish here indicates the group’s tremendous global impact. Its $8.9 million in U.S. earnings was slightly more than 25% of its global take. That total was fueled by 17.3 billion global streams (9.8 billion in video, 7.4 billion in audio), which made BTS the world’s top streaming act in 2020. The “Butter” boys’ extrapolated global digital track and physical album sales were big, too, based on their U.S. totals, which were the highest in those revenue categories.

5. Post Malone

Total income: $29.7 million
Box-office take home: $13.2 million
Streaming royalty estimate: $12 million
Global stream count: 10 billion

Post Malone managed to have a “Wow.” year despite the pandemic. He was one of the few artists able to make substantial touring money — finishing 2020 with the fourth-highest global Billboard Boxscore, the equivalent of a $13.2 million paycheck — and ranks at No. 2 on the U.S. Money Makers list. His fifth-place showing here is partially the result of a sales volume that did not approach the levels of the other four acts. And though he racked up 5.6 billion in overall streams domestically, he added just 4.6 billion more outside the United States.

This story originally appeared in the July 17, 2021, issue of Billboard.

 
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