Though he's only 18 years old, Justin Bieber has had a year for the ages. The Canadian crooner released his third studio album, launched a world tour and continued investing in startups, adding to a portfolio that includes stakes in Spotify, Tinychat and others. All in all, he earned $55 million in 12 months.
"I do calls every week with my business manager and my lawyer," Bieber told FORBES this spring as part of a cover story on his budding venture capital career. "Each week I'm learning something about my business and what I need to know for my career."
But when it comes to the world's highest-paid musicians, Bieber is a relative pauper, barely breaking the top ten.
Hip-hop superproducer Dr. Dre leads the pack this year with $110 million, thanks largely to his Beats headphone line. He collected $100 million pretax when handset maker HTC paid $300 million for a 51% stake in the company last year, at the beginning of our scoring period; he and his partners later bought back half of what they sold.
"The brands are so aligned, Dre and Beats, it's just who he is," says Kevin Liles, former president of Def Jam Recordings, who now manages acts ranging from Young Jeezy to Trey Songz. "If you look at the biggest earners, the guys have been doing it for 20 years … what's happening now is people are really telling their truth."
Dr. Dre leads a pack of pop stars, rock icons, rap moguls and country crooners, many of whom bank the bulk of their bucks outside the recording studio. Though some artists—Jay-Z and Diddy, for example—owe their success partly to business ventures like Dre's, most of this year's top 25 are on the list because of touring.
"The concert business had another solid year as both artists and concert promoters used more caution in trying to achieve their touring objectives," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert data purveyor Pollstar. "The good seats for major artists continue to be priced at a premium."
This year's list has a distinctly international flavor. Among the top five, only Dr. Dre hails from the United States. Pink Floyd rocker Roger Waters ranks second with $88 million, nearly all of it coming from his The Wall Live tour. According to Pollstar, he grossed $158 million on 63 shows in the first six months of 2012. Fellow Brit Elton John claims the third spot with $80 million, culled from over 100 shows in our scoring period.
Ireland's U2 ranks fourth, pulling in $78 million on the tail end of the group's record-breaking 360 tour—which grossed $736 million over three years. British boy band Take That rounds out the top five with $69 million, thanks to a wildly-popular reunion tour. The group grossed $61 million for eight dates at London's Wembley Stadium alone, the biggest single-stadium stand recorded to that point, cashing in on dozens of additional dates around Europe as well.
"The enormous level of business Take That did in the U.K. and Europe was truly mind-boggling," says Bongiovanni. "That's especially true when you consider that in the U.S. they would only be a theater-level act."
Our estimates are based on total earnings from May 2011 to May 2012—the amount of money an act makes from record sales, touring, endorsements, merchandise sales and other ventures before subtracting management fees, legal costs and taxes (which can gobble up the bulk of a big payday). The totals were compiled with the help of data from Pollstar, RIAA and others, as well as interviews with industry insiders including concert promoters, lawyers, managers, agents and, in some cases, the musicians themselves.
Other highlights on the list include Toby Keith, who tied Bieber for tenth with $55 million. With his Ford sponsorship now on its second decade and his I Love This Bar And Grill restaurant chain booming, Keith was the top earner among all country artists—unless you count crossover star Taylor Swift, who earned $57 million, same as Paul McCartney. Coldplay and Adele continue the British trend, claiming the 21st and 22nd slots with $37 million and $35 million, respectively. Eight of the top 25 acts hail from England or Ireland.
That success extends to Anglophiles as well: Jay-Z and Beyoncé, both close friends of Coldplay's lead singer, Chris Martin, combined to earn $78 million. The former Destiny's Child diva is one of just eight ladies on the list, but Beyoncé's song "Run The World (Girls)" still rings true—despite welcoming baby Blue Ivy earlier this year, she still out-earned her husband by $2 million.
Additional reporting by Chris Barth, Dorothy Pomerantz, and Natalie Robehmed.