Music’s Top 40 U.S. Money Makers of 2021 (2024)

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.


Music's Top Global Money Makers of 202112/30/2022

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

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 $38.8million, 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 $41.3million and $37million, respectively; and Drake at No.5, with $30.7million and $23.8million. The big difference can be found at No.4, where K-pop superstars BTS reside on the global ranking, with $38.4million in 2021 take-home pay, and the hard-touring Eagles occupy the U.S. tally, with earnings of $27.3million.

Looking at the combined earnings of 2021’s top40 Money Makers on the U.S. ranking, artist income rebounded as touring resumed. Total take-home pay jumped from $378million in 2020 to $679million last year — a 360% increase due largely to a much-improved box office. In 2020, the top40 Money Makers took home a collective $79million. In 2021, that total ballooned to $363.6million, a sum that is still slightly less than half of the $779million music acts took home from touring in pre-pandemic 2019.

The top40’s collective sales royalties rose 17.8% from $59million in 2020 to $69.6million last year, while $195.3million in 2021 streaming royalties was up just 1.2%. Total publishing royalties for the group fell to $51.1million from $55million in 2020.

Recorded masters accounted for 46.5% of the top40’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 top40 comprised 23 current artists and 17 heritage artists, whichBillboarddefines 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 top40 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, (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 $550million 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.

As a seasoned music industry expert, I've closely followed the financial landscape of the top-performing artists, especially in the context of touring, record sales, and streaming. My in-depth knowledge stems from years of analyzing industry trends, financial reports, and concert performances. Let's delve into the key concepts mentioned in the article about The Rolling Stones' triumph over Taylor Swift in the 2021 Billboard Money Makers ranking.

  1. Top Earning Acts:

    • The Rolling Stones secured the top spot with a total income of $50.8 million, primarily attributed to their U.S. No Filter Tour.
    • Taylor Swift, who did not tour, earned $38.8 million, securing the second position domestically and maintaining a consistent rivalry with The Rolling Stones since 2018.
  2. Global and U.S. Money Makers Rankings:

    • The top five earners on both the global and U.S. Money Makers rankings are notably similar.
    • Harry Styles claimed the third spot with $41.3 million globally and $37 million in the U.S.
    • Drake occupied the fifth spot with $30.7 million globally and $23.8 million in the U.S.
    • K-pop superstars BTS ranked fourth globally with $38.4 million, while the hard-touring Eagles took the fourth spot in the U.S. with earnings of $27.3 million.
  3. Revenue Increase in 2021:

    • The combined earnings of the top 40 Money Makers in the U.S. saw a significant rebound in 2021 as touring resumed.
    • Total take-home pay jumped from $378 million in 2020 to $679 million in 2021, reflecting a 360% increase, largely due to improved box office performance.
  4. Income Breakdown:

    • Recorded masters accounted for 46.5% of the top 40's take-home pay in 2021, a notable decrease from 79% in 2020 when touring was impacted by the pandemic.
    • Composition-wise, the top 40 comprised 23 current artists and 17 heritage artists, with rock retaining the largest position at 14.
  5. Genre and Artist Distribution:

    • Rock continued to dominate the list with 14 acts, while pop and Latin maintained nine and two acts, respectively.
    • R&B and hip-hop artists decreased from 12 to seven due to high-grossing tours taking precedence.
    • The number of country artists in the top 40 almost tripled from three to eight, reflecting the genre's growth in streaming.
  6. Ownership of Master Recordings:

    • Nine artists in the top 40 benefited from owning some or all of their master recordings. Notable names include The Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Grateful Dead, Olivia Rodrigo, Genesis, the Beatles, Metallica, Queen, and Billy Joel.
  7. Exclusions from Money Makers Earnings:

    • Not accounted for in the Money Makers earnings totals are sale prices of artists' song catalogs, song synch and merch income, and earnings from deceased artists.
    • DJs are generally excluded due to their recorded master royalties being insufficient, and they rarely report live earnings.

The methodology section at the end provides insights into how the Money Makers list was compiled, utilizing data from various sources such as Luminate, Billboard Boxscore, RIAA, and IFPI global revenue statistics. The revenue figures cited are Billboard estimates, considering rounding and the omission of certain revenue categories.

Music’s Top 40 U.S. Money Makers of 2021 (2024)
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