Making a living as a full-time musician is famously difficult, but people still attempt it, and a small—a really small— percentage strike it rich. For millennia, live performance has been the way most musicians earn an income, but that disappeared when COVID-19 hit in March of 2020. Fortunately for these 25 acts, there are other ways to bring home the bacon.
The list below represents rock, hip hop, country, pop, and other music genres — from the most moneyed, rock-star dinosaurs (Elton John, The Rolling Stones) to hip-hop royalty (Kanye, Jay-Z, Drake) to sui generis female firebrands (Madonna, Taylor Swift, Celine Dion).
Back in the ‘60s, he was known as “the cute Beatle.” Well, how’s this for cute: Sir Paul is currently one the richest entertainers on the planet, with a net worth of approximately $1.2 billion. In 2019, he pulled in about $32 million through solo shows, and though the pandemic no doubt bit into his live concert earnings, his back catalog, and music publishing holdings will continue to print him money for the foreseeable future. Not bad for a working-class kid from Liverpool.
YouTube link: Band on the Run
Despite all the drama around the release of his latest album Donda—or, let’s be honest, maybe because of it—rapper, producer, and fashion mogul Kanye West is set to rake it in during 2021. He’s already surpassed his one-time collaborator Paul McCartney, and the latest estimate’s put Ye’s net worth at around $1.8 billion.
YouTube link: Come To Life
Though his last solo album—4:44—dropped way back in 2017, Jay-Z remains at the top of the hip-hop heap, both artistically and financially, with a net worth estimated at $1.4 billion. Factor in his marriage to fellow pop star Beyonce (net worth $440 million) and you have a household worth that is unsurpassed in music.
YouTube link: 99 Problems
Sean Combs has easily made $1 billion since he emerged as the head of Bad Boy Records in the mid-1990s. His current net worth is estimated at around $885 million, and his income derives as much from his business investments in companies like Ciroq Vodka and his fashion lines as his music catalog.
YouTube link: Mo Money Mo Problems
We came up with all sorts of “Material Girl” jokes for this one, but once we saw how much money Madonna actually has, we were dumbstruck. Madonna is one of the richest singers in the world, with a net worth of about $850 million. She has parlayed her astonishing chart success (on the Billboard Hot 100 list of all-time artists, only the Beatles outrank her) into a multi-faceted business career, with fashion and skin-care lines as well as her own record company.
YouTube link: Ray of Light
The Canadian chanteuse managed to get in 23 shows of her 2020 Courage tour before getting canceled by the pandemic. This netted her a nice payday: about $17 million, or 98% of her total 2020 income of $17.5 million. A nice addition to the approximately $440 million she already had.
YouTube link: My Heart Will Go On
The Barbados-born pop star is the 10th richest songwriter of all time, having contributed to a string of massive hits including “Umbrella,” “Disturbia,” and “Work.” She also founded Fenty Beauty in 2017, an inclusive line of cosmetics, which has proven so successful it’s helped drive her net worth up to $1.7 billion, making her the richest female musician in the world.
The classic rock legend has never been one to shy from the spotlight, and in the last few years has widened his profile with projects like 2019’s biopic Rocketman, and recent collaborations with Dua Lipa. His current net worth is estimated at $500 million — a number that will no doubt go up when he releases his next record, an album of duets with young stars including Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, Miley Cyrus, and Lil Nas X.
YouTube link: Rocketman
People sometimes wonder why Beyonce ended up with Jay-Z: It must have been for love, because she certainly doesn’t need any of his money. According to some estimates, Queen Bey is currently worth a cool $440 million, a figure that will no doubt grow the next time she goes out on the road, stars in a new ad campaign, or crushes a voiceover role for Disney (see The Lion King for reference.)
YouTube link: Formation
Last year, TS was at the head of the pack, according to Billboard, earning a formidable $23.8 million, despite Covid wiping out her live concert schedule. She had to scrap most of her 2021 dates as well, but we assume she’ll continue to add to her reported $550 million net worth through new albums like Folklore and Evermore, as well as the ongoing project to rerecord earlier records like Fearless.
YouTube link: willow
Sixties icon and pencil mustache enthusiast Bob Dylan was already making a mint from his famed back catalog before December 2020. Then he sold the rights to most of his 600 or so songs to Universal Music for a whopping $400 million. His current net worth is estimated at $375 million—so either he paid a lot of taxes on that Universal deal, or he developed a serious online shopping habit during quarantine.
YouTube link: Subterranean Homesick Blues
Pretty much everybody has come to the realization that Dolly Parton is a badass. A savvy businesswoman and co-founder of the legendary “Dollywood” theme resort, Parton was also the author of Whitney Houston mega-hit “I Will Always Love You” and cult classic “Jolene” (legend is she wrote them both on the same day.) Her net worth has grown to a reported $350 million—which she is famously generous in dispensing to good causes, including important funding for the Moderna vaccine last year.
The Canadian-based rapper remains a champion in the streaming game, outpacing his closest rival Taylor Swift by 8 billion streams in 2020. Those listens are largely responsible for the $49 million he earned last year: a nice addition to the $180 million he’s accumulated from years of pop success and canny real-estate investments.
YouTube link: Way 2 Sexy
The Rolling Stones
Though the recent death of founding member Charlie Watts may change things, the Rolling Stones have been a virtually unstoppable touring machine for the last thirty years. Their 2019 tour netted close to $65 million, so the $5.96 million they earned in 2020 might seem like a disappointment. Still, that was without playing a single show: the bulk of that money came from back catalog streaming and vinyl rereleases.
YouTube link: Sympathy for the Devil
A big winner in 2020, largely due to an early year tour that allowed him to complete 20 dates before the concert industry shut down in April. According to Billboard, the Syracuse, NY-born artist took home about $12 million for the tour, plus another $12 million for streams, publishing, and sales. His current worth is estimated at about $50 million total.
YouTube link: Motley Crew
Covid hit at an awkward time for Billie Eilish: during her first major tour promoting her debut and right before the release of her second album. That didn’t stop her from bringing in a healthy $14.7 million in 2020. Streaming and publishing royalties made up the bulk of that, though the few shows she did perform added about $1 million to the total. No wonder she named her new album “Happier Than Ever.”
YouTube link: Bad Guy
Even though two of them are dead, and they haven’t released any new music in half a century, the Beatles are still a peerless revenue-generating machine. Through deluxe anniversary reissues and vinyl re-releases, the group netted almost $13 million last year, a trend that will no doubt be surpassed with the big Let It Be boxed set coming this October, and Peter Jackson’s Get Back film a month or two later.
YouTube link: Revolution
YoungBoy Never Broke Again
It didn’t take long for this young hip-hop star to prove his name was prophetic. The Make No Sense rapper spent the last five years building up a following on YouTube, and last year made about $10 million on combined video and audio streams, plus another $1.8 million on publishing and sales. With recent singles like White Teeth garnering over 20 million views, YoungBoy is well on the way to breaking his own personal best.
YouTube link: White Teeth
Though he reportedly played only two concerts in 2020, the breakout Atlanta rapper ranked high in the end-of-the-year top earner charts, largely thanks to streams of his hit album My Turn. The album launched 12 songs into the Billboard Hot 100, and brought Lil’ Baby a reported $11.7 million. Though his total net worth pales in comparison to veteran artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z, he’s only been in the game for a few years, so we expect that to change.
YouTube link: Woah
Last year, the Detroit superstar surprised his fans with a new album, Music to be Murdered By—and though the pandemic prevented him from touring behind it, the album (along with its expanded “deluxe” version) was among the top 5 digital downloads of the year. Slim Shady ended up adding $9.7 million to his approximately $230 million net worth.
YouTube link: Darkness
Lil Uzi Vert
Though his March 2020 release Eternal Atake was a disappointment in terms of physical sales, it more than made up for it in streaming numbers, netting the Philadelphia-born rapper just over $7 million. Add another $2 million or so for publishing, and Lil Uzi took home a more than respectable $9.5 million for the year.
YouTube link: Movie
The massively successful K-Pop boy band is having a great run. BTS released three albums in 2020, and according to Billboard, sold nearly 1.5 million CDs while racking up nearly twice that number in downloads. The band took in about $8.9 million last year.
YouTube link: Permission to Dance
Latin trap pioneer, reggaeton star and future Brad Pitt nemesis Bad Bunny is having a pretty good year. His record YHLQMDLG was the best-selling Latin album of 2020 and continues to bring in the streaming dollars: $8.4 million and counting.
YouTube link: Yonaguni
The former One Direction pop star entered 2020 going strong: his 2019 album Fine Line was No. 1, and singles like “Watermelon Sugar” were debuting in the top 10. That success gave Styles the momentum to get through the pandemic shut down with a healthy take home of $5.51 million.
YouTube link: Watermelon Sugar
Andrew Lloyd Webber
We saved the most lucrative for last; The New York Times called him as “the most commercially successful composer in history.” The only legitimate British Baron on this list, composer and musical theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Weber is also one of the richest—he’s the music man behind ‘Cats,’ ‘Evita,’ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera. While the pandemic has been giving him a bit of a financial headache, as it forced him to shut down the seven West End theaters he owns, his estimated net worth of $1.5 billion represents a pretty sweet emergency fund.
YouTube link: Think of Me
See also the highest-paid athletes.