Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Year's Most Depressing List

Yes, it's time again to look at the list of the highest-earning musicians of the year and shed a quiet, sour-grapes, tear. Here, courtesy of Forbes and via the Guardian, they are:

1. Dr Dre ($620m)
2. Beyoncé ($115m)
3. The Eagles ($100m)
4. Bon Jovi ($82m)
5. Bruce Springsteen ($81m)
6. Justin Bieber ($80m)
7. One Direction ($75m)
8. Paul McCartney ($71m)
9. Calvin Harris ($66m)
10. Toby Keith ($65m)
11. Taylor Swift ($64m)
12. Jay Z ($60m)(tie)
12. Diddy ($60m)(tie)
12. Bruno Mars ($60m)(tie)
15. Justin Timberlake ($57m)
16. Pink ($52m)
17. Michael Bublé ($51m)
18. Rihanna ($48m)
19. Rolling Stones ($47m)
20. Roger Waters ($46m)
21. Elton John ($45m)
22. Kenny Chesney ($44m)
23. Katy Perry ($40m)
24. Jason Aldean ($37m)(tie)
24. Jennifer Lopez ($37m)(tie)
26. Miley Cyrus ($36m)(tie)
26. Celine Dion ($36m)(tie)
28. Muse ($34m)(tie)
28. Luke Bryan ($34m)(tie)
30. Lady Gaga ($33m)(tie)
30. Drake ($33m)(tie)

Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones along with Elton John and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) are probably amazed to be still on the list after five or so decades of success.
I would love to see if I could recreate the list of the biggest earning musicians of 1800, just for comparison. With his windfall of 24,000 florins from his London concerts (equal to 24 years of his pension from the Esterházy family), Joseph Haydn would probably come at the top. Still, even with inflation and trying to adjust for buying power, that probably wouldn't amount to more than a couple of million dollars. But just look at those numbers above! Are these still musicians? Or are they corporate entities fronted by a figurehead who sings and dances?


Rickard Dahl said...

Hmm, I wonder what the equivalent list of classical composers or even classical musicians in general (classical musicians, not the crossover/new age types pretending to be classical) would be.

On a side note: The lowest yearly salary on this list would easily cover a luxurious or semi-luxurious lifestyle during a lifetime. But seriously a fraction of that can give a great life if you know how to spend money in a smart way and not go with the consumerist flow (or rather the addiction to buying things you don't actually need).

Another side note: What if for instance Dr. Dre would invest one of his yearly salaries into important research? By invest I mean actually specifically choosing which projects to invest in and checking how things go in those projects instead of just throwing the money into various charities and hope that it doesn't get lost (as in stolen) along the way. Obviously, the right amount of money would have to be invested. I think that each research project probably needs a certain amount of money and investing more money than needed probably doesn't do much to get it done quicker or better. It is obviously also beneficial if the person investing is familiar with the field he/she is investing in. Imagine the progress that could be done in for instance finding cures to diseases.

Third side note: Imagine if a fraction of rich people would become patrons and support classical composers. That would create a new renaissance (not referring to the time period, just the general expression, such as in "renaissance man") in classical music. I can imagine that it wouldn't be expensive for a rich person to do so either, considering that many composers are not paid much or don't even really have a job in composing. The composers would not only be grateful for having a (stable) job but would be even more grateful for having a well paid one (possibly along with being able to live in a property owned by a rich person and thus not having to pay rent and/or mortgage themselves).

Bryan Townsend said...

I suspect that no-one compiles such a list because it would be even more depressing! But it might look something like this:

John Luther Adams, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2014, was also named the Musical America composer of the year for 2015. He was for much of the 80s principal percussionist with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra. I don't see in his bio that he holds an academic post. It looks like he writes a significant piece every couple of years. The Pulitzer Prize, for all its public profile, only pays the recipient $10,000 which is, forgive me, chicken-feed. I suspect that John Luther Adams, along with John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and a couple of others, don't make much more than a lower-middle class income. If they made more than $50,000 a year I would be amazed. And these are the most important figures in contemporary composition.

This is a measure of the public appreciation of the quality of their work. It is a tiny, tiny fraction of the amounts awarded to pop artists like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. But let's be realistic: I imagine none of the composers mentioned would wish to trade their careers for that of a pop star. What these numbers might tell us is something about the state of our civilization. What sort of art does our culture give the highest awards to and what sort of art does it shamefully neglect?

In order for rich people to become serious patrons of the fine arts (visual arts aside as they seem to have become investment vehicles), they would have to learn to appreciate the value of them. I don't see that happening any time soon!