Bruce Springsteen Tops 2021’s (Nearly All-White Male) Highest-Paid Musicians List With $590 Million

Bruce Springsteen on Broadway 2021
Rob DeMartin

The pandemic may have completely up-ended the music industry’s traditional business model, but artists found all kinds of ways to make many millions of dollars in 2021 — and the big winners were nearly all white and male, according to a “10 Highest Paid Musicians” list published by Rolling Stone on Friday.

The list, created by former Forbes correspondent Zack O’Malley Greenburg, not surprisingly features several artists who cashed in their song catalogs for nine-figure sums last year, with the big leader being Bruce Springsteen, who not only sold his publishing and recorded-music rights to Sony Music in December for a figure sources say was around $550 million, but also was the rare performer to make a healthy sum from live performances, with his “Springsteen on Broadway” summer reprise.

Seven of the 10 made the list based on catalog sales, with the only exceptions being Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift, who had big years either with non-music ventures like West’s Yeezy shoe empire, Jay’s sale of his half of his champagne line, or a bounty of heavily streamed and sold music, like Swift’s four albums released in just 18 months (along with lucrative partnerships with Peloton and Starbucks). Also notable is a previously undisclosed $50 million catalog deal from Blake Shelton.

And in a sad reflection of the state of the world, apart from those exceptions, the list is all older white men — with Stevie Nicks, who struck a $100 million catalog deal with Primary Wave, just missing the cutoff.

The top 10’s total take? $2.3 billion.

The reasons for and ramifications behind these catalog deals have been expounded upon by Variety and many others in the past couple of years, and the gold rush has to end sometime. But as the long-anticipated announcement on Jan. 3 of a $250 million-plus deal for David Bowie’s publishing catalog shows, it’s not here yet.

1. Bruce Springsteen: $550 million
2. Jay-Z: $470 million
3. Paul Simon: $260 million
4. Kanye West: $250 million
5. Ryan Tedder: $200 million
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers: $145 million
7. Lindsey Buckingham: $100 million
8. Motley Crue: $95 million
9. Blake Shelton: $83 million
10. Taylor Swift: $80 million