It’s time Black musicians took care of business

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Forbes has just published its list of the top 25 earning musicians for 2013 and, despite the profligate spending and obscene displays of wealth that seem to typify the genre, only three hip-hop acts made the cut.

Sean ‘P-Diddy’ Combs at number 12 was the highest earning hip-hop artist, out-earning Jay-Z at number 19, closely followed by Dr, Dre at 21. Combs earned the bulk of his $50 million from his wildly successful Ciroc vodka deal. The only other Black acts on the list were RnB’s Beyoncé who headed them all at number 10 with $53 million earned, and Rihanna, 17th with $43 million.

With the foregoing as notable exceptions, it is clear that other hop-hop and RnB acts, despite their perceived popularity, aren’t doing what it takes to earn the really big bucks. Most of the acts that made the list made the majority of their money from touring, generally on the back of commercially successful albums. Unless an artist is prepared to hit the road to promote an album, no matter how quickly it sells initially, earnings will suffer. An outstanding video used to do the trick to some extent, but a trans-continental tour at least is what it takes to earn the big bucks these days. Too many of our artists see putting out another recording as a remedy for dwindling earnings.

Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Coldplay all out-earned any Black act simply by getting out and performing, as did younger acts like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, lest anyone think living legends of popular music present an unfair comparison.

As for what is to be done with all that money; a list of the top 25 spenders in music would certainly prove to be interesting reading and might put Black artistes’ penchant for gold-plated Bentleys and fur bedding into perspective. I fear that when the hits dry up and demand wanes for the merchandise, it will be the other artists on the Forbes list who’ll still have enough assets to keep their accountants busy.

Top of the tree was Madonna, who earned a mighty $125 million, largely from her MDNA Tour, which grossed $305 million. Her Madge-esty augments her income with heady merchandise sales at concerts, as well as her Material Girl clothing line and Truth or Dare fragrance. Lady Gaga was a distant second with $80 million. But her own tour was cut short due to a hip injury. Industry insiders predict she would have pipped Madonna had she been able to complete the tour.
Forbes’ stats look at income from June 1st, 2012 to June 1st, 2013, using data sources including Pollstar, the RIAA, Nielsen SoundScan, managers, lawyers and many of the artists themselves. They take into account concert ticket sales, royalties for recorded music and publishing, merchandise sales, endorsement deals and other business ventures.
The Forbes list is restricted to living artists. Removal of this criterion would have seen the late Michael Jackson rise to the summit with total earnings of $160 million.