The World's Highest-Paid Country Music Acts 2016
By Zack O'Malley Greenburg
July 26, 2016
Garth Brooks is familiar with precious metals, accumulating five platinum or multiplatinum certifications and four diamond awards for his studio albums during his decades-long career. If that’s not enough, he can afford to add just about any mineral to his collection: Brooks earned $70 million over the past year, more than any country act in the world.
The Oklahoma native tops this year’s list of Country Cash Kings, boosted by a comeback tour, now in its second year, whose total gross has already soared well into nine-figure territory. With dates planned through the rest of the summer and talk of additional international legs stretching into 2017, Brooks’ bonanza shows no signs of slowing.
Kenny Chesney claims the No. 2 spot on the list with $56 million, playing summer stadium shows at venues graced by the likes of Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones. He scores additional millions by shilling the likes of Corona beer and Costa sunglasses as well as his own Blue Chair Bay rum.
“I own it 100%,” he told FORBES shortly after the latter’s launch. “It was important to me, it’s my inspiration, my story. It’d be hard to share that with anyone else.”
Aside from Luke Bryan (No. 3, $53 million), whose portfolio is mostly touring and endorsements, the top five consists of artists who share Chesney’s ownership philosophy. Brooks’ music is available online through his GhostTunes service; Toby Keith (No. 4, $47.5 million) makes millions off restaurant chain I Love This Bar And Grill and other non-musical ventures; Jason Aldean (No. 5, $36.5 million) last year became the first country act with a stake in Jay Z’s Tidal.
“It’s taken a lot of heat in the early stages but all of us believe in what it’s about and it’s the right thing to do,” Aldean said of the streaming service last year. “If I have to be the country guy that stands there and takes grenades for everybody else, for the betterment of our business, for now and for the future, then I can carry that load.”
To form the Country Cash Kings list, FORBES looks at record sales data from Nielsen and touring numbers from Pollstar, as well as independent research on non-musical business ventures. The total are estimates for pretax income from June 1, 2015 through June 1, 2016; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted.
All in all, the 15 highest-paid country stars earned roughly half a billion dollars this year, down a touch from last year. But there are plenty of bright spots—perhaps most of all, the increase in gender diversity on the list. A record four female acts made the list: Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and Miranda Lambert.
Twain (No. 7, $27.5 million) is country’s highest-paid woman, thanks largely to her Still The One Residence at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Carrie Underwood (No. 8, $26 million) cashed in on 66 shows during our scoring period and boasts her own Calia fitness clothing line. Dolly Parton (No. 13, $19 million), now 70 years old, has as varied a business empire that includes a Dollywood theme park in Tennessee. Miranda Lambert (No. 15, $18 million) collects big checks from touring and companies like Red55 Wine and Pink Pistol.
The youngest act on the list? Florida Georgia Line (No. 11, $20 million), founded by Brian Kelley, 30, and Tyler Hubbard, 29. The duo played 69 shows during our scoring period; their Anything Goes Tour grossed $29.5 million on arena dates in the U.S. and Canada. The group–known for blurring genre lines–is set to release its third studio album, Dig Your Roots, later this summer.
“We just have a good time with our fans every night,” Kelley told FORBES two years ago. “We’re not really a big fan of labels. The only thing we put a label on is that FGL sound.