Forbes magazine has published its annual list of the top money-earning country stars. Unlike most other music genres, where illegal downloading has resulted in a precipitous drop in sales, country is holding fairly steady with sales down just three percent overall compared to last year, the article reports. Country attracts an unusually loyal audience that tends to embrace its stars – at least the most important ones – for life, and many of the top acts this year are artists that have had decades of success in country music. There’s more good news for country music, too, as eight of the ten most-played artists at radio in the last year were country artists.
Here is a breakdown of the top ten earners in country music, their estimated earnings, and how they made their money:
10. Carrie Underwood
The American Idol winner earned an estimated thirteen million dollars in the last year, mostly from 51 concert dates that pulled in an average of $400,000 per night. Underwood also sold 1.8 million albums and won her second Entertainer of the Year award from the Academy of Country Music, making her the first woman ever to do so.
9. Alan Jackson
One of country music’s perennial favorites, Jackson earned fifteen million dollars according to Forbes. Unlike many stars, Jackson has no major endorsements, but he writes most of his own songs, raking in millions of dollars a year through his song publishing from radio airplay and album sales. He also performed 60 dates that earned an average of $500,000 per night.
8. Brad Paisley
Paisley has been rapidly climbing the ranks over the past few years, going from the usual state fair and casino gigs that are the staple of most country stars’ living to far more profitable arena shows. Forbes placed his earnings at twenty-two million dollars, much of it from his 76-date tour in support of American Saturday Night that earned an average of $500,000 per show.
7. George Strait
Strait has a string of number one hits going back decades, and he’s one of the few stars who doesn’t give up his private life for his career. Strait gives few interviews and rarely engages in much self-promotion, yet he still keeps cranking out hit after hit after hit like clockwork. He earned twenty-five million dollars, quite a bit of it from a 32-date tour that averaged more than a million dollars a night.
6. Keith Urban
Urban is another artist who’s already had a long career, but it’s only been in the past few years that he’s ascended into the kind of earnings that would land him in this list. The Australian-born singer/guitarist earned $700,000 per night on his 70-date tour for Defying Gravity, and combined with his publishing income from writing many of his own songs, he earned twenty-eight million dollars in the last year.
5. Tim McGraw
Another perennial favorite, and half of country music’s most powerful couple. McGraw earned rave reviews from his supporting role in The Blind Side, but most of his thirty million dollars in income came from a 37-date concert tour.
4. Rascal Flatts
Interestingly, Rascal Flatts is the only band in this year’s list. The group has fewer endorsements and licensing deals than many of its contemporaries, and earned forty-two of its yearly forty-five million dollars from touring.
3. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is an unstoppable force in country music right now. She was the most-played artist at radio in 2009, her album Fearless sold 3.2 million copies, and she had twelve million downloads on iTunes and Amazon. Add to that her endorsements with Sony and Cover Girl, as well as a 100-date tour that earned thirty million dollars, and Taylor Swift earned forty-five million dollars last year.
2. Toby Keith
A Nashville outsider who has had more than his share of troubles with labels and the powers that be in the industry, Keith has found a way around all of that by controlling as much as he can of everything to do with his career. That’s a profitable approach; between his substantial publishing royalties, touring, a large stake in Big Machine Records, and a chain of restaurants, Keith earned forty-eight million dollars.
1. Kenny Chesney
Kenny Chesney also topped the list last year. In 2009 he earned the majority of his income from touring, and his sponsorships with Corona and Master Card help to pay his overhead and keep his profits high. Chesney earned fifty million dollars, fifteen million less than in the previous year.