Amid the gloom and doom that enveloped the music business in 2007, a select number of recording artists managed to find a way to generate mad money.
Forget the year's hot new acts. Veterans like the Police and Celine Dion were among the biggest commercial forces of 2007. Others included younger established stars such as Josh Groban and the Disney Channel's Hannah Montana.
To compile our list of pop's biggest cash machines, Forbes looked at how much leading recording artists generated in U.S. music sales and North American concert grosses in 2007. Our estimates, which don't calculate how much income each artist pocketed, include concert revenue data from Pollstar, music sales tallies from Nielsen SoundScan and pricing information from NPD Group. The numbers are meant to provide a snapshot, not a complete picture--revenue from licensing deals, merchandise sales and mobile sales aren't included.
Playing live was a big cash generator for all the artists on our list. By far the biggest tour of the year was the Police reunion, as Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland decided to bury the hatchet and hit the road for the first time since 1986. Financially, it was a no-brainer: The trio generated $133.2 million in concert receipts at an average ticket price of $112--and that's face value. In all, the band racked up an impressive $142.4 million in concert tickets and music sales.
The even unlikelier reunion of Van Halen with original frontman David Lee Roth also did well. This slightly revamped version of the band, with Eddie Van Halen's son Wolfgang replacing longtime bassist Michael Anthony, charged about the same average ticket price as the Police but played fewer and smaller venues. Still, $56.7 million in North American grosses is nothing to sniff at.
Other big live draws were country singer Kenny Chesney, who grossed $71.1 million on the road; Justin Timberlake, who sold $70.6 million in concert tickets; and Celine Dion, who generated $65.3 million during the final year of her "A New Day … " show at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
For these artists, the cash generated from performing in front of their fans far outweighed the revenue they generated from sales of their music. For instance, Chesney's total album sales, including his new release Just Who I Am: Poets And Pirates, reached 1.8 million units. Add to that 2.5 million song downloads and Chesney's recorded-music sales totaled around $25 million -- a strong performance but still short far short of what he generated on tour.
But recorded-music sales accounted for a larger portion of the cash generated by other recording artists. Pop-country trio Rascal Flatts proved to be a big hit with both concertgoers and music buyers, grossing $41.5 million on tour and generating roughly that much in sales of albums and song downloads.
For the Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, or more specifically the show's star Miley Cyrus, recorded music sales accounted for the lion's share of the cash she generated, despite the headlines generated by scalpers who charged astronomical prices for tickets to her sold-out shows. Hannah/Miley grossed $36 million on tour but generated more than $50 million in album sales and downloads.
Meanwhile, pop-classical vocalist Josh Groban hit pay dirt with his Christmas album Noel, which turned out to be the year's best-selling album, with 3.7 million units sold. The sales were especially impressive considering that, as a holiday album, it had only gone on sale in October.
His album sales and song downloads generated an estimated $60 million in sales. Groban also did well on tour, grossing $43.1 million in 2007.
The boffo sales of Noel provided a badly needed boost to Warner Music Group, which released the album. It didn't make up for the fact that Warner's share price lost three-quarters of its value in 2007. But the success of Groban and other top cash generators proved that even as the recording industry struggles, some consumers are willing to spend serious money on their favorite artists.