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POP MUSIC | THE ULTIMATE TOP 10

Making nice pays

Police, who set aside differences for reunion, top 2007 payroll.

January 05, 2008|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

As the traditional record business continues to unravel, musicians who are trying to keep lucrative careers alive don't seem to be worrying about whether the glass is half full or half empty. Instead, they're finding as many glasses as possible and putting a little something in each.

So, this year, for the 11th edition of Calendar's annual Ultimate Top 10, which previously has combined performers' North American concert tour revenue as measured by Pollstar with U.S. album sales as tallied by Nielsen SoundScan, we're also including money generated from sales of digital tracks through iTunes and other online vendors to give a fuller picture of which pop acts generated the most money during 2007.

Once again the list is topped by the act that played the biggest concert tour of the year -- in this case, the Police. The trio's reunion spurred sales of its album catalog, but by far it was the money Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland pulled in on the concert trail that put them at the top of the heap with a combined $140.7 million.

The good news amid the overall 15% sales slide the record business experienced last year is that the Police's Ultimate Top 10 take is close to what other acts have posted this decade. The Rolling Stones topped the list the previous two years, with $150.9 million and $168 million. The record, however, still belongs to 'N Sync, which registered $212.9 million in 2000 at the peak of the boy-band phenomenon.

As for including digital tracks, the champ in that arena during the year was Fergie, who logged $7.4 million in digital track sales, using 99 cents as an average cost for downloaded singles. But because she didn't tour extensively, she didn't come close to making the Ultimate Top 10, even though her debut solo album, "The Dutchess," was the eighth most popular album of 2007 and sold more than 2 million copies.

Likewise, although some performers are developing comfortable incomes from ring-tone sales, the mostly young R&B, hip-hop and pop acts who placed highest on SoundScan's ring-tone/master-tone tallies aren't anywhere near the top of either concert tour or album sales rankings. So ring tone isn't included -- yet -- because it wouldn't affect any rankings in the Ultimate Top 10.

1. The Police ($140.7 million). The only surprise about the Police reunion tour was that it happened at all, given the acrimony among the members that led them to disband in the '80s. But once it was a reality, it defied even concert-industry experts' expectations. The North American tour pulled in $131.9 million at the box office, according to Pollstar, while worldwide revenues hit an eye-popping $212 million, according to Billboard. Add to that $8.8 million in U.S. album sales (using $13 as the average price of a CD), much of it undoubtedly from excited concert-goers. The average ticket price of $111.99 also helped ratchet up the total take, but it wasn't by far the most expensive face value show of the year.

2. Josh Groban ($105.9 million). Maybe 2007 wasn't the year of Josh Groban -- there were too many other things going on, including Radiohead's pay-what-you-will Internet release of "In Rainbows" and the continued slide of rap music album sales, which fell 30% for the year, compared with the drop of 15% for the industry overall. But the wildfire response to his "Noel" holiday album, spurred by multiple appearances on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, turned it into the year's biggest hit and generated $62.9 million in album sales. Added to the $43 million he took in on tour, he has vaulted into the top ranks of pop performers. Average ticket price: $77.07.

3. Justin Timberlake ($96.8 million). The "SexyBack" man raked in $70.6 million on tour in North America during the year, to which he added $20.8 million from album sales. Worldwide, Billboard put his concert take at $126.8 million. Timberlake is the first artist to benefit in the Ultimate Top 10 ranking from digital sales, which added $5.4 million to his total. That pushed him up three slots from where he would have finished if only tour and album revenues were counted. All in all, 2007 cemented the former 'N Sync singer's grown-up power as a full-fledged grown-up pop star. Average ticket: $77.57.

4. Kenny Chesney ($94.8 million). Year in and year out Chesney has proved himself a reliable road warrior, and 2007 was no exception. He pulled in $71.1 million on tour -- all of it in North America; country music is a genre that doesn't typically translate into big numbers overseas. He also notched $23.4 million in album sales, and $300,000 in digital tracks, another arena that hasn't been huge for country artists. Average ticket: $62.62.

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