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Ultimate Top 10: Madonna's No. 1 status is written in her MDNA

Touring proves the key to success in this year's version of Calendar's Ultimate Top 10 ranking of pop stars' concert and recording sales.

January 11, 2013|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
  • The Ultimate Top 10
The Ultimate Top 10 (Chris Morris, For The Times )

Hit the road, Jack.

That may well be the take-away for musicians when reading Calendar's annual Ultimate Top 10 list, a ranking that combines income from recordings as well as the concert box office to show who had the most lucrative years according to numbers reported by Nielsen SoundScan and the concert industry-tracking publication Pollstar.

Since the Ultimate Top 10 began in 1998, there's often been a sizable split between the acts that make their nut from touring and those earning most of their money at physical and virtual cash registers from recordings.

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In 2012, however, all but one of the acts that finished in the Top 10 made it primarily — or exclusively — from their concerts. The exception was the ever-exceptional Adele, who, for the first time since SoundScan began tracking retail sales in 1991, claimed the same bestselling album two years in a row with "21."

Among the top-selling pop musicians of the year, including Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Mumford & Sons, Jason Aldean, Maroon 5 and Carrie Underwood, only Bieber and Aldean made the Ultimate Top 10 because both spent significant quality time on the road during the year.

The trend is yet another troubling sign for the record industry, even as year-end Nielsen SoundScan reports held some areas of optimism for the many musicians, label execs and others in the industry who still put stock in digital downloads, CDs, vinyl and other forms of music that live on after the final notes of a concert have faded into the night.

This year's Ultimate Top 10 also includes a new wrinkle to reflect streaming music, which has become an increasingly critical component of the 21st century media world.

Streams typically earn small fractions of a cent for the artist, although that figure can vary widely depending on who owns the master recordings. But the number of listens they're generating these days is pretty astonishing, demonstrating a different measure of how strongly musicians connect with audiences.

So as a complement to the list, we're acknowledging the queens and kings of the streaming universe through totals accumulated for streamed audio tracks and videos, also as reported by SoundScan.

Finally, the usual Ultimate Top 10 caveat: This isn't the final word on musicians' total financial picture, as it does not include merchandising, product endorsements, song placements in movies and TV shows, ring tones, website subscriptions and myriad other sources of income that artists and their management keep much closer to their vests.

Recording sales revenue is calculated using an average price of $10 per album and $1.14 cents per digital track, as more tracks are now being offered at $1.29 per download rather than the 99-cent price that initially was the iTunes standard.

The results:

1. Madonna, $144 million. The queen of reinvention had the highest-grossing tour worldwide (MDNA) with $296.1 million, so it's no surprise that she was tops in North America too, thanks to $133.7 million from 45 shows in 31 cities. Like other 1970s and '80s acts that made the Top 10, a much smaller share of her Ultimate total came from digital track sales — just $2.1 million compared with $8.2 million for physical and digital album sales.

2. Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, $124.2 million. Proving anew that two heads are often better than one, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw finished near the top, with their tandem Brothers of the Sun tour contributing the bulk of their Ultimate Top 10 total with $96.5 million plus combined CD and singles sales of $27.7 million.

3. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, $115.1 million. The Boss earned more in concert than Chesney and McGraw — $104.7 million — but their potent recording sales more than doubled Springsteen's total of $10.4 million, with just $1.6 million of that number generated by sales of digital tracks.

4. Cirque du Soleil "Michael Jackson — The Immortal World Tour," $112.9 million. With no recorded version of its Jackson tribute show to sell — yet — Cirque du Soleil nonetheless finished high thanks to a heavy schedule of performances last year: 130 shows in 58 cities across North America. Seven Cirque shows made Pollstar's Top 50 top-grossing entertainment attractions in North America.

5. Roger Waters, $94.7 million. We've credited Waters with the sale of not only of his own recordings for 2012 but with half of those for the always strong Pink Floyd catalog, which gave him retail sales of $4.5 million in addition to the $90.2 million he grossed while continuing his resurrection of Floyd's rock opera "The Wall."

6. Justin Bieber, $71.6 million. The Bieb took in $31.4 million in digital and physical music sales for the year, but did even better on the road with $40.2 million from his tour.

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