Music Business Winners 2016: Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson, Afterlife Lineup

In December 2015, I named Taylor Swift one of the music industry’s biggest winners for the second year in a row after she pulled in $80 million, earning the No. 4 rank in pay among all musicians. But she seemed to have an even bigger payday in the works from her 1989 World Tour.

“It’s a stadium tour, it’s enormous,” Pollstar’s Gary Bongiovanni told me at the time. “I would imagine that she’s going to dwarf what everybody else does.”

I predicted Swift would more than double her earnings, which she did–and then some–raking in $170 million this past year, most of it from the aforementioned tour, which mostly fell into our latest scoring period. That was not only more than any living musician, but more than any celebrity of any stripe on the planet. And so, as much as I hate to repeat myself, Swift gets the nod as one of this year’s music business winners.

Swift, however, was not the annual earnings champ among all celebs, or even among all musicians, if those cashing in from beyond the grave are included. Michael Jackson raked in a remarkable $825 million–the biggest single-year total ever recorded by FORBES for any celebrity dead or alive.

The King of Pop derived the bulk of his bucks from the March sale of his half of the Sony/ATV music publishing catalog, known for its library of Beatles tunes, to Sony for $750 million. The deal marked the fascinating denouement of a saga that began with Jackson’s initial purchase of ATV for $47.5 million in 1985, a move many critics, and even some advisers, once slammed as an outrageous outlay.

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