Slight Edge and Mass Appeal: Why U2 and Others Make Top Dollar

Forbes released a list of the 25 highest paid artists of 2010 last week (see below), which got me thinking as to why certain artists make the list on a reoccurring basis. While I normally don’t dwell over lists like this, I came across a question on Quora that made this list even more relevant (side note: Quora is a Q&A site that seems to have hit a stride amongst the techie/early adopter crowd). So what makes U2 perfect for high earning potential?

As the answers on Quora suggest, U2 is able to reinvent themselves throughout their career while still staying true to their core sound. They stick to an environmentally-friendly, socially conscious message that is not too divisive that it alienates a major ethnic or demographic group. There is also a huge market of older fans with deep enough pockets to pay premium prices for greats seats at their concerts.

Daniel Rosenthal, co-founder of, put it this way (and in narrative form): 

“Earnest, melodic, Oprah-endorsed U2! $200 a ticket? No problem. You get a sitter. Your wife is excited – this is going to be great! You invite some friends from college to join you. On the way, you listen to the “early stuff”. Joshua Tree pumps through the speakers of your Lexus SUV (no judgment - you have two kids!). The harmonies soothe. The lyrics are straightforward.”

The complete answer can be read here and is worth an entire read if you enjoy humorous, somewhat cynical but 100% dead-on commentary.

And who is after U2? It’s Bon Jovi, a less adventurous artist in terms of sonic exploration, but just as appropriate in terms of pinpointing that ideal age and demographic that will not only come to a show but also shell out the big bucks for the experience.

Of course you’ll get newcomers on the list when they hit it big for a stint or two, like Justin Bieber or Rihanna, but to make it to the Top 25 on an ongoing basis for years or even decades, you need a degree of predictability in music. The ability to keep pumping out radio-friendly hits without crossing the border into stale, boring, or even worse outdated is key. There seems to be a happy medium between taking risks and staying true to what the broader mainstream audience wants. If you can make sure that your songs are just as catchy as they were 20 years ago, then at least you do not have to rely 100% on the “nostalgia act” (ahem ahem, Margaritaville).

Forbes’ list of the world's 25 highest-paid musicians:

01. U2 ($195 million)

02. BON JOVI ($125 million)

03. Elton John ($100 million)

04. Lady Gaga ($90 million)

05. Michael Buble ($70 million)

06. Paul McCartney ($67 million)

07. BLACK EYED PEAS ($61 million)

08. EAGLES ($60 million)

09. Justin Bieber ($53 million)

10. Dave Matthews Band ($51 million)

11. Toby Keith ($50 million)

12. Usher ($46 million)

13. Taylor Swift ($45 million)

14. Katy Perry ($44 million)

15. Brad Paisley ($40 million)

16. Tom Petty & the Heartbreaks ($38 million)

17. Jay-Z ($38 million)

18. AC/DC ($35 million)

19. Sean "Diddy" Combs ($35 million)

20. Beyonce ($35 million)

21. Tim McGraw ($35 million)

22. MUSE ($35 million)

23. Rascal Flatts ($34 million)

24. Kenny Chesney ($30 million)

25. Rihanna ($29 million)