How Much Do Arena Headliners Actually Make?

Written by Greg Moskovitch on October 4, 2014

Making a living as a touring musician sounds like a pretty sweet deal. In fact, the general consensus is that it’s the only way to make a living as a musician these days. But just how much of a show’s revenue ends up in the headliner’s pocket? And why do the opening acts often lose money by playing?

As part of their investigation into the issue, Billboard spoke to Eric Mayers, tour manager for My Morning Jacket and other artists, who told the magazine that while costs will cannibalise less of an act’s gross as venues get bigger, many arena headliners walk away with just $30 pre-tax from every $100 they earn.

Entertainment business manager Jamie Cheek concurs with the estimate, saying roughly 40 percent of tour revenue goes to costs, 30 percent to commissions, and 30 percent, pretax, to the act. While this still means that the headliner is walking away with a pretty penny, how do the opening acts do?

According to Billboard, acts at the level of arena openers generally make $15,000 as a flat fee. However, they incur the costs of production and transportation, which can run up to under $10,000 per week and $7,500 to $10,000 respectively. There’s also the costs of paying your crew and Cheek warns that if you’re signed to a major label, they may take a percentage of your profits in return for tour support.

Intermediate acts, on the other hand, have it a little better. While the logistical costs are often higher for these acts than for openers, they still stand to walk away with 20 to 30 percent a show’s gross and they can often save money by getting creative and going DIY on their sets and production elements.

As for your Katy Perrys, your Lady Gagas, and your Maroon 5s, Cheek says the “general rule” is that arena headliners walk away with “$300,000 to $400,000 on a $700,000 to $800,000 gross”. Costs are then deducted and acts with good promoter deals can make close to 60 percent of the gross.

Furthermore, if you’re a solo artist, you’re in the best position when it comes to pecuniary matters. According to Cheek, “it’s a lot easier” for a solo performer to make big money than it is for a band. “When the bottom line is 30 percent and it’s split four ways,” he says, “you’re not making a lot.”

Watch: The Truth About Money In Music

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