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How Much Do Pop Stars Actually Make?

Written by Greg Moskovitch on May 7, 2014

“I didn’t know how bad the music industry had got in those four years I was out,” Lily Allen confessed during an interview earlier this week. Having taken a break to bring up her children, a returning Allen was dismayed when she was greeted with a new and far more frugal pop landscape.

“Everyone assumes I made millions from the John Lewis ad. I probably made £8,000,” Allen told BEAT, referring to her cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know which was featured in a UK Christmas ad. And while this may seem like selling out, Allen admits it’s the only way to make a buck.

As the UK Telegraph write, a look at last year’s entertainment industry sales charts would have told Allen everything she needed to know. According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, the top-selling product of 2013 was Grand Theft Auto V, followed by the DVD of Skyfall. Music doesn’t make it into the list until ninth place with the compilation Now That’s What I Call Music! 86 at 1 million units.

While some hailed digital sales as the next vanguard of the music industry, they’ve done little to compensate for a huge fall in the sale of CDs. Sales for albums and singles in the UK alone last year saw a 0.5 per cent decrease on the year before and a 7 percent decrease over three years.

So where are pop singers’ mansions and cheetahs-on-leashes coming from? Well, firstly we have touring, which not only provides ticket revenue, but offers opportunities for the stars to sell merchandise and push their brand – Taylor Swift alone has three different perfumes to her name.

“For a lot of these pop acts, the music is just another piece in their product range,” one music agent told the Telegraph. Just ask Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk, whose 2013 hit spawned a brand of Get Lucky condoms. According to one industry association, PRS for Music, UK writers and artists earned £642 million from royalties in 2012, with £105 million from “ancillary brand revenues.”

This includes tour sponsorship, like Rihanna‘s last tour, technically titled the ‘Budweiser Rihanna 777 Tour’. The “ancillary” earnings also include endorsements and appearances, such as Kanye West’s performance for Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev‘s grandson’s wedding.

Even more surprising is how much stars can make just to show up at an event — recall the stink that was kicked up after it was revealed that celebrities were paid to attend Coachella — with even Z-listers reportedly taking home £2,000 for an appearance, with £200,000 or more for real stars.

But experts say stars ought to be cautious with such ancillary earnings. “I get these offers coming in quite often,” says one agent. “They are fine for a pop act, who have only a few years to milk it for all it is worth. But for a proper music star, you can forget it. Their fans would never forgive them.”

Watch: Jessie J – Price Tag

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