LOS ANGELES — Demonstrating that there’s no substitute for the live concert experience, U2 has once again taken the crown in the Los Angeles Times’ annual Ultimate Top 10, a ranking that combines concert revenue with sales of recorded music.
U2 amassed $160.8 million for 2011, well ahead of runner-up Taylor Swift, whose combined earnings came to $126.8 million. Lady Gaga was the only other act to top $100 million, posting $109.4 million to place third. Country music road warrior Kenny Chesney landed in fourth place with $98.5 million. The year’s blockbuster album and singles sales champ, Adele, pulled in at fifth place with $92.8 million, a figure that certainly would have been higher if vocal cord problems hadn’t forced her to cancel big chunks of her 2011 tour itinerary.
Figures are drawn from Pollstar’s recently published tallies of North American box office revenues and Nielsen SoundScan’s tracking of retail music sales in the U.S. The Ultimate Top 10 uses figures from North America because they are tracked more reliably than in many other parts of the world. But most of these musicians pulled in even more than these totals with ever-expanding ancillary income sources such as tour merchandise, product endorsements, video game sales, ring tones and clothing and jewelry lines.
Two major income streams, however, demonstrate where bread is buttered for different acts, and those most generously compensated typically do it on the road.
Among the noteworthy trends last year?
Both online and physical retailers engaged in deep discounting of mainline releases, so the Ultimate Top 10 has dropped the average price used to calculate album sales to $11, compared to $13 in previous years. The most dramatic example in 2011 was when Amazon.com briefly slashed Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” album to 99 cents during the first days it was available as a way to promote Amazon’s cloud music service.
We’ve also upped the figure for downloaded digital tracks, as an increasing number of hot singles are selling on iTunes and elsewhere for $1.29 rather than the former standard price of $.99. Conventional wisdom now puts the average for an individual download at $1.14.
Here are the numbers:
1. U2: $160.8 million. The Irish quartet wrapped up its stadium tour in grand fashion, leaving behind the highest-grossing tour of all time, according to Pollstar. With just $3.2 million last year from album sales and $1.6 million from track downloads, the band piled on an additional $156 million in the final round of shows on its 360 Tour.
2. Taylor Swift: $126.8 million. Swift turned 22 last month, but she’s already become an international star, selling out arenas and stadiums across the globe. Her $97.7-million North American tour gross was topped with $20.4-million worth of album sales and $8.7 million in digital track revenue.
3. Lady Gaga: $109.4 million. The chameleonic pop chanteuse burst out of the gates last year with the fastest-selling album in nearly six years, ultimately yielding $31.1 million in revenue from album sales, plus an additional $14.6 million from 12.8 million digital downloads. That was still considerably less than the $63.7 million she earned while playing 39 shows for her Little Monsters in arenas and amphitheaters around the continent.
4. Kenny Chesney: $98.5 million. It wasn’t a big year at retail for the favorite son of Luttrell, Tenn., who logged just a shade over $9 million in album sales, plus $4.9 million in downloaded tracks. But Chesney keeps packing them in on the concert trail as one of only three acts — along with U2 and Swift — to sell more than 1 million concert tickets last year. That brought him $84.6 million in concert revenue.
5. Adele: $92.8 million. Adele’s throat troubles left her with just 15 concerts in North America that grossed $2.5 million. So the vast majority of her Ultimate Top 10 take is the result of the stunning numbers posted by “21” and “Rolling in the Deep.” Her album sales figure out at $74.1 million, with nearly $16.2 million more from sales of 14.2 million digital tracks.
6. Lil Wayne: $87.6 million. New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne divided things nearly evenly last year, posting $44.4 million on the road and about $43.2 million from album and singles sales. He also bucked the long trend of rap faring poorly in the concert business; with the success of the Kanye West/Jay-Z tour, other rappers may now reason that success isn’t utterly dependent on record sales.
7. “Glee” cast: $65.7 million. OK, so the cast of “Glee” isn’t technically a performer, but the collective from Fox’s hit show delivered solidly at the cash register and the ticket sales window. The group tour brought in $27.1 million, while sales of albums and tracks added an additional $38.6 million, nearly half of that from individual song downloads.
8. Kanye West/ Jay-Z: $65.6 million. The hip-hop dream team came together and stayed together long enough to craft a hit album, “The Throne,” and a tour that overflowed with chemistry — and hits. As a duo, they rallied for $48.3 million in concert and an additional $17.3-million worth of album and track sales.
9. Bon Jovi: $63.1 million. This New Jersey outfit keeps on rocking and rocking and rocking ... There was no new album last year, and just $6 million in album and single sales. But on the road, the band had another nice day with $57.1 million at the box office.
10. Katy Perry: $58 million. The cheerleader-turned-pop queen led the field in sales of downloads, posting a record 15.2 million tracks last year, which allowed her to slip past some tight competition from Britney Spears and Elton John to take the No. 10 slot. Her tour gross of $28.4 million, combined with album revenue of $12.3 million and $17.3 million in downloaded hits, ought to offer some comfort in light of her recent split with hubby Russell Brand.