Bruce Springsteen was confirmed to be the biggest-earning musician of 2021 after selling his masters and publishing catalog for a reported $550 million.

In an era where the pandemic affected all artists’ incomes, similar arrangements with investment corporations skewed the annual chart in favor of those with a valuable archive to sell. All but three artists in the global top 10 list, published by Rolling Stone, made their ranking via rights deals. The five highest-earning rock musicians list can be seen below — entirely the result of rights deals.

“The Boss cashes in,” wrote former Forbes editor Zack O’Malley Greenburg in the report, explaining that his figures came from public documents and insider information. (The deal had previously been rumored to be worth $500 million.) “His $550 million haul made history as the largest sale of a solo catalog to date." He also cited Springsteen's return to Broadway, along with his Spotify podcast and book with Barack Obama, both titled Renegades: Born in the USA.

Greenburg also discussed the incentive for artists to sell their rights. “There’s a range of factors, some of them arcane and overlooked, like tax rates: The sale of a catalog is typically treated as a capital gain, and therefore taxed at a much lower rate than a royalty check. Then there’s the fact that music consumption continues to soar, with global on-demand spins surging 26.3 [percent] year-over-year. That figure got a major boost from back catalog streaming, which spiked 19.3 [percent] this year and accounted for 69.8 [percent] of overall listening. On top of that, low interest rates around the world mean megabuyers like private-equity firm KKR and Merck Mercuriadis’ Hipgnosis Songs Fund can afford to borrow cheaply, spurring them to pay higher multiples and write larger checks.”

While Music Business Worldwide recently reported that rights deals had seen over $5 billion changing hands last year, and predicted more multi-million dollar deals would be seen in the months ahead, Greenburg took a different view. “[M]any insiders feel these conditions are likely to shift in the not-so-distant future. Some expect to see tax-code changes, while others worry rising inflation could lead to higher interest rates.”

Rock’s Biggest Earners of 2021

1. Bruce Springsteen – $590 million
2. Paul Simon – $260 million
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – $145 million
4. Lindsey Buckingham – $100 million
5. Motley Crue – $95 million

Bruce Springsteen Albums Ranked

Because he spent so many of his formative years painstakingly crafting his albums, we don’t often think of Bruce Springsteen as a prolific artist.

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