On the surface, it would appear that Calvin Harris has had a rough year. He got into a car accident, parted ways with superstar girlfriend Taylor Swift and saw a $3 million dip in annual income. But it would take much more to knock Harris from his throne: he still pulled in $63 million, making him the highest-paid DJ in the world. Forbes Reports
For the fourth consecutive year, Harris is the earnings champ of EDM, a genre defined by a swirl of synthesizers, towering vocals and psychedelic light shows. The Scottish DJ, who gets paid more than $400,000 per Vegas gig, has long had his eye on the top spot. “I want to be the number one songwriter-producer guy of all time,” he told FORBES several years ago.
Next up on the list are two other Europeans. Dutch-born Tiësto earned $38 million, playing more than 100 gigs in the past 12 months on top of an estimated seven-figure deal with 7-UP. French DJ David Guetta scored the theme song for the Euro 2016 soccer tournament–and $28 million on the year, thanks mostly to his steady gig at Wynn’s Vegas properties.
EDM’s broader fortunes, however, may not be as bright as those of the upper echelon of Electronic Cash Kings. The ten top earners collectively pulled in $270.5 million this year (down 1% from a year ago) as they crisscrossed the globe spinning beats and shilling for such products as 7-Up and Tag Heuer. It’s the first year since FORBES began tracking DJ pay in 2012 that the number has gone down year over year.
The bubble has already burst in America,” says Steve Aoki (No. 5, $23.5 million), who played 198 times in the past year despite vocal cord surgery. “You can see it in Vegas’ DJ landscape.”
Some of the most successful DJs on the list made much of their money on genres other than EDM. Skrillex (No. 7, $20 million), served as the driving force behind Justin Bieber’s comeback, producing five tracks on Bieber’s latest album, Purpose. Others are leaving entirely. Avicii (No. 12, $14.5 million) is set to retire from performing later this summer.
Our estimates include earnings from live shows, merch, endorsements, recorded music and outside business ventures. Figures are pretax income calculated from June 2015 to June 2016, with information from Nielsen NLSN +0.00%, Songkick, Bandsintown, Pollstar, RIAA, promoters, managers and many of the DJs themselves.
And there are still bright spots, to be sure. Newcomers Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike (No. 10, $15.5 million) scored multiple six-figure festival paydays, debuting in between Electronic Cash Kings veterans Afrojack (No. 11, $15 million) and Martin Garrix (No. 9, $16 million).
How accurate are our numbers? Publicly and privately, some DJs and their teams tell us they’re spot on; others say they’re too high or too low. But everybody’s got a different motivation.
“On my side, they’re always a bit under,” says Kaskade (No. 8, $19 million). “Which I don’t mind and that’s fine, that’s cool. I’ve always been a sneak attack guy anyway.”