Though sales of country music dropped from just over 46 million units to close to 44 million units in 2010 according to CMT News, the genre boasted three of the year's top-ten best selling artists: Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band. In addition to these newer artists, veteran artists such Keith Urban and Toby Keith are consistent top sellers, making the salary of country singers substantial for rising and established stars.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average hourly salary for singers and musicians at $21.24 as of May 2008, which amounts to $44,179 yearly though some may only work-part time hours. Those in the highest 10 percent earned $59.92 or $124,633 yearly. The bureau notes that wages may be impacted by such factors as professional reputation and hours and weeks worked. For country artists this could include the touring schedule or the type of venues in which artists are booked based on their audience attraction.
It is not impossible for some of country music's top stars to make any one of Forbes' "richest" or "top earners" list. A 2009 Forbes magazine article listed Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw and Brooks and Dunn among the top 10 earners in country music with Keith and Rascal Flatts earning as much as $48 million and $40 million respectively. Chesney, McGraw and Brooks and Dunn pulled in $22 million, $23 million and $20 million respectively. Each of these artists are well-established stars in the world of country music with varying fan bases.
Included in the earnings of country music's top stars are revenues from record deals, which come via advances. Even new artists such as Gwyneth Paltrow pocketed approximately $600,000 from a $900,000 record deal with Atlantic Records in 2010. Since new artists typically do not earn enough in album sales for record companies to recoup the costs of artist advances, these advances may be the only income earned by new artists from record deals. Established superstar artists such as Keith and McGraw and new superstar artists such as Swift and Carrie Underwood sell millions of albums and earn millions of dollars from album sales.
Country music's long tradition of creating great songs makes songwriting income a significant portion of earnings for country artists. Through royalties from the live performance of songs in radio, television and film along with the sale of sheet music, country artists can earn millions of dollars. Additionally, artists can earn additional money as songwriters from mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are paid for each song written by an artist for every album sold. As of publication, this rate is 9.1 cents per song. Merely writing one song on a CD that sells a million copies can earn songwriting royalties of $91,000.
Leonard Dozier is a freelance writer based in southern New Jersey and New York. His film and sports columns have been published by "Casino Connection Magazine" and Trev Rogers sports respectively. A prolific and extremely versatile writer, he is an ASCAP songwriter and has written screenplays and stage plays registered with the Writer's Guild of America.