Spotify might just be the biggest star in 21st century music. But like any big star, everybody’s looking to see how Spotify spends its wealth.
“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music,” says Taylor Swift – whose love-hate relationship with Spotify is well-documented. Damon from Galaxie 500 takes a more forensic approach: “Spotify… sent songwriting royalties of $1.05 for the 5,960 times our single “Tugboat” was played that quarter—split between the group’s three members, each of us had made 35 cents.”
On the other hand, top stars make millions of dollars per song on the service. It’s clear that the Spotify economy looks very different depending on where you’re standing. So, while everyone knows that it’s streambait-or-bust for unknown artists, just how well are the famous ones doing?
Top Dollar calculated the earnings of 100 top-earning (living) Spotify artists and the 100 most-played songs on the service. Here’s Spotify’s 2021 “Rich List” – by star, genre, and hit record.
● Drake is Spotify’s highest earner, with an estimated haul of $52,546,150.
● The top-grossing song on Spotify is Shape of You, which earned Ed Sheeran $6,566,000.
● Spotify’s 10 highest-earners have made a combined $337,485,480 from the platform.
● The highest-earning song from before 2010 is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which has made $3,349,150 on Spotify.
Drake Earned $15M (or 37%) More Than Closest Rival J Balvin
Drake is the king of Spotify. With estimated earnings of nearly $53.5 million from the platform, Drake towers over the next highest earners: J Balvin, Post Malone, Bad Bunny, and Ed Sheeran have each made $36-38 million each. Drake has long been Spotify’s favorite son. The company promoted the Canadian’s work through the service’s first global takeover and has strapped his image to playlists that don’t even feature Drake’s music.
Ariana Grande is the top-earning woman on Spotify. Her $27.2 million paycheck makes Grande the eighth highest earner of all. Noted streaming cynic Taylor Swift is number 40 with $10.5 million. Playing hard-to-get with Spotify seems to have cost Swift a higher position. Outside of Spotify, she was named the 25th top-earning celebrity in 2021.
Hip-Hop/R&B Artists Dominate Spotify Rich List
This chart shows Spotify’s highest earners overall. Click the tabs to sort the artists by genre.
Hip-hop/R&B is the most represented genre in our study, with 33 of the top 100 artists performing in this flavor. Pop is the second-top genre (29 artists). Music lovers outside of Latin America might be surprised to find reggaetón makes a healthy third-place appearance with 20 top artists – including overall number two J Balvin.
Outlying genres include K-pop and Sertanejo, which are each represented by just one top-100 artist. For K-pop, it’s boy band BTS, who partnered with Spotify to create a unique album promotion for 2020’s BE album. Sertanejo star Marília Mendonça is the most-heard woman on Spotify in Brazil, and we estimate she has earned $6.6 million through the service.
Ed Sheeran Hit is Spotify’s Big Grosser
Say what you will about Ed Sheeran, people keep playing his music. Shape Of You has over 2.68 billion plays, adding more than $6.5 million to Sheeran’s wealth. Sheeran and his songwriting team originally conceived the song for Rihanna, but held it back at the last minute.
Rihanna does appear in our chart, though, guesting on Calvin Harris’s This Is What You Came For. This track is number 88 in our hit parade. Its 1.09 billion streams earned Harris and Rihanna around $2,680,300.
Classic Rock and Pop Anthems Are Hits Across the Decades
We calculated the top-earning songs on Spotify from each decade since the 1960s. Click the tabs to switch between decades.
The top ten for each decade provides a curious window into each period. Spotify’s historic big-hitters tend to be anthems – who hasn’t cued-up Livin’ on a Prayer (number 7 from the 1980s) or Wonderwall (earned Oasis $2.5 million on Spotify) at a party or on a road trip?
And special mention has to go to the true champions of Spotify, the masters of the anthem: Queen. Freddie Mercury’s pop-rock ensemble has three of the top 10 tracks from the 1970s (including numbers one and two) and also made it onto the 1980s list with Another One Bites the Dust.
It takes millions of plays to make a living on Spotify. The artists earning the most from Spotify may be the ones who would have earned the most on older formats or if Spotify paid fairer royalties – but the rich-poor divide and the value of music are still to play for as streaming comes of age.
Methodology & Sources
We extracted the top 100 artists based on Spotify streams (leaving out the artists who have passed away). Then we calculated each one’s total earnings (assuming that one stream equates to $0.0049) and halved the total figure because top artists only receive about 50% of revenue from streams.
Then we pulled the list of top 100 most-streamed songs and most-streamed songs since 1960 and calculated earnings the same way as for the artists.
Data collected in January 2021.