Adam and Money – the Forbes List

The Forbes top-earning Idols list came out this past Thursday. Just when I was wondering about it, too.

And it proved to be more than a bit of a surprise. Yes, I expected Carrie Underwood to be the top earner, but her number is amazing – $20 million, as much as the next four combined. But Carrie works hard – all the Idols do – and deserves that money.

The next one is even more amazing. Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert are tied for second at 6 million each. Daughtry wasn’t a surprise. His season was five years ago, he’s had two successful albums and several successful tours. He, like Carrie (and Kelly) are in the big three when it comes to American Idol, with recognition outside the Idol bubble.

On the other hand, having someone who had had ONE album and ONE tour – an album that has done well for the current music business but the current music business is doing terribly, and a tour in mostly mid-sized venues – make that much money in the same twelve months? That is unexpected at best. Especially since Adam hasn’t had a single paying gig between mid-December 2010 and May 2011. I mean, he probaby got something for Idol and for his Ellen pre-Grammy performance, but I can’t imagine they paid as well as a concert.

The article attributes this to his tour – his world-wide 99% sold-out tour, his 116 nights (well, a couple of days) singing his face off, in fairs and casinos, charming old theaters, crowded new ones, clubs, circus tents, a bridge and a slaughterhouse, in the US, in Canada, all over the South Pacific, all over Europe. Six months of living in buses, in planes, in hotels.

The article says this is his gross income for the year – pre-tax and before giving his agent and management their fees. But that, to me, makes it sound like it’s still his net from his tour. That is, it’s what he earned after the promoter took his commission, after the venues took their cuts, after he paid the salaries of all of his many employees, from the people who shared his stage to the ones who worked behind the scenes to his brother,after he paid for his equipment, his buses, his truck and the drivers. Because they didn’t say pre-expenses. They said pretax and commissions. Oh, this probably includes the big paydays of the Singapore trip, which probably paid for the rest of Asia and probably part of Europe.

He gets to keep so much (although it’s likely at least half did go to taxes and fees) because he financed this tour himself. He didn’t get the traditional tour support (read loan) from his label. He probably used his advance from his second album plus whatever he had left from his first advance and his Idol tour money. Since the record industry is designed to keep as much money as possible away from the artists, I doubt he saw much from FYE sales, or even it’s many offshoots. It’s possible that 19 fronted him some, but that is also a loan and would have to be paid back. While I suspect he put some money aside to live on, just in case, but he basically would be risking everything else.

This was an enormous risk – even more so that particular summer when tours were being curtailed, moved to smaller venues or outright canceled. And most labels and artists consider a headlining tour a success when they don’t lose money. The point of such a tour is to raise awareness of the artist, after all, so breaking even is good. And Adam more than broke even. Way more.

If I were to budget a tour, I’d figure on a certain sales level – this is what we’d gross if we sell this percentage of seats – and use that figure. I would certainly not budget with the expectation of selling out. And, really, that’s still a bit of wishful thinking unless one chooses a very low percentage. That summer there were tours that sold under 50%.

I have no idea what number Adam or his advisers chose. I can’t even guess. But what happened was that he out almost all his dates – he had to play in a disgusting, un-air-conditioned slaughterhouse to play to a visibly non-full house. Even the bridge sold. And he didn’t count on that. Yes, the venues were small, but other Idols played small houses – even the same ones – and didn’t sell much.

Forbes isn’t some music industry rag. It’s not a gossip magazine that can say that Adam had dinner with his brother and sister-in-law and their baby when in reality Neil has neither wife nor child, and the family in questions were dear friends. It’s something people in and out of the industry read to figure out what’s happening in the financial world.

And the business men who run the record labels and book the tours and do the advertising for those tours will have paid attention – here’s someone who works hard (again, that’s true of all successful musicians but 116 dates is huge), who puts butts in seats (or crowds them into GA floors) and who isn’t afraid to take reasonable risks. He didn’t have a sponsor last tour, for whatever reason. I can’t guess. But if he wants one for the next tour, presuming his next album sells, he might well have one. Especially since one look at his tour proves that he’s not going to waste their money – he spent every dime he had to so the show would look and sound the way he wanted it, and so that the tour would go smoothly, but not a penny more. (And his lifestyle shows that now – he hasn’t purchased a mansion, he’s still driving the Mustang he pretty much got for free, and he’s not really being extravagant even with his expensive tastes in clothing. He’s using his money for producers and studio time instead.) They see a man willing and able to invest in his career. And that’s going to get their interest. And that’s an interest Adam needs to have.

Just as you only get bank loans if you show you already have the money, he’ll get investors and sponsors because he’s proven he doesn’t need them. If he wants them, that is. They’ll have to show him he can make as much of a profit, if not more, with them on board.

He won’t be as high on the list next year, but he’ll probably still be there. And that’s enough to reassure me that Adam is going to be with us a long time.


About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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16 Responses to Adam and Money – the Forbes List

  1. PastaBaby says:

    Forbes may not be a rag but they are known to grossly overstate earnings. They did it with Gaga, they did it with Kelly, and they are doing it now.

    Those are not finance people writing these articles. They are journalists that make calls to people in the industry who also make estimates. Estimates which are not based on any particular artist.

    Forbes uses the high end of estimates to attract attention.

    • mamadeb says:

      And they’ve also been known to underestimate earnings. Carrie said that.

      They’re the best – the ONLY – figures we have. So they’re the ones we need to deal with.

  2. key says:

    Ugh! Why are people commenting on what Adam made and who paid for his tour without really knowing anything. Just because you are a fan does NOT mean that you have all the facts. Just enjoy the Forbes article for what it is and stop acting as if you have some inside information. You don’t. You don’t know if Forbes overestimated or underestimated and you don’t know if Adam finaced his entire tour himself. You don’t know what his profit is and you shouldn’t. You are just fans without any inside information or financial statements.

    • mamadeb says:

      You’re right. I don’t know the exact numbers. I can be reasonably sure that they’re at least in the ballpark – that Adam neither made 60M nor 600K, and they are the only numbers we have to play with. So I’m playing with them. We do know that Adam had no sponsorship, and RCA’s rep said they had no financial interest in the tour, which seriously implies no tour support (and if there was, it’s a loan.) So who else would finance it? His parents? I don’t know how much profit he has, and I even said that.

      I’m having fun.

      • LambertsLabelle says:

        I thin k its a very interesting side of view and wakes concience that theres a lot more than just the number of 6 ooo ooo .Thanks mama Deb! I had fun too!

    • Lauriellen says:

      Actually the fans have a ton of inside information. Adam is really kind of an open book. Everything stated in the article I have heard before. Adam handled everything including writing all the checks, so I’ve heard.

    • Gleaux says:

      There is a video somewhere on YT with Adam being interviewed during a GN Tour stop. They were discussing the tight tour schedule and the DJ said something like “You think THEY would allow you more time off between gigs” to which Adam replied “There is no THEY, only me.” Other comments by both Adam other tour members and additional bits and pieces of information gathered by fans during the tour made it obvious that the GN Tour was entirely Adam’s baby.

  3. Still a great review of Adam whether for financial reasons or not.. shows what a hard working young man he is who surrounds himself with his own “family” faithful to his friends and faithful to those who support him by putting his ALL into his performances… he is truly a great performer and I fully expect to see Adam do very well for himself in any future endeavours…

  4. juneauxena says:

    Wonderful piece. We can only make educated guesses regarding the finances of the tour, but the most important point is that Adam has proven himself to be not only an extraordinary artist, but also highly disciplined, business-savvy, willing to take risks and work his butt off. Right there we have a combination that is rare in any industry.

  5. Sharon says:

    This is a very informative article and based on it’s context I’d say Adam Lambert defies the norm in the music business as I’ve never heard of someone “right out of the gate” financing his own tour. But it definitely paid off. Adam is a risk taker which is one reason I respect him so much. He knew all he had to do was get the exposure withing the US and other countries to catapult him to the next level. it worked. He’s working with more current producers and song writers as well as some of the best in the business from last album. Nothing but good things have been said by some of the song writers reference the music he’s making. Adam is a phenomenal artist like no other on the music scene today or even in past generations. I think his sophomore album will make history who cares if it hits #1 on itunes. It’s longevity that counts not short lived success on radio/itunes.

    • Emerie says:

      I think you’ve captured the essence of Adam’s career thus far, Sharon. Maybe I’m naive, but I, too, would hope for longevity over radio airplay. My other favorite artist (since his emergence on the music scene in the ’90s), Jeff Buckley, had one -maybe two- videos played on MTV. (I lived in the UK at the time, so I’m not sure – I think he was bigger in UK, and certainly in France, than he was in the US.) But despite the fact that Buckley was like an obscure obsession (and hadn’t been heard of by most people I mentioned him to, before his death), his name appears on many “Top Artists/Albums of All Time”-type lists, and is one of the “influences” cited by an impressive number of artists. That, to me, is the sign of a great artist.

      Now, Jeff Buckley and Adam Lambert are two distinct individuals within the music world, to be sure, but both fit into the category of exceptional artists who do NOT fit a formula. I think it’s that “romantic/maverick” quality in both that has excited me and many others. Few can be said to have the magical combination of charisma and talent (as disparately as they present themselves in these two cases) that have gifted these two amazing men ~ and it hardly has much to do with singles played on the radio, or videos played on television.

  6. Pingback: Adam Lambert Daily Update – July 26, 2011 « On the Meaning of Adam Lambert

  7. Alice says:

    I think this article speaks volumes. It showcases Adam’s business acumen and his ability to take reasonable risks, showing that his astute financial moves have and will continue to make him an attractive business asset for potential corporate sponsors as well as the music industry. I am thrilled to read this post because it reinforces yet another of Adam’s fortes and to a completely different readership. The ripples of his talent are growing broader and deeper, which, hopefully spells longevity and prosperity for Adam—a phenomenonally gifted artist, performer, businessman, and human.

  8. Pingback: Adam Lambert Week – July 24-30, 2011 « On the Meaning of Adam Lambert

  9. Pingback: Adam is 7th in Forbes Top-Earning American Idols 2014 | Disco Rodeo

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