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Music Business Winners 2016 Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson, Afterlife Lineup

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In December 2015, I named Taylor Swift one of the music industry’s biggest winners for the second year in a row after she pulled in $80 million, earning the No. 4 rank in pay among all musicians. But she seemed to have an even bigger payday in the works from her 1989 World Tour.

I predicted Swift would more than double her earnings, which she did–and then some–raking in $170 million this past year, most of it from the aforementioned tour, which mostly fell into our latest scoring period. That was not only more than any living musician, but more than any celebrity of any stripe on the planet. And so, as much as I hate to repeat myself, Swift gets the nod as one of this year’s music business winners.

Swift, however, was not the annual earnings champ among all celebs, or even among all musicians, if those cashing in from beyond the grave are included. Michael Jackson raked in a remarkable $825 million–the biggest single-year total ever recorded by FORBES for any celebrity dead or alive.

The King of Pop derived the bulk of his bucks from the March sale of his half of the Sony/ATV music publishing catalog, known for its library of Beatles tunes, to Sony for $750 million. The deal marked the fascinating denouement of a saga that began with Jackson’s initial purchase of ATV for $47.5 million in 1985, a move many critics, and even some advisers, once slammed as an outrageous outlay.

“He was always doing stuff that was the best, the greatest, the biggest,” said Jeff Jampol, who manages the estates of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and others. “That was a big fight when he wanted to buy that catalog … it turned out to be one of the greatest investments ever.”

Jackson will be joined in the great beyond by perhaps the most talented group of musicians to pass away in a single year, including Prince, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen and even Phife Dawg. The past year has been a tragedy for living audiences, but one might say it’s a boon to the lineup of the great music festival in the sky.

If there’s any consolation to the millions grieving the loss of such a beloved constellation of stars, it’s that in the modern world, acts like Jackson and Tupac Shakur can go on to have a life after death of sorts, with new music and even performances–via hologram–cementing their immortality.

Honorable mention among the music business winners of 2016 goes to Justin Bieber, whose album Purpose launched two songs that dominated 2016 (“Love Yourself” and “Sorry”); Adele, who earned $80 million on an arena tour and continued sales of 25 ; and Drake, who was recently named the top streaming artist of 2016.

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