This scene last April kicked off Marshmello’s residency at the new Kaos Dayclub and Nightclub at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, part of a megadeal worth $60 million.
Even with that massive haul, Marshmello isn’t the highest-paid electronic act in the world—that honor goes to the Chainsmokers, who garnered $46 million in pretax income over the past year. The duo of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall top our annual Electronic Cash Kings list with their biggest earnings year yet, dethroning Calvin Harris after six consecutive years at No. 1.
Over the past year, the Chainsmokers performed at the XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club as part of a three-year residency with Wynn Nightlife announced in 2017 (and recently extended until 2021). In between Vegas gigs, the duo played a multitude of festivals and private shows, pulling in mid six-figure sums per night. Their yearly total also factors in endorsements and recorded music sales.
“We work with artists because it makes sense, because we’re excited about them,” Pall explained to Forbes in 2017. “Anytime we work with someone, it’s because they offer something to us creatively that inspires us.”
Perhaps the hardest-working name on the list is Steve Aoki, who played over 200 shows within our scoring period. Thanks to his six-figure nightly checks, consumption of his music, endorsement deals with brands from Diesel to Samsung and a bevy of outside business ventures including his own Dim Mak record label and clothing brand, he tallied $30 million to land at No. 4.
"This is where I put my hard work and blood, sweat and tears," he says. "And it's not necessarily about what kind of profit margins I'm making, it's more about how I'm servicing my culture or the community."
The top 15 acts clocked $358 million in pretax earnings over the past 12 months, $272 million of that coming from the top ten, up a tick from last year’s collective $260 million. Much of the increase is thanks to Marshmello’s earnings nearly doubling since last year‒an aberration among his peer group.
“The average gross guarantees had already plateaued and have decreased for electronic acts,” says Wayne Kamemoto, senior partner at business management firm NKSFB, which handles the finances of artists including Skrillex and Zedd. “But the biggest acts are still commanding high guarantees.”
Vegas continues to play a huge role for our top EDM acts, with a majority of 2019 list members performing on the Strip over the past year, most with extensive residencies. For rising EDM acts, though, grabbing a foothold in Sin City is getting harder.
Aoki, who extended his residency with Hakkasan Group in January 2019, believes the recent EDM explosion and subsequent pullback caused some clubs to take a harder look at the numbers before booking talent.
“They need to hit harder through the ceiling to be able to draw that kind of attention,” he says. “And also, for the guys and girls that are in that space, if you ain't bringing in the money, then you're going to be out.”
Though there are a number of female DJs rising through the ranks as Aoki suggested, there are no women on this year’s list. In fact, since Forbes started tracking DJs in 2012 not a single female act has appeared on the ranking. A few have come close, like twin duo Nervo in 2014; Alison Wonderland got within a few million this year.
Our list of the world’s highest-paid DJs ranks electronic acts around the globe using pretax earnings from June 1, 2018 through June 1, 2019; we do not deduct fees for lawyers, agents and managers. Estimates are based on numbers from Nielsen, Pollstar, Bandsintown and Songkick, as well as interviews with industry experts and many of the stars themselves.
Electronic Cash Kings 2019: The Full List
15. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike ($11.5 million, tie)
15. DJ Pauly D ($11.5 million, tie)
15. DJ Snake ($11.5 million, tie)
14. Afrojack ($12 million)
13. Alesso ($12.5 million)
12. Skrillex ($13 million)
11. Kaskade ($14 million)
10. Armin van Buuren ($15 million)
9. Zedd ($17 million)
8. David Guetta ($18 million)
7. Martin Garrix ($19 million)
6. Tiësto ($24 million)
5. Diplo ($25 million)
4. Steve Aoki ($30 million)
3. Calvin Harris ($38.5 million)
2. Marshmello ($40 million)
1. The Chainsmokers ($46 million)