The first time Zedd toured professionally as a DJ, opening for Skrillex, his production setup consisted of little more than a laptop and a folding table. In the break between him and the next DJ, he’d simply loop a song and walk off the stage.
“That is not the thing anymore today,” Zedd told Forbes last fall. “Everything is really professional. From the changeover music–from what you hear and see, between each DJ–to the cost you spend on a show … the expenses have gone up dramatically.”
So have the earnings. Five years ago, Zedd was banking $3.5 million annually; since then, he’s hauled in more than $100 million, including $22 million over the past year alone — and that’s only good enough for No. 6 on our list of the world’s highest-paid DJs. The top 15 acts all earned $10 million or more, with the top 10 banking more than a quarter billion dollars in aggregate.
Calvin Harris tops the list for the sixth consecutive year with earnings of $48 million, continuing to pull in healthy six-figure checks for his sets in Las Vegas — and well into the seven figures for headlining festival performances from Japan to Croatia. The Chainsmokers are right behind him ($45.5 million); the duo behind “Closer” and “Something Just Like This” played more than 100 shows in our scoring period. Says the act’s cofounder, Alex Pall: “I’m curious to see what happens next.”
Veteran DJ/producer Tiësto ($33 million) ranks No. 3, staying relevant with collaborations like “Jackie Chan,” his new single with Post Malone. Steve Aoki ($28 million) follows, playing a whopping 200 shows in our scoring period, sometimes two in a single day. Marshmello ($23 million) rounds out the top five — in addition to six-figure nightly fees, he’s puffed up his social presence with the YouTube series “Cooking With Marshmello.”
Other big names on the list include No. 8 David Guetta ($15 million), who continues to draw crowds — and healthy fees — for his sets in locales from the Encore Beach Club in Las Vegas to Pacha on Ibiza in his native Europe. Coming in at No. 10 is 22-year-old Martin Garrix ($13 million), who played more than 90 gigs in our scoring period, including the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Our list of the world’s highest-paid DJs ranks electronic acts around the globe using their pretax earnings from June 1, 2017 through June 1, 2018, before deducting 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.
All in all, the top 10’s $260 million haul fell a bit short of last year’s $298 million, partly due to the maturation — and, some would say, plateauing — of the live electronic music market. Other factors, such as Skrillex’s decision to have a quiet year by his standards after earning $30 million in 2017, impacted the total tally.
Skrillex is one of many DJs who earned millions over the past year but still fell short of the cutoff needed to land on the latest edition of our list. Among them: Alesso, Armin van Buuren, Deadmau5 and Hardwell. Look for them to challenge for a spot again next year.
In the meantime, the top DJs will keep pushing — onstage and off — to reach ever greater heights. Take the example of Afrojack (No. 15, $10 million), who recently partnered with LDH Europe to find the world’s next big pop act.
“Richard Branson’s balling,” he once told Forbes. “[Carlos Slim] is balling. I ain’t nowhere near balling.”
Additional reporting by Rebecca Lerner.