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©AP / Calvin Harris
© AP / Calvin Harris
Electronic cash kings 2013: The world's highest-paid DJs

By Zack O'Malley Greenburg

It was a few minutes after midnight when the models walked in -- a signal that the party at Las Vegas superclub Hakkasan was just beginning. About two dozen of them took their places along the banquettes behind the DJ booth, dancing and smiling at the 3,000 gyrating bodies on the floor before them.

Moments later, Tijs "Tiësto" Verwest strode to the stage. He donned a pair of headphones, raised his right hand and the music swelled ever louder as a sea of cell phones rose to snap his picture, the thick air bathed in blue by the strobe lights overhead.

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"In America, dance musing is booming," Tiësto told Forbes after the show. "At the moment ... it's the most exciting genre."

The Dutch DJ earned $32 million over the past 12 months, good enough for second place on this year's Electronic Cash Kings list -- the top spot goes to Calvin Harris, who pulled in $46 million. Like Tiësto, he played well over 100 shows and picked up nightly fees in excess of $200,000, but ranks No. 1 thanks to hits penned for the likes of Rihanna and LMFAO, as well as a hefty publishing advance.

"The rise of dance music has been astronomical in the last three years," he tells Forbes. "I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Full list from Forbes: The World's Highest-Paid DJs 2013

Harris and Tiësto have plenty of company. David Guetta ranks third at $30 million, boosted both by live shows and collaborations with the likes of The Black Eyed Peas and Usher. Even at age 45, the Frenchman shows little signs of slowing, playing more than 120 shows over the past year.

Swedish House Mafia ranks fourth with $25 million. Though the members of the electronic supergroup called an end to their communal career in March 2013, they earned enough in an abbreviated year to make our list without factoring in their solo earnings. Mouse-helmeted Deadmau5 rounds out the top five at $21 million, boosted by lucrative live shows, recorded music and massive merchandise licensing deals.

Other big names on the list include six-time Grammy winner Skrillex, former "Jersey Shore" star DJ Pauly D and 23-year-old Avicii, the youngest DJ on our list. All in all, electronic music's 12 top earners pulled in $268 million over the past year--more than the combined gross domestic product of island nations Kiribati and Tuvalu -- thanks mostly to six-figure nightly fees paid out by superclubs from Vegas to Ibiza.

"The money you get for DJing at these places has gone to extremes," admits Avicii.

Our annual earnings estimates include income from live shows, endorsements, merchandise sales, recorded music sales, external business ventures and, in the case of DJ Pauly D, television (we included him on this list because, like his fellow Electronic Cash Kings, he makes at least half his cash from DJ gigs). Sources include Songkick, Pollstar, RIAA, promoters, managers, lawyers and some of the artists themselves.

As for the 44-year-old Tiësto, the electronic music boom in the United States has resulted in the highest earnings of his career, at least as long as Forbes has been tracking them. Could there be a bubble on the horizon? Perhaps. But for now, he and his DJ brethren are enjoying the ride, particularly in Sin City.

More from Forbes:
Country Cash Kings: The Highest-Earning Country Artists
Hip-Hop's Wealthiest Artists
Most Powerful Musicians

Jan 22, 2014 10:59AM
Dude!  DJ's are sooo awesome!  If I had more music talent, I'd be a DJ.


Aug 22, 2013 12:37PM
Being a DJ for some is an art. It is more than just playing songs and talking as someone implied like radio DJ's do.  It being able to get music together, mixing tracks with such timing you can't tell where one song ended and the other began and a whole lot more.   It's being able to keep your crowd going non-stop because your mixture of sounds won't let them sit down or stop moving and bobbing their heads.  Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything - Plato.  I have been a Police Officer for over 20yrs. And I have been a D.J. just as long. Music helps us escape from the reality we live in. And it is as much a profession as any there is. Any thing you can do legally and get paid for it is. Playing, spinning, mixing, scratching or however you want to describe what we do brings joy and life to any occasion. I am sure all of you at some point in your life have needed a DJ. The music being played..well that's a debatable subject because what we know as Real music we have to go back.....way back and dig up. What those guys are playing is loved by this generation of dance partiers.   So to sum this up...are those guys paid an astronomical amount? Sure they are.  And do we wish we could make that amount of money loving and enjoying what we do? Sure we do. Live and let live and dance to the music.  It makes the world a better place.
Aug 20, 2013 1:29PM
Someone explain to me how DJ cost are recouped??  Just doesn't cost that much to get drunk even if there are 3000 people there.
Aug 18, 2013 7:51PM
I wouldn't call these people DJs because they only play and mix music for a living.  They only play music.  Real DJs do much more than this and people can have a "connection" with a radio personality whereas these people stand behind some electronic gear and push buttons.  If they can make money doing this, more power to them.
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