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.
"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."
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.