When you were younger, you might have thought that singers always write their own songs! This is not true at all. Of course, some people can both sing and write. However, it feels like songwriters do not get nearly enough credit for the hits that they come up with. The lyrics are just as important as the tune! Mind you; it is possible to make a lot of money as a songwriter. If it weren’t for the following people, our favorite songs would not have come into existence!
Neil Diamond – $175 million
It is impressive that Neil Diamond has sold more than a hundred albums across the globe. He also has 38 singles that have made it to the Top 10 Billboard charts. This makes him one of the best-selling artists in the world.
The “Song Sung Blue” singer-songwriter was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2011, he got his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Will Ferrell once parodied him on SNL, but he liked it so much that he joined the comedian during the broadcast in May 2002!
Johnny Cash – $60 million
With more than 90 million album sales, Johnny Cash is considered one of the most accomplished singers in history. You will find him in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
If you are a fan of his, we are sure that you are familiar with his famous opening line: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” This was how he introduced himself before every show! It set him apart from other rockers because of how simple it was. You can learn more about the “Folsom Prison Blues” singer-songwriter by watching Walk the Line.
Joni Mitchell – $50 million
If you ask us to list down the best albums in history, Blue by Joni Mitchell will be there. A pianist, poet, and guitarist, she combined elements from rock, jazz, folk, and pop to make her unique music. She was active in the Baby Boom counterculture and joined demonstrations back in the day.
Her best hits include “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” We have always been impressed by her versatility as an artist! Over the years, she has changed her sound and look to great effect. She is an icon in more ways than one.
Freddie Mercury – $50 million
Greatest Hits: Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are The Champions, Killer Queen.
Freddie Mercury was the frontman and lead vocalist of the famous rock band Queen. He’s seen as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music. Throughout his immensely successful career, Freddie was known for his flamboyant onstage persona in addition to his impressive four-octave vocal range. He’s written plenty of Queen’s biggest hits.
From “Killer Queen” to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “Somebody to Love,” many of his songs became huge hits both in his time and after his untimely death. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2003, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2004, into the UK Music Hall of Fame as a member of Queen.
Selena Gomez – $75 million
Greatest Hits: Hands to Myself, Lose You to Love Me, Back to You.
Starting her career in Disney, Selena Gomez first appeared on Barney & Friends at age 10. Since then, she’s developed a successful career in acting, singing, songwriting, and even producing. Some of her biggest hits are “Hands to Myself,” “Lose You to Love Me,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” with Charlie Puth, and “Good for You.” She was even honored as the Billboard Woman of the Year in 2017.
She has a large social media following and was once the most followed person on Instagram. A makeup line, a clothing line, a handbag line, a fragrance line, and a production company called July Moonhead Productions are among Gomez’s other businesses. She has volunteered with several charitable organizations and was named a UNICEF ambassador at the age of 17.
James Taylor – $60 million
This talented singer-songwriter has received five Grammy awards. To no one’s surprise, he is also in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! With a hundred million album sales, James Taylor is one of the best-selling artists. He made it big with his “Fire and Rain” album, which was succeeded by “You’ve Got a Friend.” He has covered a bunch of popular songs such as “HandyMan,” “Sweet Baby James,” and “How Sweet It Is.”
As you might already know by now, he is the person who wrote “Night Owl” and “Paints it Black.” From 1977 to 2007, every album he released sold over a million copies. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, he experienced a resurgence in chart performance when he recorded some of his most-awarded work.
Carole King – $70 million
For five decades, Carole King was one of the most accomplished female songwriters. She is credited for writing or co-writing 118 songs that have been in the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. In the United Kingdom, 61 of her songs have made it to the charts.
She has a couple of albums to her name, such as “Tapestry” and “Writer.” The former stayed in the charts for almost four months in the United States. Is it shocking to hear that the “It’s Too Late” singer-songwriter has a Hollywood Star?
Stevie Wonder – $110 million
Also called Stevland, Stevie Wonder is a talented singer-songwriter. Aside from that, he plays various instruments like keyboards, drums, harpejji, and harmonica. Over the course of his career, he has sold more than a hundred million records and bagged an Oscar and 25 Grammy awards.
As expected, he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The artist has many hits on the Billboard Hot 100. In his youth, he signed a deal with Motown label and was called a prodigy.
Billy Joel – $180 million
This is the guy who has brought us the hit song “Piano Man.” Billy Joel has been making a name for himself in the industry since the ‘70s. He has since sold over 150 million records across the globe! As a matter of fact, the collection of his Greatest Hits is among the best-selling albums in the United States.
He was born in the Bronx and dropped out of high school to focus on his budding music career. In 1972, he finally signed with Columbia Records. Since then, he has been nominated for a total of 23 Grammys. He has been married to Alexis Roderick, his fourth wife, since 2015. He has three daughters: Alexa Ray Joel with Brinkley, and Della Rose and Remy Anne with Roderick.
Burt Bacharach – $160 million
There are few singer-songwriters from the 20th century with more influence than Burt Bacharach. Born in Missouri in 1928, he started to write songs in the ‘80s. He eventually collaborated with Hal David to pen songs that more than a thousand singers have since recorded.
He is famous for his work with Dionne Warwick and his jazz harmony and chord progression. Aside from that, he has worked with smaller orchestras with unique instruments. He has dabbled in contemporary, pop, and easy-to-hear styles. Aside from writing songs, he also sings and plays the piano! What a talented guy.
Randy Newman – $50 million
Over the years, Randy Newman has been nominated for twenty Academy Awards and brought home two of them. How impressive is that? He is a famous songwriter who has been blessed with a distinctive voice and amazing arrangement skills. In 2007, he entered the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is famous for composing music for both animated and live-action movies. On his resume, you will find movies such as Meet the Parents, Cold Turkey, Seabiscuit, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, and Cars. At the moment, he is working for Warner Bros.
Dolly Parton – $500 million
You must have been living underneath a rock if you don’t know who Dolly Parton is! The “Jolene” singer has actually written more than 3,000 songs. One of them would be the modern classic, “I Will Always Love You.” When asked about songwriting, she once said that she started doing it at the tender age of seven. She has said that she tries to write a little every single day.
If you look at her songs, you will see that childhood has influenced what she spent in the Appalachian Mountains. Parton’s albums did not sell as well in the 1990s. Still, she found commercial success again in the new millennium, releasing albums on various independent labels, including her own label, Dolly Records. She has sold over 100 million records worldwide.
Tom Petty – $95 million
We have another best-selling artist on the list! Tom Petty gained a fascination with rock ‘n’ roll after meeting Elvis Presley. He had been ten years old at the time! Aside from that, he was inspired by the Rolling Stones to form his own punk rock band.
He formed a band called Mudcrutch, but it was not very successful. His tide turned when he formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers! In the ‘70s, their second album cracked the Top 40 List. The third album saw even more success and sold two million copies.
Loretta Lynn – $65 million
Born in Kentucky, Loretta Lynn is one of the greatest country musicians out there. She is best known for songs like “Fist City,” “You Ain’t’ Woman Enough,” “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin,’” and “One’s on the Way.” The biographical film Coal Miner’s Daughter got its title from one of her biggest hits!
She has since sold more than 45 million records. With two dozen albums, she still tours to this day. We do not know a lot of people her age who can say the same thing! She also performs at the Grand Ole Opry.
Lou Reed – $15 million
As the lead singer and songwriter of The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed cemented his status in the music industry. In those days, the musical act was not all that successful in terms of commercial sales. Despite this, it has since become known as an iconic underground alt-rock band.
In 1970, he left Velvet Underground and released twenty records as a solo artist. Even though the second and third ones did well, his career went through many ups and downs. We are glad that his later records did very well.
Kris Kristofferson – $160 million
Up next, we have another singer-songwriter with a great musical career. Kris Kristofferson wrote for other artists and often worked with popular writer Shel Silverstein. Aside from that, he became known for his outlaw country collaborations. He was part of a group called The Highwaymen, which included other icons such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.
Did you know that he has also tried acting? He was in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Heaven’s Gate, and Blade. He appeared in A Star is Born and fetched a Golden Globe for it as well! He successfully underwent bypass surgery in 1999, but from 2004 to 2015, he suffered from what was eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease, despite being misdiagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Paul McCartney – $1.2 billion
You might have a hard time looking for a bigger musician than Paul McCartney. The former Beatles member is known for performing and writing various songs over the years. One of his biggest hits must be “Yesterday.” More than two thousand artists have since covered their songs. You will find his name in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame two times.
The first one was for his time with the Beatles, while the other one is for his solo career. Over the years, he has received eighteen Grammy awards. In 1997, he was knighted for his achievements in the music industry. With his talent, he has achieved billionaire status!
Vanessa Williams – $25 million
Next on the list, we have the multitalented Vanessa Williams. The new York native initially gained global recognition for being the first African-American woman crowned Miss America. It wasn’t too long after this historical event that Williams debuted her music career and rose to fame pretty quickly.
In more recent years, Williams has also successfully maintained her acting career, and she has starred in Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty. It looks like the 57-year-old is really enjoying life. Williams achieved success as an actress on both stage and screen, winning the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her portrayal of Teri Joseph in Soul Food (1997).
Van Morrison – $90 million
He was only a teenager when he started his musical career. Van Morrison started to play for various showbands in Ireland and made a name for himself as a member of a Northern Irish R&B group called Them. As the lead singer, he recorded a song called “Gloria.”
It pretty much defined the genre! He is also known for a ‘60s single called “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Astral Weeks was his first album, but it did not do well in terms of his sales. Luckily, his second album was a hit. In case you didn’t know, he still tours!
Bob Dylan – $200 million
We are sure that you know who Bob Dylan is! The folk singer is the man behind hit songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A’Changin.’” In the early ‘60s, the pop culture icon released an eponymous album. It launched his career to great success. His fans love how political his music is.
Aside from that, he was a pioneer in using electrically amplified musical instruments in rock music. He has sold more than a hundred million albums and even won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not only that, but he was also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Brian Wilson – $75 million
If you know Brian Wilson, we bet that it is because he co-founded the Beach Boys. In 1962, he signed with Capitol and wore more than 24 songs that entered the Top 40 Hits chart. He established himself as one of the most creative songwriters of the 20th century.
It is not hard to see why people think that he is a genius. Now called the godfather of punk rock and indie pop, he still tours now and then. So that you know, many iconic artists have called him a huge influence in their own music.
John Fogerty – $70 million
He has a great career as a solo artist, but John Fogerty is also known as a Creedence Clearwater Revival. He formed the band with Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and Tom Fogerty. Not only was he the lead guitarist, but he also wrote most of their songs.
In 1972, the band broke up. He launched his solo career after that. Rolling Stone has included him in the list of the 100 Best Guitarists and Singers! We especially like his song, “Proud Mary.” As you might know, Tina Turner turned it into an amazing banger of a song.
Willie Nelson – $25 million
How did Willie Nelson get his big break? Well, it has something to do with the release of Shotgun Willie. Born in Texas, he also made it big in the ‘70s thanks to Stardust and Red Headed Stranger. He has written several books, appeared in thirty movies, and advocated for the legalization of marijuana and the use of biofuels.
Another claim to fame of his would be the release of The IRS Tapes. The proceeds of this double album went to the IRS and helped him pay off the tax debt that he owed. Nelson continued touring extensively throughout the 1990s and 2000s, releasing albums every year. Positive to mixed reviews were received. He experimented with reggae, blues, jazz, and folk music.
Elton John – $500 million
This rock legend has sold more than 300 million albums! Elton John also has 58 singles that cracked the Billboard Top 40. Did you know that he wrote “Candle in the Wind” as a nod to Princess Diana after her shocking death?
It continues to be a best-selling single in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the past, he has bagged five Grammy awards. Madonna and The Beatles are the only ones who have topped his critical success. He is an LGBTQ activist who has raised more than $300 million for the cause.
David Bowie – $100 million
This artist has sold more than 140 million albums across the globe. He has earned ten Platinum certifications for them! Many of his fans were drawn in by his unique style and visual presentation. You might also be familiar with Ziggy Stardust, his legendary androgynous alter ego.
He was born in South London and developed an interest in art and music when he was a young boy. In 1983, he launched his music career with the release of Space Oddity. The whole world grieved when he passed away at age 62.
Glenn Frey – $200 million
The lead singer and guitarist of The Eagles wrote many popular hits. We can list “Lyin’ Eyes,” “New Kid in Town,” “Take It Easy,” and “Tequila Sunrise” off the top of our heads. In 1980, the band broke up. Glenn Frey decided to go solo after this.
He made his solo debut with “No Fun Aloud.” Many of his songs have reached the Top 40 charts. The list includes “Sexy Girl,” “The Heat Is On,” and “Blues Smuggler.” He passed away at the age of 67 in New York City. He will definitely be missed.
John Prine – $6 million
In the ‘70s, John Prine made a name for himself in the music industry. The singer-songwriter learned how to play the guitar when he was 14 years old. He took up lessons at Folk’s Old Town School in the Windy Cindy. When he was 18 years old, he served in the military of West Germany.
Upon returning to Chicago, Kris Kristofferson took an interest in him and helped him release an album. Many people know him for his satirical songs that cover everything from general life to current affairs. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation, and he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
Bono – $700 million
This popular musician was born in Dublin, Ireland. Bono of U2 fame has written almost all the songs of the band, which has bagged 22 Grammy Awards. He has often talked about his songwriting process. If you listen to their songs, you will hear many political and social themes. He went to a religious school in his youth and drew from his past to write his music.
At first, his songs had been more rebellious and defiant. However, he has since “matured” and has started to write more about the band’s experience. He has worked with a variety of artists outside of the band. He was also involved in the renovation of Dublin’s Clarence Hotel and served as managing director and managing partner of the private equity firm Elevation Partners, which invested in various companies.
George Harrison – $400 million
As the lead guitarist of the Beatles, George Harrison was dubbed “The Quiet Beatle.” He was not quite as famous as John Lennon and Paul McCartney and hardly sang in their songs. However, he did pen some of their most iconic songs. He is the person who wrote “Taxman,” “Something,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
His musical influences had been Carl Perkins, Django Reinhardt, Chuck Berry, and George Formby. It is interesting to note that he received inspiration from Indian music and culture as well! After a while, they started to use Indian instruments in their music. In 2011, he passed away in Los Angeles.
Sam Cooke – $650,000
There was more to Sam Cooke than his career as a businessman and musician! Mind you; he was a songwriter as well. His amazing voice and musical prowess earned him the nickname “King of Soul.” He had been very young when he started to sing. He joined The Soul Stirrers but eventually started his own solo career.
Did you know that he helped Al Green, Billy Preston, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and Bobby Womack with their careers? He also helped boost the popularity of Otis Redding and James Brown. According to Bruce Eder of AllMusic, Sam Cooke was the “inventor” of the soul genre.
Bert Berns – $20 million
In the ‘60s, Bert Berns made a name for himself as a songwriter and producer. You might also know him by the names Russell Byrd and Bert Russell. He is known for writing pieces such as “Hang on Sloopy,” “Twist and South,” and more. He has produced hit songs like “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Under the Boardwalk.”
During his younger years, he danced in mambo nightclubs and lived in Havana. However, he had to go back to the United States because of the Cuban Revolution. He was gone too soon. He was only 38 years old when he passed away from heart complications.
Marvin Gaye – $5 million
There is a good reason Marvin Gaye has been called the “Prince of Motown” and “Prince of Soul.” In the ‘60s, he helped form the Motown sound. Before he launched a solo career, he was an in-house session player first. Like Stevie Wonder, he also broke away from the record label to make independent music.
He had a lasting influence on the neo-soul genre and quiet storm music. He earned a Grammy award for Midnight Love. In 1983, he made his last appearance on TV by singing the national anthem at an NBA All-Star Game. Yes, we miss the man who brought us hits like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
Chrissie Hynde – $12 million
Not only was Chrissie Hynde the founder of The Pretenders, but she was also the frontwoman of the band. There was a time when she worked with designer Vivienne Westwood at a clothing shop in London. In the end, she decided to leave fashion to pursue music instead.
She went on to release songs with artists like Cher, Frank Sinatra, and UB40. In 1978, she made a demo tape and passed it on to Dave Hill. We are glad that things worked out for her! She made more money than she thought she would.
Lucinda Williams – $15 million
Country singer Lucinda Williams was born in Louisiana. She is one of the biggest names in the history of country-rock and folk-rock! In 1978, she started in the music industry and made it big with her self-titled debut album. She is the woman behind songs like “Passionate Kisses,” which fetched her a Grammy Award.
The artist has worked steadily over the years, but she has only released two other albums since then. At any rate, we are just glad that her work has gotten the recognition it deserves! Williams has since released a string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. She has won three Grammy Awards from 15 nominations and two Americana Awards from 12 nominations.
Harry Nilsson – $7 million
You will be impressed when you check out his career. Harry Nilsson never played a big show or went on tour but has seen much commercial success. He made a name for himself with his Great American Songbook style that he infused with Caribbean influences.
As a tenor, his three-and-a-half octave range also lent his music a very distinctive sound. He has heavily influenced indie rock. In the past, he wrote songs for The Monkees. He was a member of Hollywood Vampires and was friends with John Lennon!
Curtis Mayfield – $10 million
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Curtis Mayfield was part of a band called The Impressions. The musical act received a lot of attention because of its civil rights songs. He was born in Chicago and started singing in the gospel choir. He joined the band after meeting Jerry Butler. After this, he started to write songs that came with social consciousness.
“People Get Ready” received the 24th spot on the Greatest All-Time Songs list by Rolling Stone. Aside from this, he directed Super Fly as well. He was also a two-time inductee into the Grammy Hall of Fame. On December 26, 1999, he died of complications from type 2 diabetes at the age of 57.
Max Martin – $260 million
You might have noticed that there are not a lot of contemporary writers here. Max Martin is definitely a cut above the rest, however. He is best known for writing hit songs like “… Baby One More Time” for Britney Spears, “I Want It That Way” for the Backstreet Boys, and “It’s Gonna Be Me” for NSYNC.
He has 22 songs that have earned the top spot on the Billboard Charts. Aside from writing them, he produced some of them too. He has previously worked with Katy Perry, the Weeknd, Taylor Swift, and Maroon 5. In 2017, his net worth was estimated to be around $260 million, according to Variety. Martin has received the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award an unprecedented 11 times.
Allen Toussaint – $3 million
This singer-songwriter was born in Gert Town, Louisiana. Allen Toussaint is hailed as one of the most prominent R&B musicians in New Orleans. He got his start in the ‘50s and has been called a “backroom figure” thanks to his work in composition and songwriting. This is the man who brought us hits like “Working in the Coal Mine,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Java,” and “Fortune Teller.” It would be incomplete if we did not mention “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Lady Marmalade.”
Apparently, he learned how to play the piano from an elderly neighbor. His father was a fellow musician who played the trumpet as well! When he accepted an offer to play a regular Sunday brunch session at an East Village pub, his late-blooming career as a performer began.
Chuck Berry – $10 million
There is a reason Chuck Berry has become known as the “Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll.” He definitely changed the game by reading R&B to make rock and roll. His guitar solos and flashy gimmicks served as the basis of this musical genre, after all.
He was born in St. Louis and took up music when he was still young. He started to play with a band called The Johnnie Johnson Trio until he met Muddy Waters and got his big break. Thanks to his new friend, he released “Ida Red.” It went on to sell more than a million copies!
Pete Townshend – $105 million
In the music industry, it does not get any bigger than Pete Townshend. He co-founded The Who and spent over five decades with the band. It is not a stretch to say that he had been one of the most iconic voices in the genre during the latter part of the 20th century.
He has composed more than a hundred songs for the eleven albums that make up the band’s discography. Aside from that, he has also written rock operas, books, essays, and columns. His writing skills are just as good as his guitar skills!
George Clinton – $1.8 million
There was a time when George Clinton wrote for Motown. He wrote and recorded a lot of hit songs for indie soul labels in Detroit in the past. He also formed a band called The Parliaments, which was later known as Parliament and Funkadelic.
He became known for his unique electro-funk and psychedelic rock style. He served as an inspiration for a lot of rappers as well. He wrote “Can’t C Me” for Tupac and “Bop Gun” for Ice Cube. He released a label of his own called C Kunspyruhzy.
Isaac Hayes – $12 million
You are looking at the man who deserves credit for Stax Records. Before he became a singer-songwriter, he worked as an in-house session musician for the company. Isaac Hayes was born in Tennessee and wrote “Soul Man.” It is largely considered to be one of the greatest soul songs in history.
Aside from that, he wrote a lot of songs for famous movies. He bagged an Academy Award for the film score of Shaft! He made history as the third African-American man to win a “competitive” Oscar. Hayes won five BMI R&B Awards, two BMI Pop Awards, two BMI Urban Awards, and six Million-Air citations during his songwriting career.
Joe Strummer – $4 million
When it comes to punk rock, no one is more influential than Joe Strummer. He started a band called The Clash, which has since been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The second album by the band reached the second spot on the UK charts.
The third and fourth albums saw success across the pond and even went platinum! Strummer has collaborated with other musical acts like the Pogues, 101ers, Latino Rockabilly, and the Mescaleros in the past. He launched a solo career, worked on radio plays, wrote scores for screen projects, and performed for an activist organization called Rock Against Racism.
Patti Smith – $16 million
Is there anything that Patti Smith can’t do? We doubt it. She is a poet and singer-songwriter who was big in the punk rock movement in New York City in the ‘70s. A lot of it has to do with Horses, her debut album. She is also a poet laureate who infuses her writing with punk rock.
She and Bruce Springsteen wrote “Because of the Night” together. Aside from her music, she is also a published author. Her memoir “Just Kids” won the National Book Award in 2010! Rolling Stones calls her one of the “Greatest Artists.”
Madonna – $590 million
The “Queen of Pop” has repeatedly blown us all away. She is not just an actress and musician, but she is a songwriter as well! Madonna is not scared to push limits and create controversy. In 1979, she kicked off her music career.
She first moved to New York to pursue dancing, although things changed when she worked as a guitarist for Breakfast Club. In 1982, she signed a deal with Sire Records. We bet that you know the lyrics of “Confessions on a Dance Floor,” “Ray of Light,” and “Like a Virgin.” What an icon!
Fats Domino – $8 million
Here is another rock ‘n’ roll pioneer from New Orleans! Fats Domino has also been cited as an R&B inspiration. From 1955 to 1960, he managed to sell more than 65 million records. During that span of time, he also boasted eleven Top 10 hits.
He was a modest guy who was not very fond of the camera, which explains why he did not achieve the same fame as his peers. At any rate, he had 35 albums that made it to the Top 40 Billboard charts. A lot of them went gold and even platinum!
Kurt Cobain – $50 million
It is common knowledge that Kurt Cobain had been the frontman of Nirvana. If you are from Generation X, you probably worship them! He was born in Washington and started the band with Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard in 1987.
They were key players in the grunge scene in Seattle back then. Nirvana signed a deal with DGC and saw a lot of success. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was one of their most famous songs. Cobain, however, did not enjoy the mainstream media attention that came with their success.
Walter Becker – $20 million
Aside from founding Steely Dan, Walter Becker also wrote their songs. He was on the guitar and bass. When he was studying at Bard College, he met a fellow student called Donald Fagen. The two of them went to Los Angeles to chase their dreams!
After seeing a lot of success in the industry, they broke up. Becker later moved to Hawaii and worked as a record producer. In 1993, the pair reformed the band. Becker released two solo albums, 11 Tracks of Whack (1994) and Circus Money (2008). He died on September 3, 2017, after a brief battle with esophageal cancer.
Tom Waits – $25 million
Born in California, Tom Waits made a name for himself as an actor and singer-songwriter. He can be identified through his punk lyrics and distinctive voice. In the ‘70s, he focused on jazz and added blues and vaudeville influences in the genre. He has been influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation.
He started to sing in San Diego but moved to Los Angeles to sign with Asylum. Some of his albums are “Saturday Night’s Heart,” “Small Change,” and “Closing Time.” He scored movies as well. Waits have influenced many musicians and gained an international cult following, despite his lack of mainstream commercial success, and several biographies have been written about him.
Dan Penn – $1 million
This songwriter has written and recorded several hits back in the ‘60s. The list includes “Cry Like a Baby,” “Do Right Woman,” and “The Dark End of the Street.” He worked with the likes of Chips Moman, Spooner Oldham, and The Box Tops back then.
He did not like showmanship as much as songwriting and avoided the cameras. He and Chips Moman had a good work relationship and produced a lot of hits. Sadly, they fell out in the end. Their collaboration was said to have been “intense” but “short-lived.”
Stevie Nicks – $75 million
This is a photo of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac! She was the lead singer of the band and wrote a lot of wonderful lyrics. She was born in Arizona and worked with her boyfriend at the time, Lindsey Buckingham. To this day, they have sold more than 40 million copies of their second album.
Together with her solo career, Nicks has sold more than 140 million albums overall. She also had more than 40 songs that made it to the Top 50 charts. In 2014, she released her latest album: 24 Karat Gold. She is the only woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. As a solo artist, she has received eight Grammy Awards nominations and two American Music Award nominations.
Mick Jagger – $360 million
Whoa, can you believe that Mick Jagger has been active in the music industry for more than 50 years now? He is best known for his unique and lively voice. The Rolling Stones member is one of the most iconic people in the history of rock music!
Did you know that he went to the London School of Economics before he launched his music career? He wrote many tracks for the band, but some of them were collaborations with Keith Richards. Even to this day, he makes headlines for all kinds of antics!
Willie Dixon – $2 million
Most of the time, you will hear the name Willie Dixon alongside that of Muddy Waters. The two of them had been iconic figures in the blues scene of Chicago after the Second World War. Anyway, he played the guitar and bass and sang with a unique voice.
It goes without saying that he was one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century! Some of his works include “My Babe,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and “Spoonful.” We are not shocked to hear that other iconic musicians have covered his songs.
Morrissey – $50 million
Steven Morrissey, better known by his last name, was born to a pair of Irish immigrants. He was just a boy when he started to develop an interest in music. He fronted The Nosebleeds, but he only found commercial success with The Smiths.
The singer formed the band with Johnny Marr, although he later went solo as well. Some of his solo works include “Your Arsenal,” “Viva Hate,” and “Kill Uncle.” We are sure that you know just how big of an influence he had on indie rock and Britpop.
Smokey Robinson – $100 million
The Miracles band would not have seen any success if it had not been for frontman and founder Smokey Robinson. He was also the songwriter and chief producer of the musical act. In 1972, he retired and launched a solo career.
In 1990, he finally left Motown Records and wrote a lot of music for other musicians. Did you know that he got his nickname from his uncle? The elder gave him “Smokey Joe” as his “cowboy name.” The name stuck for the rest of his life!
Kenny Gamble – $8.5 million
Born in Philadelphia, Kenny Gamble made a name for himself with his work in the local soul scene. As a child, he recorded himself on arcade machines and developed a deep interest in music. He later founded a band called Gamble & Huff, which Jerry Ross managed. He is best known for songs like “Expressway to Your Heart” and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.”
The Soul Survivors covered the first one back in 1967! Gamble’s community revitalization efforts resulted in the creation of hundreds of jobs, the construction or renovation of over 120 homes, and the development of over 70,000 square feet of commercial space to meet local needs.
Jimmy Webb – $10 million
In 1986, Jimmy Webb was added to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Aside from that, the Oklahoma native has also made it to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has several platinum songs to his name: “All I Know,” “MacArthur Park,” and “Wichita Lineman.”
In the past, he has worked with the likes of Art Garfunkel and Linda Ronstadt as well. He has talked about songwriting and aspired to make music that “crushed lonely hearts.” In 2017, he published a memoir called “The Cake and the Storm.”
Merle Haggard – $40 million
When it comes to country music, Merle Haggard is considered one of its founding fathers. This is also true for the Bakersfield sound. He was born in California during the Great Depression. He decided to pursue a career in country music after his father passed away.
His songs made it big, and he was able to make a name for himself by writing about American patriotism, the working class, and the Vietnam war. He had many hits that topped the country charts. Some of them even made it to the Billboard charts!
Taylor Swift – $360 million
Born in Pennsylvania, Taylor Swift must be one of the most popular musicians in this day and age. She was only fourteen years old when she kicked off her music career. She moved to Nashville to chase her dreams and bagged a deal with Big Machine.
Did you know that she was the youngest artist that Sony has ever signed? In 2006, she released her debut album. She has since set various records in the industry. Her sound has changed over the years. She has since dabbled in pop-rock and indie rock.
Buddy Holly – $1 million
Have you ever heard of Buddy Holly? We are sure that you have. The singer-songwriter was born in Texas during the Great Depression. He was a key figure in the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the United States back in the ‘50s.
He has dabbled in other genres like Western, R&B, and gospel in the past. The musician decided to pursue the industry more seriously after he opened for Elvis Presley. He joined a band with Carl Bunch, Tommy Allsup, and Waylon Jennings. The rest was history!
The Bee Gees – $86 million
Three brothers made up the Bee Gees: Robin, Barry, and Maurice Gibb. They reached the height of their career in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They were a hit among disco fans. They liked to change their sound regularly. The trio had been born on Man’s Isle and spent their youth in Manchester.
They launched the Rattlesnakes but changed their name to the Bee Gees. In 1967, Robert Stigwood joined them and promoted them across the globe. They have sold more than 220 million copies since then. After the Beatles and the Supremes, the Bee Gees are the third most successful band in Billboard charts history.
Ray Davies – $12 million
This English musician served as the guitarist and songwriter of The Kinks. Ray Davies is considered the godfather of Britpop! The band bagged a recording contract in 1964. They spent many years in the limelight. Just so you know, he was the man who wrote “You Really Got Me,” which is largely considered to be their breakthrough hit.
He led the band through its success and was not afraid to experiment with their sound. When the Kinks broke up in the late ‘90s, he decided to launch a solo career instead. Davies chose The Jayhawks, an alt-country/country-rock band from Minnesota, as his backing band for Americana. In the 2017 New Year Honours, he was knighted for his contributions to the arts.
Paul Westerberg – $9 million
In the ‘80s, Paul Westerberg had been a member of an alt-rock band called The Replacements. Did you know that he joined them while working as a janitor? Upon hearing them perform, he followed the sound of the music and talked them into letting him in.
Apparently, the lead singer left after Westerberg told him that the others would kick him out! This does not sound very ethical to us, but the band saw a lot of success with him. When the band broke up, he started his solo career.
Robert Johnson – $500,000 (estate)
This musician was born in Mississippi in 1911. He was a blues pioneer, but his life was not documented very well. Despite this, his legacy lives on in the form of his music. He participated in several recording sessions and only made 29 songs.
Sadly, he did not live long enough to see them do well. Don Law released them as singles after his death. Other musical artists borrowed his lyrics and guitar style to great success. Mind you, Bob Dylan and Keith Richards have acknowledged his influence on their music!
Eminem – $210 million
When it comes to the world of rap, Eminem is one of the most famous artists. Did you know that he wrote his own music? He launched Shady Records, which has signed artists such as Obie Trice, 50 Cent, and Yelawolf. Born Marshall Mathers, Eminem has sold more than 230 million albums.
He has also won 15 Grammys, 17 BMAs, and 8 AMAs in the past. The rapper has nine albums that have reached the top of the Billboard charts. He is the only person to accomplish such a huge feat! He has ten Billboard 200 number-one albums and five Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles.
John Lennon – $800 million
Without a doubt, John Lennon was an extraordinary artist. He was born in Liverpool and co-founded The Beatles. Before that, he launched another band called Quarrymen when he was in his teens. Over the course of his career, he wrote a lot of songs for the Beatles.
He also enjoyed a successful solo career with hit songs like “Working Class Hero,” “War is Over,” and “Imagine.” Together with his wife Yoko Ono, he was in Plastic Ono. The singer was known for his wit, music, creativity, and social criticism.
R.E.M. – $75 million
Did you know that R.E.M. was one of the first rock bands in the United States? It was made up of Mike Mills, Michael Stipe, Peter Bruck, and Bill Berry. Their guitar solos and revolutionary lyrics changed the music industry at the time!
Their first release was through an independent label called Hib-Tone. Their early popularity was courtesy of a single called “Radio Free Europe.” They released an EP called “Chronic Town” and a full-length album called “Murmur.” In 1987, “The One I Love” became their first mainstream hit.
Jeff Barry – $1 million
In 1938, Jeff Barry was born in Brooklyn. He had been a key player in the pop-rock scene. He made a name for himself by collaborating with Ellie Greenwich. The two of them went on to be of the greatest songwriting duos of the ‘60s.
He wrote a lot of popular songs such as “Chapel of Love,” “River Deep – Mountain High,” and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” Let us not forget that he also worked with Andy Kim and Shadow Morton on tracks like “Sugar Sugar” and “Pack Leader.”
Kanye West – $250 million
Come on; there is no way that you do not know who Kanye West is! The rapper has sold more than 140 million albums. His career has gone through a lot of transformations in the past. He is not afraid to try out different styles, from baroque pop to gospel to the soul.
He is a good friend of Jay-Z. The Chicago native started to rap in 1996. He was initially a writer-producer for Roc-A-Fella Records before he went on the mic himself. In 2014, he tied the knot with TV personality Kim Kardashian.
Prince – $300 million
For four glorious decades, Prince blessed us with his amazing music. He became a household name thanks to his flamboyant performances and wonderful songs. He was known for his high falsetto voice and various musical experimentations. Over the years, he inspired pop, soul, psychedelic rock, punk, and R&B.
He was only seven years old when he recorded his debut song. Ten years later, he signed a contract with Warner Bros. Aside from his solo music career, he also appeared in Purple Rain and performed with a band known as The Revolt.
Jerry Garcia – $40 million
Born in San Francisco, Jerry Garcia is best known as the main songwriter of the Grateful Dead. The truth is that he also worked in other bands and launched a solo career as well. The Rolling Stones gave him the 13th spot on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists.”
Once you hear “Truckin’” and “Sugaree,” we are sure that you would agree with that! He was a talented man who was known for his guitar solos and improvisations. In one interview, he said that doing so helped him relax and relieve stress.
Paul Simon – $75 million
Do you know who deserves credit for writing songs like “Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Mrs. Robinson”? The answer to that question is Paul Simon, who made up the first part of Simon and Garfunkel. The two of them went their own ways in 1970.
Simon released “Graceland,” which was influenced by the time that he spent in South Africa. It sold 14 million copies and remained his most successful solo album to this day! He wrote screenplays too.