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Madonna, AC/DC and the year's highest-grossing pop acts

January 13, 2009 |  5:14 pm

Madonna leads our annual list of pop's highest-grossing acts.

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It's official: Madonna tops Calendar's Ultimate Top 10, our annual survey combining sales of concert tickets, albums and digital downloads to measure which acts were most popular with the broadest swath of music lovers.

Madonna was the No. 1 concert attraction in North America during the year, according to Pollstar, the concert-tracking magazine, and she enjoyed album sales to the tune of $12.5 million in addition to downloads of $2.3 million.

For the year, there's also a total split between Nielsen SoundScan's ranking of the 10 biggest-selling performers of 2008 and Pollstar's Top 10 highest-grossing North American concert tours.

In recent years the Pollstar and SoundScan rosters have veered away from one another. Typically, classic-rock acts that appeal to well-heeled baby boomers rake in the most money at box offices, while hot but still developing pop, R&B and hip-hop artists sell more albums.

The highest any Top 10 SoundScan act finished in Pollstar's 2008 ranking was No. 13, where the Jonas Brothers (No. 7 among album sellers) landed after playing to 1.3 million fans last year.

Concert revenue hit $4.2 billion in 2008, according to Pollstar, a 7% rise over the previous year, even though the number of tickets sold was down. An 8.4% increase in average ticket prices was behind the rise, figures that are "astounding considering the economic environment in which they were generated," Pollstar Editor Gary Bongiovanni said.

The road is still where artists tend to make the most money. Only three of the Nielsen SoundScan biggest-selling artists of 2008 -- AC/DC, Coldplay and the Jonas Brothers -- make the Ultimate Top 10, even folding in their revenue from digital track sales, which we began including in the Ultimate Top 10 ranking last year.

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The best example? Taylor Swift sold more albums than any other act last year: 4 million, giving her $52 million in revenue from album sales using $13 as the average price of a CD. But she placed No. 12 in the Ultimate Top 10 calculations because she played only a handful of concerts as a headliner. She spent most of the year as a supporting act on Rascal Flatts' tour.

That leaves the upper reaches of the Ultimate Top 10 to the veterans, and no one outperformed Madonna, whose combined income of $120 million is a drop from the previous year's winner, the Police, which logged $140.7 million.

In fact, Madonna's total is the lowest for a No. 1 since the Ultimate Top 10 began in 1997, when the Rolling Stones posted $100 million on concert ticket and album sales. The record belongs to 'N Sync, which earned $212.9 million in 2000 at the height of teen pop.

Click here for the complete list.

--Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times
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