It’s become a common scenario: a star who worked past their traditional retirement age and was beloved by generations dies with career earnings that wouldn’t even pay a corporate CEO salary for one year.
Aretha Franklin sold 75 million records and is credited as a songwriter on hundreds of albums by other artists. However, even the most generous estimates of her career earnings are no more than $80 million.
Compare her to Taylor Swift. She started at about the same age, has been working one fifth as long and the same calculations say she’s worth more than $300 million.
The mega stars in Aretha’s imperial period didn’t earn as much as they do today. Management was often aggressive and took a huge chunk of every dollar earned from the artists’ record sales, concerts, merchandising, and media appearances.
Aretha also didn’t do herself any favors, by allowing her husband to manage her early career. When they divorced, he took a lot of her lifetime earnings with him. A raw deal or not, it was the way the industry worked at the time. As a result, paying alimony meant she had to keep working for her ex.
That may be why Taylor Swift hasn’t gotten married. Despite a finely crafted prenuptial agreement and trusts to protect her money, a wrong decision could cost her hundreds of millions of dollars.
The music industry has changed dramatically. Traditional revenue sources never really grew much bigger than they were in the 1960s. Some, like selling the actual music, tanked and have yet to revive. Today’s music icons, like Taylor Swift, thrive because they manage their own tours and take in ticket income rather than record sales. Many own their own publishing outlets, and that maximizes their percentage of every song they sell. That’s not how it worked in Aretha’s day.
However, Aretha died with money in the bank. Her children will inherit considerable sums. She most likely gave huge amounts to charity and did it in the most tax-efficient way her advisers could find.
For Aretha, her record sales will spike and unreleased material will get monetized. Her image, name, and authorization will generate merchandising and royalty income. Her brand will also continue to live on forever.
Reference: Wealth Advisor (August 20, 2018) “Aretha Franklin’s Estate Almost Criminally Undervalued Even At $80 Million”