The Truth-Out.org has a great article on the disparity in income between the top 1% of 1% of superstar musicians and the rest of the rabble. It turns out we may have been working on some faulty assumptions about this being a modern thing.
[A]re the big incomes of music superstars something new? Well, let’s look at someone for whom we have pretty good numbers: Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish-born soprano, who toured America from 1850 to 1852.
Tickets at Lind’s first concert sold for an average of about $6, which seems to have been more or less typical during the tour. Adjusting for inflation, that’s the equivalent of around $180 today, which isn’t too shabby. But you also want to bear in mind that real incomes and wages were much lower, so that these were actually huge ticket prices relative to typical incomes.
Overall, Lind was paid about $350,000 for 93 concerts, or a bit less than $4,000 a concert. This was the equivalent of around $2 million a concert today. In other words, to a first approximation, Jenny Lind equals Taylor Swift. And this was in an era not only without recordings, but without amplification, so that the size of audiences was limited by the acoustics of the halls and the projection of the performer’s voice.
There’s much more to this article, especially in the area of how technology has affected the so-called “superstar effect.”