For a band that was together only a handful of years, The Beatles sure did have a big impact in the world. And they made a LOT of money. But did The Beatles get paid equally?
Manager Brian Epstein received 25% of all the Beatles’ concert, merchandise, and performance royalty revenue, with the balance being divided equally to the 4 Beatles. However, songwriting royalties were based on who wrote the songs, which means that John and Paul earned significantly more than Ringo or George.
In 1964 alone, with the top five slots on the Billboard charts dominated by them, the Beatles made $25 million in earnings. That’s equivalent to around $188 million in today’s money. But how was that money divided?
After expenses were paid, as I mentioned, the members of the fab four divided what was left equally between themselves.
This included royalties and payments for concert appearances, record sales, and merchandising deals. It does not include the royalties paid out to the songwriters or the profits from Northern Songs, of which John and Paul initially owned a 20% stake each.
I was curious to dig a little deeper into the mysterious world of the business of the Beatles. I wanted to learn about how all those riches were divvied up and who ended up with the most.
I was also curious as to why in the world they would sign a contract that gave Brian Epstein a full quarter of revenues before expenses.
Here’s what I found out.
How did the Beatles split the money?
The Beatles split their performance royalties, concert revenue, and merchandise revenue between them evenly. Songwriting royalties were paid to whoever wrote the songs. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote approximately 200 songs.
By comparison, George wrote 22 songs, and Ringo wrote 2 songs.
So obviously, John and Paul got a lot more money over time based on the songwriting royalties for their significantly larger contribution of songs to the Beatles catalog.
According to the first record contract signed with EMI’s Parlophone label in 1962, The Beatles were entitled to only one penny for each record sold within the UK. For international sales, it was even less – just one-half of a penny. Those pennies had to be split four ways.
The Beatles had to sell 8 records for each of them to earn just one penny! It sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
It’s a good thing that they sold a lot of records. By 1964 they had sold an incredible 80 million worldwide. That’s a fair amount of pennies.
The Beatles also had income from concerts and touring.
During that epic year of 1964, they would take in up to $40,000 dollars a show. They got paid a legendary $150,000 (equivalent to about $1.5 million in today’s money) for a concert in Kansas City.
And what about merchandising?
In the beginning, the Beatles and Epstein had to split a paltry 10% royalty on all the official merchandise sold. After that, a renegotiated contract gave them a 49% stake in the commercialization of their image.
All the income that went to the band after Epstein took his cut was split evenly.
But one cannot forget about that small detail: songwriting royalties. As I mentioned, John and Paul each owned a 20% stake in Northern Songs – the company that was responsible for publishing the songs. This earned them a modest income in addition to the payouts from their songwriting.
.@PaulMcCartney reveals the origin stories behind @thebeatles No. 1 Hits https://t.co/JzT0wDw7x3 via @billboard pic.twitter.com/sumg8j8UYf
— Recording Academy / GRAMMYs (@RecordingAcad) November 29, 2015
How rich were the Beatles in the 60s?
The Beatles were worth an estimated 4 million British pounds in 1966. That is equivalent to 78 million British pounds or $107,751,852 US dollars today.
That doesn’t sound too impressive, but remember, that was in 1966. I did the math, and that 4 million pounds is equivalent to nearly 64 million pounds today. Translated to dollars, that’s more than $88 million!
Not too bad for a band that was splitting pennies.
Congratulations to all of those who worked on @thebeatles: Eight Days A Week – nominated for a Grammy for Best Music Film! #GRAMMYs pic.twitter.com/6ZZyWNFYBo
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) December 6, 2016
Who was the richest Beatle?
The richest Beatles at the time of their existence were John Lennon and Paul McCartney, each worth today’s equivalent of $26 million US dollars. George and Ringo were worth $16 million US dollars.
I guess it’s safe to say that John and Paul were the wealthiest of the bunch. They definitely got an income boost from those additional songwriting royalties.
By the time the Beatles officially disbanded in 1970, each of them had side projects and had released or were working on solo albums.
They also had some time to see a return on some of their individual investments, so their personal wealth was no longer directly tied to their work with the Beatles.
Still, it’s interesting to note that in an article published by TheThings in 2020, Ringo Starr was worth an estimated $350 million.
George Harrison’s estate was about $400 million, John Lennon’s estate was worth around $800 million, and Paul McCartney boasts a net worth estimated to be around $1.2 billion dollars. It’s incredible to think about how much money these guys have collected in royalties over the last 50 years.
And yes, if there was any doubt, the Beatles do indeed still collect royalties.
I wrote this recent article explaining all about it. Michael Jackson famously bought their catalog in the ’80s. But did they get it back when he died?
Just click that link to read it on my site.
#OTD August 27, 1967: Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, was found dead in his London flat from an overdose of sleeping pills; sadly he was only 32 years old. pic.twitter.com/mTKbBZBa1o
— JaiGuruDeva 🌳 (@JaiGuruDeva) August 27, 2020
Why did the Beatles pay Brian Epstein 25%?
The Beatles paid Brian Epstein 25% as they recognized they would never have been as successful without him. Brian Epstein was responsible for getting them signed to a record label and the brilliant marketing and promotion that led to them being a worldwide phenomenon.
If the Beatles hadn’t been so wildly successful, they would have easily ended up in the poor house. Why? Because they were notoriously poor businessmen.
Proof of this is in the fact that they willingly signed a contract that gave Brian Epstein a larger cut of the pie than any of them received.
In 1962, when Pete Best was still drumming with the band, Epstein signed his first contract with the group that allowed him to collect a 15% – 20% fee depending on the amount of money the group brought in.
After Pete Best was fired and Ringo Starr officially joined the Fab Four, that contract was renegotiated.
This included a fee scale that went up to 25%, depending on how much the band was earning. It’s rumored that Epstein justified this high percentage by having paid the Beatles’ expenses out of his own pocket before they were actually earning money as a band.
The Beatles were pretty naive about contracts and business dealings. And Brian Epstein was reported to be a terrible businessman.
Epstein notoriously signed away a 90% interest in merchandising deals and was the main mover behind the business dealings that eventually led to John and Paul losing the rights to their songwriting catalog.
But the Beatles trusted him.
They admitted to signing contracts he presented to them without reading them first and followed his advice when it came to business matters.
If truth be told, it was a price worth paying. Brian Epstein was the main driver behind the Beatles’ success. He was the one who got them cleaned up and refined for the stage.
He got them their recording contract, that legendary live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show… and the list goes on.
It’s interesting to note that the fifth Beatle was the richest of them all. When he died of an accidental drug overdose in 1967, he had a net worth of about $10 million, or about $81,346,000.00 in today’s dollars.
And it shouldn’t go unnoticed, that despite having been around since 1960, and 1956 going back to their earliest incarnation, The Beatles only lasted a little over 3 years once he passed away.
For a band that changed the face of modern music, it’s fascinating to learn about how little they actually made while they were doing it.
The vast majority of their earnings from their time with the Beatles has actually come from the royalties accumulated over the course of the last 50 years.
In the beginning, at least, they were a team of equals.
The way they divided up their earnings reflected that. The Beatles got paid equally for being Beatles, and they did quite well for themselves despite a tendency for bad business decisions and unfortunate contracts.
Photo which requires attribution:
Abbey Road 2009 (Beatles) by Shane Global is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text and graphic overlay added.