Music’s Highest Paid: 5 Top Money Makers You May Not Know

Kang Hyo-won, Yoon Seok-jun (aka Yenzo Loon) and Kim Shin-gyu are hardly marquee names in the music industry, but they accounted for three of its five biggest paydays in 2021, according to Billboard Pro‘s inauguration Executive Money Makers ranking — a breakdown of management remuneration and share ownership in listed companies.

All three are valued members of HYBE, the South Korean entertainment giant behind BTS, Tomorrow X Together, NewJeans and other K-pop acts, and in 2016 their efforts to make the company a global success were rewarded with stock options that gave them the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars when the company went public last year.

Stock options are often used to motivate and reward employees when a company is privately held. In a statement to BillboardHYBE explained that they contributed to the establishment and management of the company, overseas sales or innovation in accordance with the commercial law and the articles of association.” It is a diverse group of people that includes creators, management and key people. The offer also includes cornerstone artists. HYBE Chairman Bang Si-hyuk themselves gave seven members of BTS shares corresponding to an ownership stake of 1.4% in the company.

Kang, Yoon and Kim are among more familiar names on Executive Money Maker’s compensation and stock ownership lists, such as Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge, Live Nation president/CEO Michael Rapino and Spotify co-founder/CEO Daniel Ek. The placements are available in their entirety Billboard Pro. However, here are some of the lesser-known names making big banks and where they rank on the list.

Better known to K-pop fans as Pdogg, Kang has produced a number of recordings by BTS, including the group’s 2010 single “2 Cool 4 Skool” and its 2020 album, Be. Although he is not a member of HYBE’s C-suite, he is important enough to the company’s growth and value to have received stock options in 2016 that gave him about $35 million when he paid out in 2021, according to company filings. (Note: All currency conversions to US dollars were calculated using the average 2021 exchange rate.)

Yoon added $33.5 million to his $235,000 salary after exercising his stock options. Formerly the company’s global CEO, Yoon became co-CEO of HYBE America — along with talent manager/entrepreneur Scooter Braun — in 2021 after HYBE acquired Braun’s Ithaca Holdings media investment company. “HYBE grants stock options to members who have contributed to the establishment and management of the company, overseas sales or innovation,” the company told Billboard in a statement.

The highest-ranking woman on the executive compensation list (and one of only two to make the cut), Witz has been with SiriusXM for two decades and became CEO in 2021. Only 5% of her total compensation came from a guaranteed salary. As is common with publicly traded companies, SiriusXM bases a large portion of its executive compensation on stock price growth and performance against certain financial and other metrics. About 75% of Witz’s compensation came from stock options and restricted stock units (which will vest in future years), and the rest was a performance-based bonus. Under Witz’s guidance, SiriusXM excelled in 2021, growing 8% to record revenue of $8.7 billion. SiriusXM’s satellite radio subscriptions grew by 1.1 million to 32 million amid the pandemic and a nationwide decline in auto sales, the company’s key method of acquiring customers.

Most music companies focus on recorded music and publishing. HYBE’s broad business model also includes artist management, and Kim’s management of K-pop supergroup BTS helped build HYBE into a company worthy of an IPO. The third executive to exercise his stock options in 2016, Kim netted $24 million from their sale.

Although Söderström, who joined Spotify in 2009, works behind the scenes leading the streaming platform’s product, design, data and engineering teams, as the person responsible for its product and user experience, he is critical to the company’s success. Söderström earned 95% of his $8.9 million compensation in 2021 from stock awards/options on top of a base salary.

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