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Highest-paid country stars: Taylor Swift ranks high, but not No. 1

Ellen MeyersThe Christian Science Monitor

Taylor Swift earned $64 million last year, but that wasn't enough to make her the highest-paid country star in the US this year.

Toby Keith is the highest-paid country artist for the second year in a row with $65 million in earnings, according to Forbes' annual list of the "World's Highest-Paid Country Musicians, released Monday. But that's not primarily because of his music: Mr. Keith now makes a lot of his money from the restaurant venture I Love This Bar and Grill, an endorsement deal with Ford, and his Show Dog music label.

Meanwhile, Ms. Swift's $64 million in earnings puts her in second. Like Keith, she earned her money not just from tours and albums, but also from her endorsement deals with Diet Coke and CoverGirl.

Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan rounded out the top five. Other artists and bands that made the list include Keith Urban, Florida-Georgia Line, and Zac Brown Band.

In addition to earning money through non-musical channels, many of the artists on the list have found some level of crossover success. Their music not only appeals to country music lovers, but also to pop fans. Keith was one of the first artists on the trend – his song "How Do You Like Me Now?!" was a country hit and had success on Billboard’s Hot 100 list at No. 31 in 1999.

Since then, several artists have found tremendous success as country-pop crossover artists. Swift became a multi-genre music sensation with her first hit songs, including "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Our Song." Her last album, 2013's "Red," sold 1.2 million copies in the first week, according to Billboard. The tour for Red, which wrapped up in June, broke the all-time revenue record for a single tour by a country artist, grossing $150 million in 15-month span. More recently, country band Florida-Georgia Line’s song "Cruise" was the fourth-most downloaded song in 2013, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Mr. Bryan was the second-best-selling artist of 2013 behind Justin Timberlake, according to Forbes.

Forbes looked at income from June 2013 to June 2014, considering ticket sales, royalties, merchandise sales, endorsements, and other business ventures. Forbes also used data from Pollstar, the Recording Industry Association of America, industry insiders and some of the artists themselves.

As with most rankings, some artists moved on, and off, the 12-spot list. Blake Shelton was tied for No. 12 with Brad Paisley after not making the list in 2013. Carrie Underwood fell off the list, after coming in last year at No. 5 with $31 million. Several other country artists came close but just missed making the list, including Eric Church, Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert, and Hunter Hayes were some country artists who did not make the cut, according to Forbes.