The private-gig kings

By Felix Salmon
May 1, 2012

It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that the Monday-night entertainment at the Milken Global Conference this year was Lionel Richie. At 62 years old, Richie is pretty much the median age of conference attendees, and is a perfect calibration of the familiar and the inoffensive, combined with a frisson of star power.

There’s another artist with much the same combination of vintage and talent, who’s also a staple on the conference circuit: Kenny Loggins. And I’ve heard that each of them has quietly become one of the most financially successful touring artists the world has ever known.

I’d love to know if there’s any public record of how much Richie and Loggins tour, and/or how much they get paid for a typical gig. As I understand it, both of them are consummate professionals when it comes to entertaining crowds of men in suits, and they pretty much exclusively confine themselves to events where they’re paid by a single organizer, rather than having to go to the trouble and uncertainty of selling tickets to the public. The Milken event was atypical, I think: Loggins tends to do more of the corporate-conference events, while Richie seems to have unrivalled numbers of invitations to perform at the parties of the international ultra-wealthy.

Either way, I’m told that both of them are bringing in absolutely monster incomes, while staying far from the limelight. One of the reasons that they can charge a lot of money for these gigs is the illusion of exclusivity — the idea that a Lionel Richie gig or a Kenny Loggins gig is a rare and special thing, from someone who doesn’t go touring any more. Even if they really do still tour — just not in public.

I’d also love to know, in the context of the Milken Institute in particular, whether Richie got paid for this particular gig, and if so, how much. The Institute is, after all, a registered non-profit organization, which solicits donations from members of the public to “improve the lives and economic conditions of people in the U.S. and around the world”. Does it count if they’re improving the economic condition of Lionel Richie’s bank account?

Update: Milken’s Conrad Kiechel clears this up:

The Milken Institute did not pay for Lionel Richie to appear at our Global Conference, nor did we pay speaking fees for any of the 560 people who served as panelists or moderators during its three days.  That included National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who joined Lionel Richie on stage Monday night for a knock-out rendition of “Sweet Baby James.”

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