Two decades ago Jon Bon Jovi sat with the members of his eponymous band in a basement in New Jersey. Hoping to rekindle the group's desire to make music after two grueling years on the road, he'd hung vintage posters on the wall, illuminated only by candles and blacklights. But instead of feeling inspired, Bon Jovi found himself becoming cranky and short of breath.
"I'm thinking maybe this is an issue, maybe I just don't like them," Bon Jovi said in a recent interview for the FORBES Celeb 100 issue. "Until I realized that all the oxygen was sucked out of the room by the candles ... So I blew out the candles, cranked up the amplifiers, and said, 'We're going to be a rock band. If you believe in what I'm telling you, we can be the Rolling Stones.'"
Sure enough, Bon Jovi is still rocking. The group earned $125 million over the past 12 months, enough to claim the No. 2 spot on FORBES' annual list of the world's highest-paid musicians. U2 (pictured above) took home $195 million-and music's money crown-thanks to an international stadium tour that grossed some $700 million over two years, surpassing the Stones' A Bigger Bang tour as the most lucrative of all time.
Power ballad rockers aren't the only artists raking in the cash this year. Elton John ranks third with $100 million, fueled by a 102-show tour; Lady Gaga, godmother to Sir Elton's new son, clocks in at No. 4 with $90 million; Canadian crooner Michael Bublé rounds out the top five with $70 million, also on the strength of a lucrative tour.
Our numbers encompass all pretax income earned from May 2010 to May 2011, before subtracting agent and manager fees. The totals were compiled with the help of data from Pollstar, RIAA and others, as well as extensive interviews with industry insiders including lawyers, managers, concert promoters, agents and, in some cases, the musicians themselves.
For most artists, touring was the largest source of income this past year-but some were more efficient than others. Lady Gaga grossed nearly as much in 12 months of touring ($168 million) as Elton John ($204 million), but the costs of her elaborate production (dozens of backup dancers, pyrotechnic undergarments, etc.) ate into her take significantly. Gaga did grab plenty of additional cash from recorded music, publishing and endorsements. And regardless of the margins on her tour, drawing some 2 million fans over the past 12 months is no small feat-for Gaga, or for any of the big touring acts.
"It's one thing to cut a song and get airplay, it's another thing to convert listeners into a loyal fan base that goes through the trials and tribulations of buying tickets, paying for dinner, hiring a baby sitter," says Randy Phillips, chief of concert promoter AEG. "To motivate a fan base to go through all those hurdles, there are very few artists who can do that consistently."
The musicians on our list run quite a gamut. Justin Bieber, who raked in $53 million, is the youngest at age 17. Paul McCartney, who took home $66 million, is the oldest at 68. One couple even made the list-Jay-Z and Beyoncé took home $37 million and $35 million, respectively, marking the first time since their nuptials that the hip-hop mogul earned more than his wife.
Beyoncé is one of only five female solo acts on the list, compared to 13 males. What the list lacks in gender equality, it makes up for in geographical diversity-over one-third of the artists hail from outside the U.S., from countries including the U.K., Barbados, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Australia.
As for the Rolling Stones, they're widely expected to hit the road again to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2012. But don't expect a Bon Jovi reunion tour in 2030.
"I don't know if I want to be 68 years old and doing 140 shows in a year," admits Jon Bon Jovi. "Where I'm going, I don't know. And that's the beauty of it."
Additional reporting by Dorothy Pomerantz and Chris Barth.
For more on the business of music, check out my Jay-Z biography, Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office. You can also follow me on Twitter @zogblog.