What year is it? Forbes released its list of top-earning musicians today and U2 claimed the No. 1 spot. What happened? The Rolling Stones have an off year?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact. U2’s pole position comes primarily from its touring prowess (the chart runs from July 31, 2009-June 30, 2010, so the cancellation of the North American leg this summer will show up—or won’t-- in next year’s numbers).

The Irish band took home $130 million during that 12-month period. Yup, Forbes is calculating take-home pay. Not gross. That buys a lot of Guinness.

Below is the top 10, following by some thoughts.

 


1. U2, $130 million

2. AC/DC, $114 million

3. Beyonce, $87 million

4. Bruce Springsteen, $70 million

5.  Britney Spears, $64 million

6. Jay-Z, $63 million

7. Lady GaGa, $62 million

8.  Madonna, $58 million

9. Kenny Chesney, $50 million

10. Black-Eyed Peas, Coldplay and Toby Keith (tied), $48 million

*Touring is the coin of the realm. Each of the artists in the top 10, even Jay-Z who has such holdings as the New Jersey Nets basketball team, made the bulk of their money from concert. So the big question is what effect will the downturn in touring have on the numbers next year? Our guess? Not much on the top 10: the top tier will still sell tickets, even at slightly reduced prices. U2 topped the list even when offering 10,000 tickets at each stadium for $30.

*Record sales no longer factor into the equation for these artists when it comes to significant income because most of them are no longer having major hits at radio or selling albums in significant numbers compared to earlier days in their careers. What does matter, especially for LG, are the royalties that come from those millions of millions of radio plays for “Poker Face,” “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance.” Note that most of these artists write their own songs.

*To expand on the above point: We are in the midst of shifting from an album to singles mentality—some pundits would say we’re already there. What does that mean in the long run when an artist’s album sales are completely eclipsed by the single downloads (That is already the case for many artists like Flo Rida or Ke$ha) Will the numbers at the top of Forbes list grow increasingly smaller as albums become even more irrelevant and digital track sales don’t make up the slack that the industry once hoped they would?  What happens when cloud computing becomes more common?

*Forbes makes fun of the dinosaurs on the list, but a third of the top 10 are still under 30: Beyonce, Britney and Lady GaGa. That’s actually an improvement over past years.  What’s more troubling is that Lady GaGa is the only artist that can remotely be considered new. Even Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas and Britney have been having hits for at last a decade (we’re stretching that a little for BEP, we admit). It’s hard to think of another new artist who stands a chance of making the list next year. Ke$ha? Really?

*Sisters really are doing it for themselves: 40% of the top 10 are women and we’re sure if the list had gone a little deeper that Pink, who had an extremely successful tour, would have made the list.

*As the couple in the top 10, it really is Beyonce and Jay-Z’s world, we just live in it.

What's your thoughts on Forbes' list?