Alicia Keys gave birth to her first child in October 2010, but she barely skipped a beat in the year that followed. In 2011, the "Empire State of Mind" songstress co-directed a short film called Five, co-produced the Broadway debut of Stick Fly, grossed nearly $700,000 per night for a string of live concerts, and still was able to contribute time to Keep A Child Alive, the charity she co-founded.
"A lot of times, people make far more money than they could probably ever even think about what to do with," she told FORBES this fall. "If you have the opportunity to be able to encourage someone to do something great for somebody else … I think that's the right way to do business."
Keys did plenty of business last year—$10 million in earnings, by our estimates—placing her among the ten highest-earning women in music. Yet she finished far behind this year's Cash Queen.
That title belongs to Lady Gaga, who led the pack with a staggering $90 million total boosted by strong album sales, endorsements and an extremely lucrative world tour. Gaga's total was more than the combined earnings of No. 2 Taylor Swift ($45 million) and No. 3 Katy Perry ($44 million), both of whom also benefited from heavy touring and popular albums.
The earnings estimates 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. The totals encompass all pretax income earned from May 2010 to May 2011, before subtracting agent and manager fees.
Among the top ten earners, there were both newcomers and veterans. Soul sensation Adele pulled in $18 million—a number that only captures a few months of sales for her breakout album 21, making her a likely candidate to return to the top ten next year. Celine Dion may not be quite as popular as her British counterpart, but she banked $19 million on the strength of a wildly popular run in Las Vegas, where her nightly gross ticket sales exceeded $2.3 million.
Yet there remains something of a pay gap in music's upper echelon. Just five of the women on this list were among the overall 25 highest paid musicians, a list that included 13 male solo acts and 7 bands (only one of those acts, The Black Eyed Peas, had a female member). The time demands of motherhood are commonly listed as a reason for the inequality, but according to entertainment attorney Lori Landew, there's more to it than that.
"Women artists seem to be less likely to diversify their holdings and to build multi-tier enterprises to take advantage of their success and celebrity," she says. "What remains unclear, however, is whether this is because these women have less of an entrepreneurial spirit than their male counterparts, which I doubt, or whether they are simply presented with fewer opportunities."
Landew believes that male artists are approached more for such ventures, as well as movie roles and lucrative endorsement deals. The latter two options, she adds, become even more unattainable to female stars as they age, especially compared to men.
Still, bright spots abound.
"There are several notable exceptions," she says. "One need only look at Oprah or Madonna to know that it doesn't take a Y chromosome to be a successful entertainment visionary or entrepreneur."
Another terrific example: The aforementioned Keys, who out-earned entrepreneurial super-producer husband Swizz Beatz by $3.5 million last year.