The Rolling Stones Flee EMI For Universal’s Greener Pastures

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Guy Hands’ plans to slim down EMI are continuing to make artists used to the old rock-and-roll paradigm uncomfortable, and today the label experienced its highest-profile defection yet: According to the Financial Times, the Rolling Stones are putting out their next album, Shine A Light, via Universal, in part “because of their concerns about EMI’s new management.” The deal only covers the one album, so the Stones’ lucrative back catalog will stay put. Which leads one to ask: Is the Stones’ defection a bad thing for EMI?

The last album by Mick and Co.–2005’s A Bigger Bang–wasn’t exactly a sales gangbuster. It debuted at No. 1 and was certified platinum shortly after its release, but a Lefsetz Letter from Dec. 22, 2005–three months after the album came out–says that the album had actually moved only about 390,000 copies by that point. Most of the money the band realizes these days comes from touring; they made $138.5 million in grosses from being on the road in 2006. So this development, while superficially seeming like a bad thing for EMI, is actually pretty in line with Terra Firma chief Guy Hands’ new forced-slimming-down strategy for the label. He’s gone on record as saying that he’s done with big advances for bands, and I’m sure the Stones were among the artists who could command a huge paycheck by virtue of their name alone–and that said paycheck wouldn’t really result in big returns for EMI. What’s more curious to me is the Stones’ insistence on signing with a label at all; if any band could hook up with Live Nation in a Madonna-like deal, or even self-release their album, it should be them, since their tours are basically a license to print money. Maybe Doug Morris is a lot more charming than we all thought! And by “charming,” I mean “willing to write huge checks.”

Rolling Stones Move New Album From EMI [FT] [Photo: AP]