Stones Dump EMI For Universal

The Rolling Stones, the world’s top-earning music act last year, have signed a long-term, exclusive worldwide contract with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music, dealing a major blow to the group’s former recording company, EMI Group PLC.

Universal said on Friday that the new deal covered both future albums by the Stones and their back catalog including such albums as "Sticky Fingers" and "Black and Blue" and songs "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up."

Universal, the world’s biggest recording company, did not disclose terms of the deal. The Stones were recently believed to be negotiating with Live Nation about a deal to acquire the band’s back catalog. That talk faded after the departure of Michael Cohl, the Stones’ longtime tour producer, from the chairmanship of Live Nation last month.

The Stones’ departure from EMI, where they’d been for more than 20 years, is a low point in a bumpy ride for Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., the private equity firm that bought the London-based recording company last year.

New EMI boss Guy Hands failed to re-sign British band Radiohead. Other major artists, including Coldplay and Robbie Williams, have expressed unhappiness with some changes at the company since the buyout.

"Universal are forward-thinking, creative and hands-on music people," the Stones said in a statement. "We really look forward to working with them."

The British group has already had some experience of working with Universal after the company, a subsidiary of French media and telecommunication giant Vivendi SA, in March released the soundtrack album from "Shine A Light," director Martin Scorsese’s film of the Stones’ 2006 performance at the Beacon Theater in New York.

Universal will now release all new recordings by the group through its Polydor label and take over full digital and physical rights. It added that it will "begin planning an unprecedented, long-term campaign to reposition the Rolling Stones’ entire catalog for the digital age."

The Stones topped Forbes magazine’s list of wealthy music acts last year, reportedly earning some $88 million between June 2006 and June 2007, mostly from their "Bigger Bang Tour."

EMI, whose artists also include the Beastie Boys, Norah Jones and Kylie Minogue, announced plans this year to cut more than one-third of its work force to offset a drop in CD sales revenue and the departure of several major artists, including Paul McCartney.

EMI has struggled more than the other major labels — Universal, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group — as digital music downloading has gained in popularity.

The company blamed disappointing North American results for a series of damaging profit warnings, but industry experts also pointed to internal control problems and the company’s lack of new music.