Rolling Stones sign with Universal Music, ditching EMI

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

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

Universal, the world's biggest recording company, did not disclose terms of the deal.

The Stones had been on the EMI label for more than 20 years and their departure is a low point in a bumpy ride for Terra Firma Capital Partners, 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 and other major artists, including Coldplay and Robbie Williams, have expressed unhappiness over some of the 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 already has had some experience of working with Universal after the company, a subsidiary of French media and telecommunications giant Vivendi, 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' rich list for music acts last year, 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, earlier this year announced plans to cut more than a third of its work force in a restructuring aimed at offsetting the impact of falling revenue from CD sales and the departure of several of its major artists, including Paul McCartney.

EMI has struggled more than the other major labels — Universal, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group — amid the decline of CD sales and the rise of digital music downloading. The company blamed disappointing North American results for a series of damaging profit warnings, but industry experts also pointed to EMI's lack of new music and internal control problems.