The Rolling Stones play the last the last of their current tour — and possibly their career — next week in London’s Hyde Park.
And the Rolling Stones are already of the wealthiest bands in the world. Their last tour grossed more than half a billion dollars. Mick Jagger is said to be worth more than $300 million, Keith Richards just a bit less.
So why do these guys keep going on tour?
There are three reasons.
First, digitized music is now virtually worthless. Prof. Peter Tschmuck, a professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna who runs a blog about the economics of the music business, told me the return on investment from selling a digital copy of a song is 12% compared with about 36% for CDs — and that’s before that revenue is carved up to various title holders.
Professor Jeff Dorenfeld, a lecturer on music business at Berklee College, told us songs have been losing value for more than a decade.
There’s very little money made from recorded music anymore. Apple — iTunes is mostly a singles market, Spotify, that kind of service doesn’t pay high royalties, radio is not as big as it used to be. So all those revenues are not where they were, and haven’t been for the last 15 years.
Second — and luckily in response to item 1 — touring now generates lots of money. And it’s especially lucrative to be the Rolling Stones. Their last three tours combined will likely have grossed about $1 billion (the mid-2000s “Licks” tour did +$300 million, and the current one is expected to do could do more than $100 million for a much more limited set of dates). The average ticket price is $370. Bruce Springsteen is only $93.29.
When asked recently by the Guardian’s Casper Llewellyn Smith about whether he regrets bassist’s Bill Wyman leaving the band in 1993, Charlie Watts cracked,“I think he missed out on a very lucrative period in our existence.”
Money is money, Dorenfeld says, noting that bands as big as the Stones command supremely high margins on splits with concert promoters and bookers because of the guaranteed interest they draw.
They’re getting more than 60% is my guess (of a show’s gross revenues). If the show made $3 million, that’s $1.8 million, not counting merch — you walk away with that also. They’re unique — all the ones like them are unique — the deals are much tighter because the revenue from everything else is much greater.
An additional consideration — perhaps not for the band, but for anyone who would think the Stones are wasting everyone’s time and perhaps risking ridicule — is that while the band is just the four current members, “Rolling Stones, Inc.” likely employs more than a dozen people full time and hundreds while on the road. Setting up stages, even for arena tours like the current one, are massive operations that Dorenfeld says can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a night. “They’re a major corporation on the road — they’re a company,” he says. “They do pay well, many have benefits and healthcare.”
This final point was probably first ever articulated in 1995 by Larry Mullen Jr. of U2, the band that basically invented blow-out multi-sensory rock n’ roll tours, in Bill Flanagan’s “At The End Of The World”:
The biggest responsibility out of all this is the fact that you employ a lot of people and you are responsible for them, responsible for making sure they’re taken care of. People’s livelihoods are depending on you. I don’t like that responsibility too much, but that comes with the territory.
Of course, one does not go on tour merely to keep your entourage happy. But it’s part of the equation.
Asking why the Stones “need” to go on tour leaves out the question of “wanting” to go on tour. They’re still ostensibly artists, after all. Here’s what Jagger said in an interview with Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot in April:
Everyone had a really good time in the five shows before Christmas (in London, New Jersey and New York). We wanted to see how the band was playing, how people were reacting. We didn’t get too much moaning or complaining.
Given all of the above, that seems to be a fairly low hurdle to surmount.
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