The Rolling Stones: Music’s Biggest Business Success

Mick Jagger didn’t lie: You can start him up, he’ll never stop.

The music business is legendary for horrible economics, but the Rolling Stones are one of the few bands to have figured out how to crack the system. The Stones, which formed in 1962, are still a multimillion-dollar juggernaut, despite the fact that they haven’t had a No. 1 single since 1978 (“Miss You”).

Many have asked why the Stones keep touring. After all, Mick Jagger is now an unbelievable 72 years old. The simple answer: Because that’s how they make money. A sea-change business deal in 1989, when the Stones dropped Steel Wheels, turned touring from a hardscrabble money grab in each town the band visited to a gargantuan cash cow centrally managed from Stones HQ. The shift changed the band, and the music industry, forever. Today, Stones tours are lavish, high-tech spectacles complete with monster television displays and 4K Ultra HD video recording.

Jagger and Co. learned a lot by taking control of their tours, turning the band into a legitimate enterprise that knows it can earn much more by licensing its famous logo than it can by selling an MP3. Perhaps its savviest lesson? Figure out how to minimize your tax burden and run your business accordingly. (For tax reasons, the Stones now practice in Canada, not the U.S. or the UK.) You don’t have to be a rock star for that tip to resonate.


In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, we look at Eight Global Brands That Stand for Spectacular Reinvention. Check all eight stories from the series here.

Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program.