The Rolling Stones are the most successful rock band that has ever existed, and have released dozens of albums, played countless concerts, and gotten very rich. But how did the Rolling Stones make most of their money?
In the early part of their career, The Rolling Stones made most of their money from record sales. But in more recent decades, they have made the majority of their income from record-breaking concert revenues and merchandise sales.
The Rolling Stones ceased being a simple rock and roll band years ago.
For the better part of 50 years, they have been a tightly run business that has made their 4 principal shareholders very, very wealthy.
How do they divvy up their earnings? Who among the former members of the band continues to collect royalties? And who has done the most with their substantial income over the years?
I did the research, so you don’t have to. This is what I found out.
How Much Money have the Rolling Stones Made in Their Career?
The Rolling Stones are worth an estimated $1.5 billion dollars. And just 1 world tour can bring in over $400 million dollars.
It is next to impossible to come up with a single sum that represents the earnings they have made from their different revenue streams over their impressively long career.
Between 1989 and 2002, it was estimated by Fortune magazine that they had accumulated over $1.5 billion in gross revenue.
That is only 13 years out of a sixty-year run.
In 2018, they brought in an incredible $117 million in revenue from their No Filter Tour. They only played 14 shows.
Much of their financial success can be attributed to Prince Rupert Zu Loewenstein, who was the band’s financial advisor for nearly 40 years.
Under his guidance, the Rolling Stones were able to negotiate favorable contracts that increased their earnings substantially.
He was also the force behind the radically successful organization of the Rolling Stones as a business venture.
Keith Richards has referred to him as the “mastermind” behind the corporate organization that has allowed the Rolling Stones to successfully manage their collective fortune.
Suing Rolling Stone Magazine
Ironically in the early days of the band, the band’s lawyers actually sued Rolling Stone Magazine for copyright infringement with the name. Of course, the case was ludicrous given the Stones had gotten their name from the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone” from 1950.
Luckily, magazine founder Jann S. Wenner stood his ground and asked the lawyers to send proof that the band members themselves wanted the magazine to change its name.
He never heard back. And the rest is history.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards caught in an iconic moment in time – recording the track Sympathy for the Devil at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, June 10, 1968.
📸: Mark and Colleen Hayward pic.twitter.com/H9T7dBxoWC
— The Rolling Stones (@RollingStones) July 3, 2021
Who is Richer – Mick Jagger or Keith Richards?
Technically, Mick Jagger has more wealth at $360 million dollars compared to Keith Richards’ $340 million dollars. But that is only a 6% difference.
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are the principal songwriters of the group, so they are entitled to additional authorship royalties.
This gave them a definite advantage over their bandmates when it came to royalty payments and the ability to accumulate a significant amount of wealth over the years.
What did they do with all of that money, and how exactly did they earn it?
Mick Jagger has had a prolific career as an artist – he’s also made some wise investments.
- He has acted in at least eight motion pictures.
- He recorded four solo albums and fronted a side project called SuperHeavy.
- Is the founder and co-owner of Jagged Films, a film production company.
- He’s invested in an impressive real estate portfolio estimated to be worth around $250 million.
Keith Richards has had a similarly productive career:
- He is a renowned producer and is the owner of the record label Mindless Records
- He formed and fronted the group the X-Pensive Winos, a relatively successful side project.
- He has appeared in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
- He owns various million-dollar properties around the globe and has an impressive guitar collection.
Royalties for Bitter Sweet Symphony
It’s also worth noting that the pair also made money they didn’t really need at the expense of other up-and-coming musicians.
I’m referring to the song “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve.
That song features an iconic string melody. That melody was a sample of a symphonic version of the Stones’ classic “The Last Time”. But it’s important to note that string melody does NOT appear in the Stones’ version.
The symphonic version was by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra.
But because the songwriting credits go to Jagger-Richards, they were able to claim copyright infringement despite having never written or performed the melody in question.
And they won, despite not really needing the money.
The Verve, of course, did have a huge hit with the song. But making almost no money from it and going through the legal entanglements pretty much destroyed the band.
Mick and Keith did eventually give the rights to the song back to The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft in 2019. But by then it was a case of too little, too late.
Not Mick or Keith’s finest moment, if you ask me.
What about Ronnie Wood?
Ronnie Wood is technically the newest member of the Rolling Stones not counting the touring musicians. But having said that, he’s been a member of the Stones since 1975 when he replaced guitarist Mick Taylor who had joined the band starting with the iconic album Sticky Fingers.
Wood’s current net worth is 200 million.
Unlike Bill Wyman who left the band before the big concert revenues kicked in, Wood continues to perform with the band and gets his cut of their very lucrative performance and merchandising revenue.
What about the late Charlie Watts?
Original Stones drummer Charlie Watts sadly passed away in 2021 (shortly before the last time I saw them).
At the time of his death, his net worth was reportedly $250 million. So despite having been with the band 12 years longer than guitarist Ron Wood, and being a founding member, Watt’s net worth is only 20% greater.
(source – Celebrity Net Worth)
The Stones in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles in 1969. Henry Diltz was sent to photograph the band one afternoon but they were asleep. They eventually woke up and had breakfast just before nightfall.. pic.twitter.com/PntbLgL22g
— The Rolling Stones (@RollingStones) February 28, 2021
How do the Rolling Stones Split Their Money?
The Rolling Stones aren’t transparent about how money is divided among bandmates. But it’s a good assumption that performance royalties, concert ticket sales, and merchandise get divided equally among the 4 current official band members. But Jagger and Richards earn most of the songwriting royalties.
That’s, of course, because almost every song the Stones have done was a Jagger/Richards composition if it wasn’t a cover song.
And songwriting royalties for a catalog like the Stones’ catalog can be a LOT of money.
After all, every time someone covers a Stones song, those royalties go to the songwriters of the song, not the band members in the band (unless that is one and the same).
Jagger, Richards, and Wood are the current members and primary owners of the corporate entities of the Rolling Stones business venture, so one would assume they have an equitable sharing of the gross revenues. But the business of being the greatest rock band is complex.
Money comes in from various sources;
- Concert tours
- Music sales
- Digital downloads
- Licensing agreements (such as Guitar Hero)
I liked this quote from a 2002 interview:
“Do all four get equal shares of touring and new-record sales? No one in the Stones’ party will touch that one. ‘In the old days they all got equal splits,’ says the Stones’ former manager, Allen Klein, ‘but I doubt it now.’ “
Speaking about the early days, Mick Jagger has been quoted as saying, “I’ll never forget the deals I did in the ’60s, which were just terrible.”
I found some interesting bits of trivia about how the Rolling Stones split their money back then:
- After their first tour of approximately 38 concerts in 1965, each member of the band made approximately $50,000 – about $431,000 in today’s money.
- Under the original Decca contract, the two band managers earned significantly more than anyone in the band. Of the band’s 6% royalty payment, 25% went to their two managers.
- For the original songwriting royalties, 72% went to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and then manager Andrew Oldham.
“It’s very difficult to keep your sanity.” Elusive former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman opens up in the trailer for the new documentary ‘The Quiet One’ https://t.co/X5HGLjcFUF pic.twitter.com/i4a1roHAgI
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) June 4, 2019
Does Bill Wyman Still Get Money from the Rolling Stones?
Bass player Bill Wyman still does get money from the Rolling Stones. Specifically, he gets performance royalties for any album he performed on when it is purchased, streamed, or downloaded.
As the original bassist for the Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman “divorced” the band back in 1993. In the 30 years he spent with the group, he played on their most iconic records that continue to sell even to this day.
Referring to the time when he split from the band, he said:
“The big money wasn’t there yet. I had a small nest egg, and I can live nicely, but I can’t rely on Stones royalties to support me. I have to work, and I’m not in the same league as the boys who stayed on.”
With a net worth estimated to be about $80 million, even with minimal Stones royalties from their studio albums, he’s not doing too bad for himself.
But what about other former members like Brian Jones?
If you’re interested in reading about other former members of the Rolling Stones, check out this article I just posted about former Rolling Stones member Brian Jones and his role in starting this iconic band.
After all, he started out as the band leader, but his role degenerated due to drug addiction and tensions with other band members until his death.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) May 1, 2020
Do the Rolling Stones Make More from Concerts than from Record Sales?
The Rolling Stones make far more money from concerts (both tickets and merchandise) than from record sales. As a general rule, The Stones make more than $400 million for every tour they do.
There is a reason that the Rolling Stones continue to tour extensively, long after the peak of their creative careers.
It’s good money.
Concerts, especially in North America, make far more money for a band these days than record sales.
According to Billboard Boxscore, which tabulates concert revenues, The Stones are currently the #1 concert artist for last year with 340,000 people attending and gross revenues of $72,312,475. (source)
First, physical record sales (CDs and LPs) make up less than 10% of sales in an industry with an incredible array of options for the consumer. The vast majority of music is now listened to through paid subscription services online.
In an Insider article from 2013, Professor Jeff Dorenfield at the Berklee College of Music stated:
“There is very little money made from recorded music anymore…All those revenues are not what they were…”
Well, do you remember that No Filter tour I mentioned? The Stones earned an estimated $10 million per show.
The Rolling Stones have definitely made most of their money from consistent touring. But other business ventures, particularly with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have certainly boosted their total net worth.
From the beginning, the Stones put on a great live show, but starting with the Steel Wheels tour in 1989, they have mastered the art of putting on legendary concerts (and making them incredibly lucrative). Decades later, their well-oiled machine is still going strong.
1989 was also the year the legendary rock group entered the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
I’ll leave you with this great quote from Keith Richards:
“How long can we go on? Forever. I’ll let you know when we keel over.”
Sadly, of course, drummer Charlie Watts dropped out of the Stones’ tour in 2021 and then passed away on August 24, 2021. But, as they say, the show must go on, and he’s been replaced, at least for touring, by Steve Jordan.
Photos that require attribution: