Mick Jagger talks downloading and piracy on 40th anniversary of "Exile on Main Street"


This BBC News interview with [Sir] Mick Jagger on the 40th anniversary of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street contains a few really choice grafs about the myth that the internet has robbed artists of their livelihoods. He seems pretty chill about the perceived threats of downloading, and explains that for a long time, the record labels did a fine job of robbing artists:

BBC: What's your feeling on technology and music?

Jagger: Technology and music have been together since the beginning of recording. [The internet is] just one facet of the technology of music. Music has been aligned with technology for a long time. The model of records and record selling is a very complex subject and quite boring, to be honest.

BBC: But your view is valid because you have a huge catalogue, which is worth a lot of money, and you've been in the business a long time, so you have perspective.

Jagger: Well, it's all changed in the last couple of years. We've gone through a period where everyone downloaded everything for nothing and we've gone into a grey period it's much easier to pay for things - assuming you've got any money.

BBC: Are you quite relaxed about it?

Jagger: I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don't make as much money out of records. But I have a take on that - people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn't make any money out of records because record companies wouldn't pay you! They didn't pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone. So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn't.

Here's the entire interview. And here's an Amazon link to the reissued and remastered Exile on Main Street. (via Bob Lefsetz)


  1. 40 years, did I miss something, the album came out in 1972 or so I thought. They toured that year as far as I can remember, but of course I was just in middle school and there was no way my parents would let me go to a rock concert.

  2. I know this article isn’t about Exile on Main Street but I just wanted to say that Exile has always been one of my 3 stranded-on-a-desert-island albums. I love it, I love it, I love it!

  3. Exile may have been recorded in 1970, making this year a 40th anniversary of some sort, but it came out in 1972 and the Stones did a tour to support it that summer. I was still too young to drive, but I could navigate the public transportation system in Chicago and got myself to the International Amphitheater. They played a great show, but what I remember most clearly was their opening act: Stevie Wonder. He had a stage full of instruments and played every one of them by the end of his set, just effortlessly displaying his genius.

  4. “Exile” is completely worthy of all the hype– the Stones at their raggedy, swaggering, cock-rocking best. I’m a pro musician type guy, and got into an argument with a colleague one time, who was basically trying to claim that Charlie Watts was a shitty drummer. Unbelievable! Charlie is on fire on “Exile.” His performance on that record (along with the bass playing, primarily laid down by Keith Richards) is sublime. It’s rude, earthy, funky and yes, sloppy at times, but just somehow RIGHT. “Exile” is the perfect synthesis of everything that made the Stones great.

  5. Exile is indeed one of the best rock records ever made.
    As for “piracy” of music, but for a handful of artists, all the noise was made by the record companies because they hold all the cards.
    They are the reason that there are no more record stores.
    If the companies had just embraced technology from the beginning, they could have been more out in front. I saw that coming in the 90’s. Bottom line, music sharing cannot be stopped. It’s absolutely impossible.

  6. He is right, it was only for a short period of time that artists made money off of records. And they made more money than any respectable person should have. Even now most artists that can draw anyone to a show can live pretty handsomely. I remember a few years ago Prince made 100 Million dollars on his summer tour, giving a new CD away for free at the gate.

  7. That’s such a refreshing point of view. Honest too.

    The Stones have always been a road band. They make BANK off their tours, not to mention song rights for all other kinds of media.

    Best point in there? If people have a legal, cheap alternative they’ll go for it. Yeah, yeah, there will always be people pirating and such, but the bulk of people are just tired of re-buying their music in new formats, or shelling out 15-20 bucks for a hunk of shiny plastic, which they know costs less than a penny to physically produce and whose profits are almost entirely devoured by lawyers and agents.

    I’d rather support an artist by buying their music from them, seeing them live and buying their swag. Record companies don’t need more of my money.

    1. If anything they are a perfect example for people now. Make your money on tour, expect bootlegs, and do something few others are doing better than anyone else.

      However, thats kind of a tall order.

  8. Interesting news about the artists’ income. Needs to be developed.

    Reinforces the fact that I never bought from Amazon and I never will.

  9. And the big money that was made by many artists was really a loan – or so wrapped up in contractual obligations that many artists would either burn out, churn out or just self-destruct with having all this cash upfront.

    And often end up in stupid debt.

    The model proposed by internet distribution, where fewer middle men are involved, is much more sane. measured and proportional to popularity, instead of hype and ‘big music’s’ expectations.

    Of course there will always be mega-pop sensations, but there seems to be a much bigger middle ground, much more independent music (some of which is pop, too). The worst thing for the consumer is never being able to full tap into it all.. I know there’s hours and hours of great stuff going under my radar every month.

  10. My statement is that when it became feasable to record, mass-produce and sell music (and art, movies, etc.) 95% of all musicians, artists, thespians lost their profession overnight. The “Bardic” class almost went extinct. Those that remained were at the mercy of those that owned the “Means of production” the bankers and friends of the elite who’d often been at odds with such people in the past. So they went out of their way to keep out any truly good performers, only hiring disposable hacks for limited amounts of time

    Now the music industry says a “New technology is robbing me of my livelihood!” They cried crocodile tears to the men they ruined by selling records people could play many times perfectly at the cost of one performance. They deserve exactly the ruin they fear is upon them.

    They’ve all forgotten that all music, all art, all acting is a form of “Busking” which is a degree above (in pride and status) “Begging”.

    Frankly, we need to totally ditch the “Mainstream” music. Find new artists that sell directly and contribute to them. Don’t buy any new records. I don’t even argue ‘stealing’ them, but say there is one song you might just send an anonymous $ and letter to the actor directly?

    The true crime is that if you see a guy “Busking” say he’s playing a Hurdy Gurdy on a street corner and you toss $1 or $5 into his case, you pay him far more than if he was a “Pro” and you bought his malware full $18.99 CD from the record store. Even with the loss from an internet sharing economy and a ‘tip’ economy, we can still pay the musicians and storytellers we like much more than the “Industry” would ever have paid them. There might not be any more “Mega Stars” but there could well be plenty of people who manage to supplement their income strongly with what had previously been a “Hobby” or “Failed dream”.

  11. I was just having a discussion the other night about the state of the music industry. A friend of mine was saying, “Kids today watch MTV Cribs, and think they’re gonna get rich off music. Ten years from now, there are going to be no “cribs,” and musicians aren’t going to get rich anymore.”

    Well, yeah, and that’s a good thing. Maybe the complete shittiness of today’s popular music has lots to do with artists who are more interested in the “cribs” than they are in expressing themselves artistically. Am I really supposed to lament the fact that the next Lady Gaga won’t be quite as rich as the current Lady Gaga? Maybe the next Lady Gaga will refrain from assaulting my ears because there’s no “crib” at the end of the rainbow.

    Virtually ALL of the interesting music being made today exists outside of the mainstream, major-label music industry. A good indie band with a buzz can easily generate $4000-$5000 per night on a club tour, and in this day and age of file sharing and blogs, it’s easier to generate that buzz than ever. Records are cheap to make and act as loss leaders for tours. I personally think it’s a great time to be a music fan. They tore down the parking lot and put up paradise.

  12. It’s a golden age for music listeners: that back catalog of recordings is a century long, and growing.
    Personally, I’m happy to see that the concept of a “media mainstream” is slowly vanishing, slowly drying up, with the explosion of interactive, personalized and customizable broadcast and narrowcast media : IMHO, that so-called “mainstream” became very narrow and icy as the rightist-initiated culture wars started during Reagan’s first term and then escalated. I see that what now passes for “mainstream” has become very much more right-wing, pro-torture, pro-war, pro-corporation, anti-social-safety-net, and pro-conflict between Americans, and between Americans and the rest of the World.

  13. Ironic that this discussion occurs over ‘Exile’. Because the record company wanted to make more cash of the reissue, they stopped manufacturing ‘Exile’ a few years back to build up pent-up-demand. When I went to purchase the album a year ago, it was impossible to find, so what did I do? I turned to the Pirates.

  14. I love the Rolling Stones, but they openly were co-opting blues riffs from black bluesmen (which they freely admit), and the cover of this album has lots of photos that I’m sure they didn’t track down the estates of the photographers and pay for permission to use. It’s refreshing to hear an artist with this commentary on internet piracy. They weren’t so happy when the Verve sampled an orchestral version of one of their songs on ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ however, sued, and got the rights to the song. For years now, every time you hear the song, the Rolling Stones are getting paid, not the Verve.

    1. The Stones didn’t sue the Verve, Allen Klein and ABKCO records did. ABKCO owns to this day the Stones’ back catalog up to Let It Bleed, and they still screw the Stones to this day, which is what Jagger is alluding to in the interview.

  15. The Stones themselves didn’t sue over “Bittersweet” which did not contain any Jagger/Richards music. The record company lawyers noted the sample was from an orchestral version of Stones music. That’s what was sampled. I doubt the band members cared about it all — or even recognized the sample, since it was nothing they ever wrote or played.

  16. best line: “it’s much easier to pay for things – assuming you’ve got any money.” why don’t i pay for three new albums a week? I can’t afford to.

    1. He’s right: it only takes a few clicks to find – and buy – music, movies , books or almost anything else, that you once had to scour many places, in person, to find.

  17. “Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone. So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.”

    Pretty much nails it, EXCEPT, although there are fewer opportunities for musicians to get drive-Rolls-Royces-into-swimming-pools-rich, there are probably *more* opportunities for musicians to quit their day jobs and pay the rent off their music. Generally speaking, opportunities that have absolutely nothing to do with record labels. Joel Veitch, I’m looking at YOU!

  18. @wiretapstudios:

    x10. I remember Keith Richards being interviewed by MTV, saying, “What am I supposed to be, honored? They’re rippin’ us off man!”

    The Rolling Stones are little more than BP in musical form; their work has been as destructive as it has been constructive.

  19. somewhere the free taking will stop. ACTA, the DEBill, they are just the beginning.

    but i request: relax protectionist border control. why can’t music sales be easier? a lot of us are stuck in non-us/canada countries. we want our media: tv shows, anime, music – mainstream, foreign, indie. and increasingly, i want to buy it and keep it guilt free. but i can’t cos it’s not sold where i live.

    how can they criminalize us when they don’t even give us other alternatives like iTunes or credit card free purchases – rather than shipping a cd from japan to my country for $20 when the frikken CD itself costs $26 and takes 1 month to arrive by ship?

    im confuz. if i have the money, why can’t i get the same service as someone in another country who gets an album for $10 on itunes while i can’t get the digital version and have to buy the actual CD for $50 just because of my country?

  20. Oh PLEEEASE! dragging out Mic Jagger out to talk about copyleft and robbing artists is like asking a brontosaurus what it’s like now for BP to spill his own oily stew into the Gulf. And Rolling Stones were always the Coca-Cola of the Pop Music Industry, if not a primary Plantationist of black culture. And Boing, yur unfortunately really behind the times on this one. Illegal downloading is practically a herring, and people who are now analyzing the new corporate landscape (i.e. Web 2.0 and Digital Spectacle) have moved to the next chess game. Nicholas Carr, Geert Lovink to Jaron Lanier are hardly the first, but some of the best articulation of the new front. “A Radical Critique of Free Culture” is urgent, because artists aren’t just starving any more, they’re pumping their own blood daily into the noosphere and the Advertisement Culture Complex, read: social cesspools !

  21. Hey #17, Bittersweet Symphony IS a Rolling Stones sample basically: it’s from a Keith Richard classical solo record that Andrew Oldham put together to boost Keith’s popularity, as he was trailing both Mick and Brian at that time. The sample is a classical variation of The Last Time, but it’s quite different too. The Stones agreed to let them use the sample, until they realized the entire song was built around it. It’s great either way, and the Seahawks used it as their player intro theme during the 2000’s, including their Super Bowl appearance, which the Rolling Stones performed at, and very well, I might add. Exile, Beggars, Let It Bleed, these albums are some of the greatest records ever because of the spirit in which they were made.
    Thank you Mick, Keith, Charlie, Brian, Bill, little Mick, Ian, Nicky, etc. for making the world a lot better!

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