The Rolling Stones have played down a weekend report that the band planned to ditch long-term record company EMI to join concert promoter Live Nation.

But industry experts still believe the British group could soon part ways with the label, which was taken private in 2007 and has struggled to keep some of its biggest artists.

"We are not in talks with Live Nation in connection with any record deal," London-based Rolling Stones spokesman Bernard Doherty said on Monday, reading from a brief statement.

EMI was not immediately available for comment.

The Observer weekly newspaper reported on Sunday that the Stones were on the verge of ending their relationship of more than 30 years with EMI and were "close to clinching a deal with Live Nation". It quoted unspecified "sources".

The report also said the band, a hugely successful touring act estimated to have sold over 200 million albums worldwide, would allow Live Nation to market its back catalogue, depriving EMI of about three million pounds ($5.9 million) a year.

Live Nation Inc already has deals with Madonna and Jay-Z, reportedly worth $120 million and $150 million respectively, as artists look beyond traditional recording deals to tap into increasingly lucrative touring and merchandising revenues.

Profits from music sales have been badly dented by online piracy, and record companies are struggling to come up with answers to declining demand for physical CDs.

EMI lost two of its biggest acts in 2007 -- Paul McCartney and Radiohead. The former Beatle struck a deal with coffee retailer Starbucks while Radiohead offered their album "In Rainbows" online in a "pay-what-you-want" scheme.

EMI could lose the Rolling Stones too.

"It is probably safe to assume that the band will be walking away," said one source familiar with the situation who asked not to be named.

The fact that the Rolling Stones released the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's documentary "Shine a Light" through rival label Universal this year in a one-album deal should have been "seen as a sign" that the end was nigh, the source added.

EMI was taken over last year by private equity firm Terra Firma, which has been unpopular with some of the acts signed to the label. It announced up to 2,000 job cuts in January.

It has not all been bad news for the label's new owners, however.

Coldplay's latest album "Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends" sold 302,000 copies in Britain in the first three days, taking it to the top of British album chart on Sunday.

It is on track to beat the band's 2005 hit record "X&Y", which sold 465,000 copies in Britain in its first week. The new album goes on sale in the key U.S. market this week.

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