The Rolling Stones could become the latest big-name group to quit the troubled record label EMI, following the example of Sir Paul McCartney and Radiohead.
The band's deal with the company, which this week announced it was shedding 2,000 jobs, expires in May and Sir Mick Jagger and his band-mates are believed to be keen to sign up with another record label.
They have already signed a one-album deal with EMI's rival, Universal Music, covering the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's film Shine A Light, itself a Universal production. "The band are looking forward to working with Universal Music and are excited by this new venture," a spokesman said.
The Stones' five year contract with EMI was worth £14m. Now Sir Mick, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts are understood to be "considering their options" over who will represent their music in the future.
News that the Stones are seeking to move elsewhere is a further blow to Guy Hands, the chief executive of Terra Firma, the private equity company that bought EMI for £3.2bn last summer.
Sources close to the negotiations said EMI was very keen to keep the band and has put together a dedicated team to explore new ways of exploiting the band's work to its full potential.
Before Mr Hands's takeover, the former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney had already quit EMI for the new record arm of Starbucks, saying the label had become "really very boring".
Radiohead parted company with EMI after the arrival of Mr Hands, whose regime the lead singer Thom Yorke compared to a "confused bull in a china shop". The group invited fans to "pay what you like" for their latest album, before signing to an independent label.
Kylie Minogue is another EMI artist whose contract is up for renewal soon, giving rise to speculation that she too might look elsewhere for a deal.
Robbie Williams's manager last week compared Mr Hands to "a plantation owner" in his approach to artists and said the singer would suspend work on his new album unless he received certain assurances. Coldplay are also said to be considering their future with the company.
The Shine A Light soundtrack, which comes out in March to accompany Scorsese's film, which is released in April, is a live recording of the Stones' performance at New York's Beacon Theatre in autumn 2006, featuring special guests Buddy Guy, the White Stripes' Jack White and Christina Aguilera. The Universal chairman Lucian Grainge said: "We are really proud to be working with the Rolling Stones."
Mr Hands has set out his vision for the future of EMI. He plans to cull artists from the label's roster of 14,000 and said there have been few profitable new releases for several years. He also promised to clamp down on the large annual bill for "flowers and fruit", a euphemism for subsidising artists' parties.