At Decade’s End: Q’s With Marc Geiger WME Partner & Head Of Music

Marc Geiger
– Marc Geiger

There may be no better person on the planet than Marc Geiger, WME partner and head of music, to discuss the live business over the past decade. His comprehensive understanding of the industry and ability to synthesize macro and micro, trends, economic forces, disruptive technologies, changing consumer behavior and then identify market shifts before anyone else knows they’re happening is unparalleled. Here, then, is Geiger’s take on the last decade toward helping understand what’s coming next. 

Pollstar: Looking at the business between 2010 and 2019 where so much happened, how would you characterize it in broad terms?
Marc Geiger: Finally, it turned into a real business.
How so?
We now have big companies, not a bunch of fragmented little companies, that can afford to invest and improve. The music distribution system worked its way out so that customers had global access to music. Ticketing became something that was – forget the fees and all the other stuff – pretty seamless for a customer versus lining up here and computer crashes there and a bunch of other inconveniences. People invested, making the customer experience better. Marketing has gone haywire. Transitioning from radio and print to targeted micro communities and more. The combination of those things continued to unlock the value of what people in these businesses have always felt was there: that live is a bigger business and a higher value proposition than the rest of the industry gave it credit for because all of the focus was on the record industry or radio, or charts, etc.
The live business really took off following the global recession and the bottom falling out of the recorded side of the music business. How do you think that impacted growth?
I don’t agree with that view at all, I can’t go with your premise. The recession is a red herring. This is purely the result of a technological change. What happened was very simple. The world was going onto a digital network and the music business resisted it for a long period of time. But then technology allowed music to get to people. Everywhere. Demand went up and tickets started to sell. At the same time, radio is falling and losing its power, and the historical music filters start to die off. Music became more liberated as it was no longer confined by traditional genres. And what happened? Consumers started to drive the business through new technology and digital platforms, unlocking the value of music and live performances.

How do you think that played into consolidation? 
Companies like Live Nation and AEG happened to be forming and building at the time. They saw a healthy market and leaned into it. If you are a builder and you are in a hot real estate market, you build more homes. That’s what Live Nation did. 
How did these changes impact the agency?  
We always want to be forward looking. We knew festivals were going to grow by seeing how communities and social networks were coming together through the new technologies that were emerging. From Coachella ’99 through all of the festivals that grew in the years following, we felt that we needed to create a more efficient system for festival buyers given the high volume of acts that are involved. We decided that we needed a dedicated festival department. Now we have a market-leading 20-person team who understands the specific needs of festivals and can provide true expertise in this area to our clients.
How did you deal with market expansion? 
We saw the development of different international markets and felt that South America was going to be the first big foreign territory outside of Europe to blow up – in front of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and other markets. So we went down there and hired people to focus on it. We spent more time traveling and supported festivals such as the Lollapaloozas and Estéreo Picnics. We leaned in, encouraged and backed people financially, getting show counts up and more artists to perform. Boom, we helped unlock the territory. Now there’s growth. Now there’s mega-festivals. Now it’s the No. 1 Spotify territory in the world in terms of activity, right?

Was that always the approach? 
We started divisions to anticipate where we saw growth happening, rather than waiting for it. We’re still doing that today. We started a group to cover Asia and Africa. Out of our last 20 signings, 15 are global. One from Argentina, three from China, one from Mongolia (The Hu), three from Africa, two Indian rappers – Badshah and Divine, who are huge – and 88rising [an Asian hip-hop collective]. And you saw the festival Head in the Clouds? We are investing where we think the world is, and where it’s going. 
Were there other divisions you added? 
Our non-traditional division has gotten into children’s programming. Now we’re out there with PJ Masks and Baby Shark and a whole bunch of others because we knew those things are going to grow. Why? Because we saw the streamers unlock the linear programming model. Now a parent and their child can watch episodes all in a row, it’s not just half an hour once a week like when we grew up. There’s a huge appetite for this content. We also saw the power of Comic Cons. I was in Sao Paulo and 300,000 people went to the Comic Con, which was unheard of. People think San Diego’s the big one. So we appointed a member of our staff to only focus on Comic Cons and now we’re doing tens of millions of dollars in appearances at Comic Con appearances. We have been able to unlock a new revenue stream for our clients through these appearances. 
The Hu plays Download Festival in England June 14.
Joseph Okpako / WireImage
– The Hu plays Download Festival in England June 14.
How about the rise of festivals? 
You had a proliferation of festivals that had been set up pre-2010, but then grew like wildfire for the last 10 years. We saw the proliferation way past Lollapalooza and Ozzfest for artists festivals. So we leaned in as Tyler the Creator and a lot of our clients started to create them. Now you look at J. Cole with Dreamville, Drake with OVO, Travis with Astroworld, Pharrell with Something in the Water, Eddie Vedder with Ohana. We leaned in on those things. We are constantly putting ourselves through the following exercise: think about think about where the world’s going, discuss it, form a point of view, and then GO. We know that we better build in front of demand if we want to be a market leader.
You mentioned a multitude of genres and 10 different countries in this interview – is it a challenge seeing the market shift and potential glut in terms of festival or genre?
If you’re old, that’s a challenge. I think if you’re a digital native, that’s what you grow up with: You grew up with an infinite library across the Internet, across video, across television, across music. If you talk to my kids or anybody under the age of 25, they don’t think it’s a glut, they think that’s normal. They actually get bummed when all that choice isn’t there. There’s different habits being formed as we speak: How people listen to music, how they consume, how much they know. I can tell you one thing I’m seeing change right now is in A&R or music discovery. 
What do you see as the biggest challenge over the past decade as well as going forward?
None. We’re psyched. We’ve got a hot market. We’re lucky to be here. We do need more buyers, more diversity of buyers, in a consolidated marketplace. The challenges are more geopolitical. In India we just had Dua Lipa with Katy Perry. U2’s playing there in December. We’re trying to figure out if there’s enough infrastructure, because certainly the people are there and the demand is there to really build. So, I think the challenges are how to continue our growth with globalization because right now there are markets, but you’re dealing with a lot of geopolitics issues in terms of challenges. The business is a little overly consolidated. There’s not enough indies. That’s a function of where we’re at. Hopefully, the venture community, or a bunch of people who are young are starting things, but it’s just not evident yet. You wouldn’t have had Rolling Loud otherwise. But there’s not nearly enough of them, so I think that’s a challenge. 

UTA almost paired up with Paradigm this summer. It’s always such a revolving door where agents are poached or coming and going, how is that impacting you?
That’s not true in our case, if you look at our track record. It’s a testament to the company culture that people want to work here. They like coming into work, they like their colleagues, they are passionate about the clients. We like and respect our competitors, but WME’s on a different path than some of these companies. There’s a lot more outside the music business in this company. Obviously. 
Looking ahead, what do you predict for the next 10 years? What are we going to talk about then? 
Growth. Some more growth, consolidation, globalization and more indies picking up market share. More buildings being built, more infrastructure. I think people are going to invest in this wave. I think we have a real society of haves and have nots with arenas, and theaters, and clubs. We see it all day every day. And it’s not tied to population or music interests, it’s tied to where there’s investment capital or city development. I think that’s going to really, really take off. Some of the biggest cities in the world don’t have a theater, arena or club. That’s crazy, right? You’re going to find a lot of infrastructure being laid. I think you’re going to continue to see real advances in ticketing. You’re going to have more globalization. You’re going to see new markets opening all the time. More indies. More surprises. More artists selling out that you’ve never heard of. I’m not talking about the Lizzos and Billie Eilishes, you’re going to be looking at ‘Who’s selling out three Fondas? I never heard of them.’ And then, you’re going to look into it, and you’re going to realize, ‘God, they got a big fan base. They’ve been around for a long time.’ But it so underground that there’s no way to see it. I think you’re going to see a lot of that.