Meetings - Sunday
Sunday’s programme at ILMC 28 began with Ed Bicknell’s Breakfast Meeting, which this year involved an inspiring discussion with William Morris Endeavor’s Marc Geiger.
Recalling the early days of his career, Geiger outlined a varied background that first saw him working as the manager of various acts. He spoke about his passion for underground music and the transition of some of those acts into the mainstream.
Geiger revelled in detailing his work with Rick Rubin, one of his heroes, and the amazing way Rubin would persuade artists to do what he wanted them to do, rather than what they wanted to do.
Describing the rise and fall of Artist Direct, he said, “We were sending about 25 million emails a month.” He added that the company was involved in the first fans pre-sales “because we had this huge database that told us who the fans were.”
When the tech market collapsed, Geiger was hit hard. “Last week I was worth $100million dollars, today it’s -$10,” he said. “But I got to meet a lot of really interesting and successful people and one CEO told me ‘Now, you’re ready’ and he’s right. I couldn’t do what I’m doing today if I hadn’t gone through all that. I had to sell my house and my car and downsize everything. I looked at the agency business. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I could see that it was going to grow.”
Revealing he was $2million in debt, Geiger said it took seven years to recover financially, but he agreed with Bicknell that some of the happiest times of their lives were when they had nothing.
Asked where he sees the business going, Geiger envisages the big talent agencies going public. On a side note, Bicknell asked about the current US presidential race and Geiger admitted it was a bit embarrassing. “But as a Monty Python fan, it’s also amazing… It’s difficult to be embarrassed about being from somewhere.
Quizzed about how he came up with the Lollapalooza concept, Geiger said he ripped it off from Reading Festival. “We could not get a German to partner with us for Berlin and we ended up partnering with Melvin Benn – a Brit. The Germans told us that Berlin was the capital of poverty and a festival would not work, but we took the risk and it worked.”
Returning to future developments, Geiger said the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and other streaming services would play a big part in the health of the live sector. “My passionate belief is that if everyone has a lot of music, we’re going to sell more tickets.” Noting how driven Geiger is, Bicknell asked what prompts that. “I’m driven by curiosity – I want to fix things and get things done,” he replied. “I’m still as passionate about music as I was in my 20s. I want to know more about music than the 20 somethings that work for me.”
Bicknell told delegates that the relaxed, philosophical, laid-back Geiger of today is a very different person from the man he first met 20-plus years ago. Geiger concluded, “Once you’ve had a fall from grace and a messy divorce, it puts things into perspective and you realise how lucky you are to work in a great business with great people. You have to practise attitude, so if little things go wrong, I don’t let them stress me out.”
This year’s Booking Ring panel kicked off with a lengthy discussion about the rise of American-style territorial booking, where an agent is given a geographical territory to book rather than having responsibility for an artist’s whole live career.
“As an agent you have to be passionate about what you’re selling,” said Slater, adding that a territory-based system means agents are “only getting specialist knowledge in one territory”, which meant effectively “tying your hands behind your back”.
Lowe, whose agency, UTA, switched to territorial booking in the US and Canada in February, agreed, saying that such a system could contribute to diluting relationships between agents and promoters.
Zapp said the rise of the territorial model means an agency is only as good as the agent in each territory: “I need to know that the people I’m working on an act with are going to do a good job.” He compared it to the recording model, where “you can sign a worldwide deal with an act and the people in office might be great, but not so great in another.”
Charmenko’s Nick Hobbs, speaking from the audience, said it doesn’t make sense to him that Europe is split as a territory for the purposes of booking, and that he prefers to deal with “one agent who has a relationship with the act”. Bloem countered that the European market, while geographically one territory, can have “such a huge difference” between countries, using the example of the Benelux region, where an act could sell 50,000 tickets in the Netherlands but only 5,000 in Belgium.
Other topics covered include the qualities that agents look for in a buyer/promoter (“The promoter who will do the best job is one who’s passionate about the artist,” offered Zapp. While Slater joked: “Try not have a Hotmail address!”); the rising cost of touring (in Finland, said Kyyrö, it’s so expensive that some acts won’t even visit the country, especially with the collapse of the international touring market in neighbouring Russia); and oversaturation (with so many bands touring, said Lowe, fans need more bang for their buck than in years past, leading to an “enormous amount of investment” for quite small acts).
O’Brien said VIP packages such as sound-check experiences, lithograph prints, meet and greets etc., are one way of offering said bang: “Not every act wants to,” he commented, “but many of ours do.”
However, audience member Peter Noble (Byron Bay Bluesfest) cautioned against “putting a barrier between fan and artist” with overpriced extras. “There’s nothing like an artist just walking out to the merch stand and shaking hands with fans,” he said, something “endemic” in country music shows. Noble said he knows of at least one artist who is regularly playing 1,000-capacity venues and charging AU$750 for fan experiences.
Kim Bloem, Mojo Concerts (NL)
Juha Kyyrö, FKP Scorpio / Fullsteam Agency (FI)
Steve Zapp, ITB (UK)
As ILMC’s most random panel discussion, Gordon Masson’s Bloody Mary recipes and Berocca were used to lure not just delegates, but also the panellists to populate the room.
Using a tombola to select questions that were anonymously submitted by ILMC members, among those discussing the topics were Ed Bicknell, Wayne Forte, Martin Hopewell, Don Elford, Codruta Vulcu, Jeremy Hulsh, Allan McGowan, and Michael Lambert.
Handling a question about agents and promoters not attending the ILMC Production Meeting, Forte countered that perhaps they were unaware – as he was – that the meeting is open to them to participate in.
One of the most interesting discussions began with the question: How can I as a new promoter get an agent to take my phone call? Forte and Bicknell opined that agents should try to do something different and original to stand out from the crowd. This led into a broader debate about relationships between promoters and agents with Hulsh revealing instances where offers he made for certain acts were passed on by an agent to Hulsh’s rival promoters.
Asked if they thought virtual reality could potentially harm the live music business, the room was in general agreement that the development of VR would probably bring opportunities rather than be a threat to the business.
Bicknell and Hopewell, tackling a question about whether today’s artists play it too safe, agreed that most of the fun has disappeared, with Bicknell suggesting that when going on the road and performing live turned into a business was the moment the fun stopped.
Italian promoter Claudio Trotta summed up his feelings when the room was asked, ‘If you have an agent and an artist manager phoning you, which one do you put on hold?’ Trotta stated, “It has to be the manager. My relationship is with the agent and that is who I should build the relationship with.”