Marc Geiger – Chicago Ideas Week discussion

Is the music industry climbing out of it’s slump? Is it stagnating? Getting worse?? The answers to these questions seem to vary widely, depending upon who is answering. Nearly every day I read blogs from industry writers, fans, other professionals and periphery figures who believe the best days are simply behind us. To these people, platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube…and literally hundreds of others are doing nothing to sell records, and many are just ripping the profit from the hands of the artist. Or label, again…depending upon with whom you’re speaking. I continue to still read how pirating has completely destroyed the industry, and continues to ruin everyone within from artist to producer to label to distribution to sales channel(s). The view is incredibly grey and bleak, which is why when someone comes along with a sunnier outlook – you tend to stop and take note.

During the very same time that Durandemonium took place in Chicago…there was an event called Chicago Ideas Week. It covered a wide variety of topics, and one such topic was the state of the music industry, to which Marc Geiger, a founder of a little event called “Lollapalooza”, spoke.  You can watch it here. Mr. Geiger is an industry veteran, having done everything from DJ at 91X (a radio station in Southern California) to booking, to A&R, and then on an executive level at ARTISTdirect (CEO and Vice Chairman). Currently he is the head of the music division at William Morris Agency. He is seen as something of a visionary in the industry, due to his work at ARTISTdirect – which was the first internet company designed to create a direct connection between the artist and the fan.

The main purpose or thesis of Marc Geiger’s discussion that day was to explain that the industry is not dead, and it’s best days are yet to come. He believes that the power of platforms like Pandora and YouTube, among others, has yet to be realized, but that the business is finally “getting to a decent model” and that it’s going to be bigger than ever.  Prior to the “crash” in 2000, the overall business was at 40 million a year (the “record business”, as he put it, currently it sits at 27 million a year, and he believes that it will go to 200 million a year. I was honestly astonished to hear such figures, because if the blogs and industry articles I read are any indication – you’d think the only way to make real money these days is the live show. The “tour”. Not six months ago I read an article about how even Justin Timberlake’s latest album was slumping in sales as opposed to previous efforts – but that the expectation for sales was being met, simply due to the fact that the business model for the industry had changed so much. Then of course, we slide forward to Beyoncé and her latest album, which dropped “by surprise” last week – and it’s already sitting at nearly 900,000 copies sold, in the first week. I don’t think I need to mention to anyone that I don’t think the last two albums that DD has done have reached that sales figure, combined. I know we shouldn’t be focused on sales because it is most definitely not 1985 and the band’s target demographic is well, older now… but even so, it’s pretty staggering, and is really the first sign that maybe, just maybe, the record industry will live. So, Mr. Geiger needs to forgive me if I don’t quite see that we’re on the incline out of the Valley of Death just yet. Sure, maybe for the distinct few – but for everyone? I need more convincing.

One item that I do agree with though is globalization. He gave the example of a band like Fitz and the Tantrums here in the states. They are fairly well-known here, but you move that band to a place like Chile, where perhaps their music hasn’t been released and they’re definitely not getting radio play – and yet their shows are selling out. How does that happen?  YouTube. The internet. One cannot ignore that power, and one shouldn’t ignore the power of social media. I would also add that the very most powerful item in the tool chest of the band/artist is their existing fan base. We talk. We speak to others. We write blogs. We connect with fans on a global level, and we have the ability to work much harder to spread that word than the band themselves are able. There are thousands of us, and we can reach farther corners within a shorter period of time. This is key. This very blog gets read in not only the US, Canada and the UK, but we also have a sizable audience reading in various places in South America? Asia? Russia? (the stats here don’t include bots) Globalization is a big deal, and it’s the fans that will get you there. Social media and connecting with fans matter – and if it’s only the social media person in your entourage that is bothering (and maybe not doing the best job connecting), you’re missing the boat. Literally.

Bottom line from me: as I said a year ago – there is a way to navigate out of the confusion of harnessing the power of the internet for good. It remains shortsighted to blame the industry woes on pirating (illegal downloads are on the decline), and it does appear that at least some have learned how to create a new business model utilizing the power of the fan(s) that works. That doesn’t mean that it all has been figured out. Clearly there is still disconnect with streaming platforms, listening platforms like Pandora and Spotify, artist royalty from other platforms like Shazam, labels, and so forth. Labels do not like having less control over what you and I see and hear. They really don’t like having less control over stats and royalty statements. Bands and artists aren’t necessarily comfortable dealing with fans directly, especially if they came of age in a time prior to the internet.  I see that the future is at least beginning to form in the distance, and the convergence culture of the media will continue to grow. Better hang on as this boat gets moving, or you’re liable to be left in the distance.

-R

One thought on “Marc Geiger – Chicago Ideas Week discussion”

  1. I just love the topic of this blog, I find it really interesting.
    My personal opinion is that music industry depends on the internet, as fans' power resides there: the industry PRs can see the new trends. (In the 80s radio was the key to success to the artists).
    To confirm my thoughts, I was glad when I saw how the guys promoted All You Need is Now. I said “That's how now you got to promote your music !!!”. And for some time, DD and few other artists are still promoting their new music with the help of the internet (and of a label in support).
    One thing is sure to me: music industry isn't stagnating. Maybe another “big change” is about to break up things again.

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