My Dinner With Geiger

Well I just woke up from a night of fitful sleep that finally ended when Dave Matthews’ helicopter didn’t make it over the wall and crashed.  Just as I was thinking of the perils of the rich, how their advantages put them in circumstances the normal don’t entertain, I woke up.

Whew!

Funny how your whole life is laid out in relief in the middle of the night in a hotel room.  My problem is falling asleep.  Usually, I can’t get up.  But wired, even after a day of air travel and very little sleep, I barely slept Friday night.  Then last night, when I first awoke, feeling I’d been down enough, after crashing hard, my watch said it was 3:30 a.m.  After lying in bed with the thoughts in my head for sixty minutes I wanted to get up and start the day.  But knowing that I’d truly crash sometime in the p.m., I hung in there, and eventually fell asleep, and had the above dream, after episodes in which an engineer strung two different topics together in a podcast and an attractive young woman sunning herself told me she’d killed people in the war.

Speaking of that podcast…  It was a mashup of Jethro Tull and Jan & Dean/surf music.  Oh, I was so happy when the Tull music first played.  It was a song off "Benefit".  And the assembled multitude got up and DANCED, in FORMATION, I felt like one of those powerful deejays in Ibiza.  But then, just when they were totally into it, came the strains of "Surf City".

I ran away.  Not only to avoid scrutiny, but to try and find out what happened.  I found a confessing soul and when he agreed to stop the broadcast I decided to let it play, and got on a plane to fly home, whereupon I saw Matthews’ helicopter vainly trying to scale the wall and finally crashing.  I thought they might live.  Because the whirlybird wasn’t made out of metal, but had the characteristics of a giant insect, and almost floated to the ground.  But the gentleman beside me said they were toast.  And nobody from the airport seemed to have noticed the crash, so as we approached, I leaned out the window and yelled.  And the Chinese army ran off to the scene.

I’m not sure why Dave appeared in my dream.  Maybe because he’s the biggest touring act in the U.S. and I was debating in my head the content of today’s speech, but I know that Tull came from my conversation with Marc Geiger.  That was the first show he saw.  In New York City.

Actually, having gone to school in San Diego, I was stunned to find out Geiger had been raised in Stamford, Connecticut.  This came up when he referenced skiing at Mohawk Mountain.  A ridge developed by Walt Schoenknecht in the western part of the Nutmeg State before he moved north to Vermont and started Mt. Snow.

Geiger eventually moved to San Francisco, at 17, and seeing Torrey Pines, ended up at the University of San Diego, where he and a pal on the baseball team promoted four sellout concerts.  A much better average than Jack Utsick.  And then Marc got picked up by Avalon, Attractions that is.

But Marc is most famous, most notable, most infamous, most well-known…for ArtistDirect.  The music business’ own dot com.  Which failed just about as miserably as every other dot com.

But speaking to Marc last night, it was clear, he was just ahead of his time.

Most people in this business don’t take a long term view.  They believe how it’s happening today is how it’s going to happen tomorrow.  But Marc is interested in tomorrow.  And that’s what we talked about, endlessly, at this Italian restaurant Cocotoo where Tony said the food wasn’t first class, but you could get a TABLE!

Marc started telling me about the chasm.  That’s coming Christmas 2007.  When CDs tank.

I was stunned, because Marc was the first person in the business who saw it as I did.  That the iTunes Music Store wasn’t going to save the labels, and that iPod penetration and stealing would decimate them, leaving a string of red ink.

I’m not sure about the timing, nor is Marc, but it’s definitely coming.  And the obvious question is what the labels are going to do about it.

Marc believed I was with Guerinot, favoring an ISP tax.  Actually, I’m between Marc and Guerinot.  I think you should only pay if you WANT music, knowing that if you haven’t signed up and THEN partake you’re going to get your ass sued, heavily.  Marc wants special ISPs, that offer music.  Or third party companies that work in conjunction with ISPs, like an American Express, to collect.  And Marc believes there should be tiers.  If you want live, it’s extra.  If you want every Neil Young ever, it’s extra.  I believe this is hard to police, yet our hearts are in the same place.  But will the labels do this?

Not at first Marc thought.  And when they did they’d start off pussyfooting..  First, eliminating DRM from the iTunes Music Store, to level the playing field for other entrants.  Then, offering catalog for a flat rate, then…  EVENTUALLY agreeing to an all you can eat service for a certain price per month.  Because they’re going to have to, for the majors will be awash in red ink.

Actually, the majors end up forever transformed in Marc’s world.  Purveying catalog and at most one or two new acts per month.  The rest of the newbies are funded by…him?

Oh, Marc hasn’t lost the entrepreneurial spirit.  And speaking to him, with his confidence and slight deprecation, you can see why he GOT all that money back in the nineties.  And now Marc wants venture capital funds to back investment in new acts.  You get cash and William Morris’ marketing prowess in return for…a percentage of your revenue.  Forever?  The details haven’t been worked out in Marc’s head.  But if you think about it, the agent/touring business is the only arm of the music world that remains somewhat unchanged by the Internet.  And, with radio play a joke, and money required to finance operations, his idea that they’re the logical players in the future is interesting.

And after Tony tried to convince us that Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco were the new Led Zeppelin, I asked Marc what he’d learned at ArtistDirect.

First, not to listen to anybody but himself.  He’d bought companies to ready the enterprise to go public and had turned down an offer from Yahoo because the venture capital men said it was too low.  Both mistakes.  They didn’t know his world, he did.

Second, he learned that you can’t trust artists.  Tony had told him, but he didn’t believe him.  If you haven’t been fucked over by an act, you just have never functioned in management.  It’s not the whims that are so hard to fathom/sustain, but the ABANDONMENT, the lack of TRUST!  An artist only has one career.  He does what’s expedient for himself.  As for you?  Well, even though you gave him money and took his middle of the night phone call, you’re expendable.

But how did Marc feel when it all collapsed?  Wasn’t he depressed?  How did he pull it all back together?

The answer I got was not one I was prepared for.  His mother being a survivor, the collapse of ArtistDirect was a blip, something he could dust off his arms and move right on from.  After all, he didn’t see his father shot to death in a concentration camp.

And after hearing about how Marc’s four and eight year olds pooh-pooh the Beatles but LIVE for Queen and the Beastie Boys, not only the hits but the deep tracks, I got into it with Webbo.

John Clancy Webster used to work at Virgin Records.  But you know him best by his legacy.  He created the NOW series, and the Mercury Prize.

A guy like this in the U.S. would be pompous.  Stuck up.  Hard to know and certainly loath to speak to anybody but his long time peeps.

But Webbo is one of us.  He’s not only approachable, he’s EFFUSIVE!

And now, in addition to looking after the careers of Francis Dunnery and U.K. acts we Americans have barely heard of, if at all, he spends his days as the Director of Independent Member Services for the BPI, the U.K. RIAA.  Sure, it’s the wrong team, the opposition, but Webbo figures you can effect a lot more change INSIDE than from throwing darts OUTSIDE!

And after drumming up membership from newbies, the most pressing issue Webbo is dealing with is the furor over the copyright law.  They don’t need Lawrence Lessig here, for copyright only lasts fifty years.  And that means in six years, the Beatles start entering the public domain.  Good or bad, what do you think?  Well, that’s the debate in the U.K. now, and according to Webbo, unlike in the U.S., the major companies don’t have the legislators in their pockets.

But the most fascinating story Webbo told me about started with the old band of his management client Mr. Dunnery, It Bites.  Released on Geffen in the U.S., the John Kalodner act never broke through.  And it must not have done that much better in the U.K., for the albums are unavailable.  Francis wants to put them out.  But can he?

Actually, the reference point in the story was Roy Wood.  You remember him, from the Move?  He wants to put out his old Warner albums, but he can’t get a response from the label, no one will even acknowledge his inquiries.

Talk about frustrating…  You make the records, you’ll pay the label to license them.  But no one will take your call?

Ultimately, Warner put out a couple of thousand discs in Japan without telling Roy.  Which made him crazy.  For then they were all gone, and he couldn’t buy some to sell to HIS peeps, both in the U.K. and U.S.

But the strange story of Bill Bruford was the most interesting.

After dealing with Roy and Francis and others, Webbo constructed a code of conduct.  Detailing how these inquiries would be handled.  That acts would get a response from the label in I seem to remember ninety days, and a definitive opinion in something like six months.  But Bill Bruford never got a response when he asked to license his E.G. albums.  So he put them out himself.

I’ve heard this from acts in the U.S.  Should they bootleg their own albums?  Since the label won’t reissue them?

And finally E.G. got wind of this.  And told Bill they’d make a deal.  Proving once again that to make progress in the music business you can’t abide by the rules but must take matters into your own hands.  But just before Bill was gonna make his old label an offer, he asked to see the contract.  And E.G. couldn’t provide it.

This seemed stunning.  But Webbo told me it happened all the time.  The curators of the museum, those running the operation now, were not there when all these deals were made, they’re clueless and don’t care.  But, amazingly, along the way the music may have been saved, but the paperwork is…gone.

When they couldn’t deliver the contract, Bill stopped negotiating, he refused to pay, he considered the albums HIS!

It’s a wild music business we’re all living in.

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