By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Photo by Jenafer Gillingham|
WHEN MARC GEIGER WAS 4 YEARS OLD, he decided he could fly. So he donned a Superman cape and mounted the railing of the balcony outside his family's second-floor Connecticut apartment.
Although his mother grabbed him before he could take off, who's to say he couldn't have done it? After all, Geiger's taken huge leaps over nearly two decades in the music business, as an agent, record executive and online entrepreneur. Among other things, the 37-year-old businessman co-conceived the Lollapalooza music festival, for which he's received creative if not financial props. He established the alternative-music department at Triad Artists. Now, his Internet music company, ArtistDirect, is flush with $97.5 million of new equity investment, and an initial public offering just around the corner could bring in another $800 million. Geiger may prove to have, at the very least, X-ray vision for music's Next Big Thing.
And it's all because he's a spreadsheet guy. The compulsive filer who overhauled Triad's computer system is now looking to tidy up a bigger mess: the music industry. In the new world order, as he sees it, music will be branded by artist, not record label or genre; T-shirts, concert tickets and recordings will be purchased and delivered at the click of a mouse; and tour, interview and band news will be transmitted instantly online. In other words, Geiger is positioning ArtistDirect to become an institution -- the Kleenex, Band-Aid or Xerox of online music commerce and information.
"It was just obvious to me," he says. "What's the Warner Bros. studio store? What's the Armani store? Just substitute Rolling Stones for Bugs Bunny -- and put it online. It's not like it wasn't done. But people in the music business weren't doing it."
ArtistDirect is hardly alone in claiming to be making over the music biz. With the imminent broadband revolution promising to make high-speed Internet delivery of recordings a commercial reality, scores of music entrepreneurs are staking claims in cyberspace. MP3.com, a San Diegobased company delivering music online, took a giant step forward in credibility last year when it gave Alanis Morissette equity in its company in exchange for the opportunity to sponsor her tour with Tori Amos.
But Geiger already has a comprehensive online-music infrastructure in place. ArtistDirect includes a search engine (the Ultimate Band List), a fan-driven community site (iMusic), downloadable music, and authorized "channels" conducting sales for more than 90 of the world's biggest pop acts, from the Backstreet Boys to the Beastie Boys. There's also a booking agency and a record label called Kneeling Elephant.
Geiger wins the big artists' loyalty by offering them equity, plus ownership and control over their own "channels." For someone like Aimee Mann, whose critically acclaimed career was undermined by record-company indifference, this has made the difference between receiving royalties and not. Bought out of her Geffen contract during the Seagram/Universal merger, Mann is now with ArtistDirect, making $2 a unit on her record Bachelor No. 2, as opposed to zero on her last Geffen recording, I'm With Stupid. (Mann's splashy contributions to the Magnoliafilm soundtrack didn't hurt.)
"It's a very simple setup -- they do our work for us and we get paid," Mann says. "What could be better?"
Geiger has another edge: a long track record in championing artists, especially the edgy ones. Bands he loved, such as the Cocteau Twins, the Chameleons and the Wonderstuff, couldn't get arrested when Geiger brought them to Triad's attention in 1984. "It was like, why am I feeling like I'm the only one seeing this crop of amazing artists and nobody even cares?" Geiger recalls.
When the cyberdust settles, ArtistDirect stands to cash in on the Geiger mystique. "Geiger saw the hole he could drive the truck through," says Bruce Haring, author of Beyond the Charts: MP3 and the Digital Revolution. "If in fact all these promises pan out, and the Net becomes the way most people get music, he's got some valuable real estate already locked up."
SITTING IN HIS CLUTTERED ENCINO office, decorated with New Order and Jesus & Mary Chain posters, the always-juiced Marc Geiger is under strict orders not to multitask or to reveal too much. The company refiled for its IPO in January (the initial filing was in September) and is currently muzzled by the Securities and Exchange Commissionmandated "quiet period."
Staying focused, much less sitting still, is a tall order for the boyish, terminally preppy-looking Geiger, who appears more CPA than CEO. To avoid temptation, he moves away from his desk and phone, grabs a colorful juggling ball and squeezes as he tries to cram his 37 years into an hour.
With a jock's hunger for competition (he played baseball at UC San Diego), Geiger promoted concerts for Humphrey's Concerts by the Sea, a music venue on San Diego's Shelter Island, while still in school. By his 1984 graduation, he was managing the Australian band the Church.
Geiger also worked as executive vice president at American Recordings (formerly Def American), signing bands like Medicine, Swell, and Jesus & Mary â Chain merely because he liked and believed in them. Although his esoteric sensibility gave Rick Rubin's label critical credibility, these bands were commercial Kryptonite.