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
The disappointing sales certainly weren't for lack of trying. Geiger is nothing if not messianic about his musical discoveries. When his younger sister, Nicole, was a teenager living in Palo Alto, he took her to Berkeley to scour used-record shops for a grounding in the classics: Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Alas, his efforts were for naught. "She still ended up a Deadhead," he laments.
His stint at Triad was more successful. Shortly before bolting the agency in 1990, Geiger stumbled upon the idea for Lollapalooza while hanging out at England's Reading Festival with Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins. "I will put this all together, but you gotta headline as your farewell tour," Geiger told Perkins. Lollapalooza co-founder Perry Farrell (then Jane's Addiction's lead singer) took the festival name from a Three Stooges episode.
"The thing about Lollapalooza was that it wasn't genius," Geiger says. "It was a movement in time when Nirvana and Jane's embodied this underground movement of diverse bands who were shut out of the mainstream."
But by 1996, alternative had become the mainstream. Geiger had an idea to keep it fresh: Metallica. "That's where Perry and I fell out," Geiger says. "He was furious about it. I felt it was absolutely the right thing to do." Of course, two years later, Metallica is in regular rotation at "alternative" station KROQ.
Geiger feels he and fellow Lollapalooza architect Don Muller got screwed financially on the festival, but says he learned from getting the shaft. "It was one of the things in my life where you think you did great things and you hope people will recognize it and reward you for it," he says. "When those rewards don't come, you light a fire under your ass and say screw it, I'm never going to get burned that way again."
For a new direction, Geiger turned to his other great love, the Internet. The former computer-science major discovered AOL in 1990, and did a deal with the company on behalf of American Recordings. But when the Mosaic Web browser came along, Geiger saw something much larger. "It was like, see ya, ball game over," he remembers. "I actually think [the Web] is bigger than electricity." Soon after, Geiger (with Rick Rubin) purchased a little site called the World Wide Web of Music at a bargain rate in the neighborhood of $1,500 ("something like that," he grins) and renamed it the Ultimate Band List. It turned out to be a wise investment for Rubin, now a partner in ArtistDirect along with former agent Muller, who oversees the company's talent agency and label.
"If you're only doing one thing, you're not taking advantage of all the levels," Geiger says. "When we started [in 1997], people were like, they're an agency, they're a record label, and they do some other stuff. And I think today a lot of people don't even know we have an agency. I love that."
With 180 employees, a pending move from the Valley to the E! building on Wilshire, and the eyes of the music industry upon him, Geiger has managed to tie all of his obsessions into one neat little package, just like a spreadsheet. "We want to be the company that facilitates the relationship between the band and the audience, and that relationship is a big word, because it means so many things -- media, downloads, streaming video, information, community, marketing, commerce," he says. "It's like Factory Direct. You're buying from the manufacturer. Who's the manufacturer? In my eyes, it's the artist."
The record labels don't like it, but they're hedging their bets. Sony Music, Warner Music, Universal Music Group, BMG Entertainment and Yahoo! are all ArtistDirect investors (BMG distributes Kneeling Elephant records).
Geiger insists he helps the labels by promoting their artists, but author Haring is dubious: "C'mon. You're not going to be working with them. You're working against them."
Jim Guerinot, manager of Sony Music artists the Offspring and owner of his own label, Time Bomb Records, explains the polarization: "Third-party companies like ArtistDirect and MP3.com are gleaning relationships directly with artists . . . and then going public and selling stock and . . . directly competing with [the labels]."
For the moment, technology is playing catch-up to the hype. Although ArtistDirect's revenues for the six months ending June 30, 1999, were up 185 percent from the year before, the company's net loss was $8 million, compared to $2.4 million the previous year. But with AOL's purchase of Time Warner, online content is king. And Geiger seems, again, to be in the right place at the right time.
"I didn't know it would happen this fast, to be honest," he smiles. "But that was the dream."