Why WME’s Former Music Head Wants to Own Half of Your Indie Venue

·5 min read

Veteran music executive and Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger abruptly left William Morris Endeavor (WME) this summer after 17 years as the company’s global head of music, in the midst of the pandemic’s near-complete shuttering of the concert industry. Since then, he revealed on Wednesday, he has been working on an initiative of his own called SaveLive.

Geiger’s plan is to buy at least 51 percent equity in dozens of music clubs nationwide, he told the New York Times, and eventually help them expand into “regional forces” with the help of sponsorship opportunities and create a “network effect.” The phrasing feels intentionally vague, but this plan could end up building, as the New York Times put it, “a mom-and-pop version of Live Nation or AEG, the giant companies that now dominate the touring business.”

“I’m not prepared to divulge the specifics,” Geiger tells Rolling Stone, when asked about what he eventually plans to do with this collection of indie venues. “But I have things in the agreements that are protective for the venues, their rights, and their futures.”

Geiger has already collected $75 million from the first investment round. Speaking to the Times, the executive insisted he would “not seek to flip assets” despite holding majority shares. “We don’t see this as a distressed-asset play,” Deep Field Asset Management’s Jordan Moelis, SaveLive’s primary backer, told the Times. “We see this as a business-building play, a play to be a long-term partner and to be around for a long time.”

When Geiger left WME shortly after the agency furloughed or fired hundreds of staff members, his destination was not revealed — and many speculated that he would head to the tech-and-streaming side, joining a company like Spotify. For now, Geiger’s SaveLive project appears to be his full-time work, although he did not answer when Rolling Stone asked if he had another gig lined up as well.

While SaveLive’s type of partnership could protect the many independently-owned venues that are currently in red-alert danger of closing for good, it may also push owners back against a wall: Indie venues tend to pride themselves on being indie and may balk at the idea of being owned by a man who has long represented the fluorescent-lit world of corporate suits. If Geiger ends up landing at another big concert company later on, his majority-ownership in these clubs could change their status.

A business manager who has consulted multiple independent venues of note, speaking under condition of anonymity, tells Rolling Stone Geiger has not provided enough information around how exactly SaveLive will help venues. (The new company has not issued press releases or sent any official materials to media, either.)

“It sounds like the House of Blues business model,” the source says. “When it comes to sponsorship money, most House of Blues properties have their third floor labeled with a big casino name or something. They take money in turn for advertising.” The sources adds that it’s still unclear as to how Geiger would make his offerings different: “Maybe it means [premium] live-streaming or a restaurant being a part of the club, but without knowing that piece, it’s hard to say if it’s a good or bad thing for truly indie clubs.”

“Geiger’s solution on some level scares me,” Frank Riley of High Road Touring told the Times. “He is going to buy distressed properties for money on the dollar and end up owning 51 percent of their business. Is that independent? I don’t know. But it does save the platforms on which things grow and where artists are sustained.”

But Geiger, who co-founded Lollapalooza in 1990, says his artist-friendly track record speaks for itself.

“The deals have options to protect the independents. And this is an operating company. This is no Robert Sillerman.” — Marc Geiger

“The deals have options to protect the independents,” he tells Rolling Stone. “And this is an operating company. This is no Robert Sillerman. I’m doing it because I want to and I love it, not because it’s financial engineering. There are as many venues that want upsides as there are that want independence.”

Geiger says he’ll offer as many equity options as possible to the venues and claims the situations aren’t as black-and-white as “Marc Geiger or bankruptcy” — but he declined to give details on what those options may look like. “I always felt that was sensationalist, and that there would be debt,” he adds. “We just had to be the best option and an exciting option for venues. It being the only game in town where you’re forced to take the deal and you’re gonna lose your independence is sensationalism. That was never the intent. But I’m hyper-conscious of the perception because of what financial engineering has done in the past.”

The concert-business manager source adds that, in a worst-case scenario, a SaveLive deal could “kill a small club by making it so they don’t have the ability to be profitable.” When a band does a tour with Live Nation or AEG, for example, it’s not uncommon for them to only play venues that are owned by the parent company they’ve aligned with. Indies, however, aren’t often seen as competition and can be exceptions to the rule. So if bands are forced to commit to a SaveLive run, it could decrease the venue’s booking abilities. “Or it might just give bands that can sell-out a 250-capacity room the same advantage of what bigger bands have when Live Nation buys your tour,” the source acknowledges.

As for who’s on board with SaveLive, there are also no specifics in that arena. Geiger only told the Times that he’s currently “negotiating with a number of venues around the country.”

To Rolling Stone, he says that adhering to confidentiality agreements is his priority. “Second, it would be imprudent to talk about things that are in process,” he says. “And third, it’s bad business.”

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