The Bob Lefsetz Podcast is not a soundbite show.
Bob Lefsetz, the veteran industry commentator and podcast host, is known for his long-form interviews with compelling music industry guests and right now there are few guests more compelling than former WME co-head of music Marc Geiger.
Since he left WME in June, the music business has been clamoring for details, but dishing on the palace intrigue at his agency — or any other agency — has never been Geiger’s style. Appearing on a friendly show last week with a host eager to argue about ticket fees and probe Geiger about his relationship with his parents seemed like a fairly safe bet.
Not long after the interview was posted, a 10-second sound bite went viral with Geiger answering a question about when he thought concerts would return saying, “my guess is late ’21, more likely 2022.”
The headline became “Lollapalooza co-founder predicts no concerts until 2022,” and dozens of media outlets picked up the story. While Geiger stands by his comment, he said the coverage missed key points about how he formed his thinking. Speaking with Billboard recently, Geiger laid out his thoughts, identifying four economic forces he says will influence the return of live music.
Right now the U.S. is transitioning out of the Hopeful Economy, he explains, driven by people and businesses eager to quickly reopen and stave off the financial pain from the global pandemic.
“Within the concert business, the Hopeful Economy are the people needing to put on shows,” often against the advice of public health officials, he tells Billboard. These are people most upset with Geiger’s comments because they rely on the concert business for nearly all of their revenue and don’t have the capital to wait another two years for normalcy.
“I understand that,” Geiger explains. “If I was in that position, I would have to just be hopeful, right? You want to keep your staff and protect your business.”
Unfortunately the bridge between hope and poor judgement is a fairly short expanse, and leads to events like last weekend’s Heard Immunity Festival featuring Sponge and Static X in Ringle, Wisconsin. (It was renamed the July Mini Fest after a band pulled out over complaints regarding the name.) Social distancing was encouraged but not enforced, masks weren’t required and health officials warned that the event had the potential to make the spread of the virus worse.
“The Hopeful Economy leads to the Open-Close Economy,” which much of the country is now beginning to experience, Geiger notes, after not taking the first wave of the virus serious enough.
That experience, Geiger explains, will impact the timing of the more consequential shift for society, going from a Germaphobe Economy (where the majority of people make decisions based on their fear) to the Claustrophobia Economy (where people are tired of being stuck inside and feel comfortable enough to attend group events).
That shift in how society views risk will be the true tipping point for when concerts can realistically return, Geiger says. How long that takes is anyone’s guess, although Geiger says realistically, it’s longer than most people want to accept.
“Let’s be real. I’m looking at the world, reading everything I can and making what I would call a ‘Marc Geiger Professional Guess,'” he says. “And the reason I’m wording it carefully is because this is all speculation.”
Still, there will be important benchmarks, he says, including the identification and distribution of a vaccine, which at best will take months to test, distribute and deploy.
Once people feel comfortable that the virus has been contained, promoters can begin the process of booking, marketing and presenting concerts. But even if there is a vaccine by early spring, it might not be enough time to book festivals and amphitheater shows for summer of 2021.
“If summer of 2021 is gone, then in some ways you’re automatically hopeful for summer of 2022. So part of what I was saying was I don’t think summer of 2021 we will be there,” Geiger says.
Geiger points towards the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which despite having been moved from 2020 to 2021 are still facing skepticism from public health experts and nervous travelers.
“The Japanese government is terrified. They had done a good job controlling the virus, but the Olympics is a multibillion dollar international event with international athletes, travel and crowds,” Geiger explains. “And they’re worried that that could send Japan backwards and really hurt the economy.”
That type of pessimism and anxiety will slow the shift, but Geiger believes pent up demand will mean a swift rebound for music.
“When things get taken away, demand builds,” Geigers continues. “Two years off without any access to live music will generate huge demand in the festival market that will last five to 10 years.”