Add one more name to the list of industry figureheads who’ve sided with Taylor Swift in her battle with Spotify: Marc Geiger, William Morris Endeavor’s head of music, who called the ubiquity of free, ad-supported streaming music services “a f—ed-up, torturous thing for 15 years,” at Billboard‘s Touring Conference & Awards on Thursday (Nov. 20).
In his keynote Q&A session, Geiger blamed the music industry’s inability to recover the value of their content for perpeetuating the “freemium” debate in which Swift and others are currently embroiled. “I think it’s insane that the industry is so scared of the digital consumers that they have to give away all the content for free. … Give me a f—ing break. I think the whole thing is ridiculous.”
Of course, Geiger has long had a pro-technology stance, having founded ArtistDirect.com in 2000 and spending his recent years at WME which has invested in companies like digital-rights management firm Audiam, digital touring hub Songkick and virtual music marketplace TastemakerX. He even declared at this year’s MIDEM his vision of a $100 billion music industry by the year 2029 – a figure he audaciously doubled when prompted by one audience member’s question. “It could be $200 billion,” he said.
His solution for easing the industry’s streaming woes? Offering consumers more options besides just free and premium and operating in a tier system, in which new releases and higher-bandwidth files are taken into consideration. “The all-you-can-eat for 30 days, everything-on-the-menu thing is crazy,” he said. “The pendulum is swinging.” He then asked an audience member, “If you go to a restaurant and pay $12 for a meal, that’s only going to satisfy you for that day. You’re going to come back for more the next day. Why should music be any different?”
Streaming isn’t the only topic where Geiger held a controversial viewpoint. Take stadium tours, which had their biggest year in 20 years this summer. “I wouldn’t ever get hooked on that stadium drug,” he said. “I think that’d be a big mistake.”
More realistic live music models are festivals. “Experience should come first,” he said, touting the production companies who put on major EDM events. And this year’s boom in co-headlining tours, including Sting & Paul Simon, has provided “great value for consumers” and a “smart thing” for artists, even if they’re hardly a trend. The challenge remains, however, for booking agents to pull them off. “It’s like being Henry Kissinger and negotiating between Israel and Palestine,” he said. “You have to say to them, ‘Hey, be smart and share this bill.'”
Geiger also spoke passionately about the future of digital distribution, which he called the biggest, and relatively positive, change to the music business in recent history. He said he encourages his staff to embrace change rather than “freak out.”
“I don’t see how the old world is better,” he said. “My children get more music, more information, more videos they want to watch, more freedom with their musical education than I did. And they don’t have to drive to a record store or save up a bunch of money to buy vinyl. … I think that’s a really good thing.”
The tech lane with the most potential to impact the business is using tour-based “metadata” to add geo-targeted ticket listings to music streaming services like Spotify. The move would add a Sunday circular element to music platforms, and give the user concert info based on their location and music choices. “Most of the world will be listening to on-demand music in the next five years, it’s not a discussion,” he said. Geo-targeting ticket sales will “bring the music directly to the market,” which will mean major ticket sales growth. It will also save marketing teams money on promoting an artist in an unfamiliar area.