The creation of a new talent agency is normally not headline news outside the
music business. However, the three principals of the new ArtistDirect agency
include Marc Geiger, one of the founders of Lollapalooza, Don Muller, a former
head of the contemporary music division at the William Morris Agency and Bill
Elson, former head of the international music division at another heavy-hitter
So what? Well consider the star power that those three
industry powerhouses have brought to their new ArtistDirect agency, which
opened the doors in January. The new company represents Pearl Jam, Helmet, the
Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Soundgarden, Alice
In Chains, and Paul Westerberg, not to mention such cool newer acts as Atari
Teenage Riot, Spain and the Sneaker Pimps. In case you're wondering what,
exactly, a talent agency does, wonder no more. Agencies handle touring,
sponsorship deals and movie/TV work.
But ArtistDirect is no ordinary talent
agency--or so its founders say. In fact, it's more than a talent agency. The
folks there have laid out a plan that they think is a first step towards the
future, now. If all goes according to plan, what it will mean for the music fan
is greater access to artists and a more streamlined way of buying everything
from t-shirts to concert tickets...
During a recent free-wheeling interview, Geiger told ATN
that in addition to being a full-service talent agency, ArtistDirect has
started a record label called Kneeling Elephant, and owns the Ultimate Band
List (UBL). [In the spirit of full disclosure, we want you to know that ATN
displays UBL banners in a reciprocal arrangement with UBL, which displays ATN
banners and links to "Music News of the World."]
Plans call for
ArtistDirect to make use of UBL as an online record store, information source
and electronic marketing tool. "Don and I have been talking about this for
about three years," said Geiger. "Ever since the Internet hit, it opened our
eyes to two untapped, more efficient distribution systems for all music
Over time, Geiger and Muller shaped an idea for a company that
today has traditional components like a record label, but which they hope to
funnel into "an aesthetic for the future."
Geiger and Muller are no
strangers to thinking ahead. The pair unwittingly sowed the seeds for what was,
for a time, the most forward-thinking summer concert event of this decade,
Lollapalooza, with a bright idea they had last decade. Thinking that they could
increase the audience size by two to three times by bundling acts they
represented together, in the mid-'80s they began putting artists like Echo and
the Bunnymen and New Order together on package tours. Their success led to
Lollapalooza; today touring multi-artist festivals--from the all-female Lillith
Faire to the boogie-band H.O.R.D.E. Festival--dominate the summer concert
"The concept [for a new kind of agency] jelled over time and we
stole the name from factory direct, because, ultimately, it's what we want it
to become," said Geiger. He described the company as a "database
collection/marketing company that sets up distribution systems for artists to
come in and own their own cottage industry and offer products directly to their
fans without a middle-man interfering."
Geiger said he expects
ArtistDirect to set up a type of "kit house" for artists with everything built
in: manufacturing, distribution, marketing and ticketing. But unlike in the
past, the artist will own the whole mini-industry, which will allow them to
keep the majority of the money paid for their goods because it's their brand.
According to Geiger, there are currently more albums being produced than
stores can carry. Additionally, for the most part, artist t-shirts and
merchandise are only really sold at concerts.
But what if a fan could get
the CD or t-shirt right off the net? "There's a lot of power in the artist
communicating with their fans," said Geiger. "Which we saw early on with chats.
So, you send an e-mail, or a little video clip, or a postcard and the artist is
communicating with the fans, and the fans feel special.
"Once you get into
this era of one-to-one marketing, where the artist can actually communicate
with a fan base that's in a database, you can sell all of the products that
artist has at one time, instead of at three or four disparate locations.
One-stop shopping... On-line you might be able to buy tickets with valued added
bonuses. Buy four tickets, get one free, buy an album get $5 off a ticket. Or
coupons, frequent buyers club, all sorts of things other industries do all the
time that the music business has never done."
So how does Geiger think this
will really work? "Let's say there's an artist who wants to do this, Ani
DiFranco. She sends a little QuickTime clip to all her fans (and maybe a little
storybook to the snail-mail folks) of her in the studio just finishing her
record and she says 'Hi, I'm going to play you a song, click at the bottom of
the screen to buy my record and enter my store. You can get it three months
before it appears in the stores, directly from me. And if you buy it, I'll give
you $2 off tickets when I go on tour.' You offer those kinds of incentives.
It's a way for an artist to be more intimately tied to their fans."
says he also wants to use his already in place Ultimate Band List (UBL) site as
a distribution tool. "The number two distribution pipeline will be
on-line/mail-order and ultimately digital distribution," said Geiger. "That's
something we're very bullish on and for us, the UBL becomes a tool in that. It
can act as a virtual warehouse of links and information, help us get names, and
help us focus marketing ideas. If we're working an artist whose album is about
to come out, we can put them on the front page and talk about the album and
when you search for 'like' artists, you'll get a link to that new
ArtistDirect's label, Kneeling Elephant, which has not yet signed
any artists, will be distributed by RCA. "This whole thing was crystallized for
me when I got an email from one of my heroes, Nicholas Negroponte. How cool is
that? It crystallized for me how cool it would be if a Beck fan got a personal
email from Beck."
Geiger says that, for now, the agency will concentrate
on the "now" aspects--the label and the agency side--which are pertinent right
now, but that they will continue to be pushing the "later" ideas--the online
and on-site database building and direct-from-the-artist purchasing--for the