Birth Of A Talent Agency

Rage are just one of the major acts now handled by ArtistDirect.

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

agency, ICM.

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

products."

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

season.

"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."

Geiger

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

album."

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

future.



VMAs 2017