Can Music Venues Stay Independent If This Guy Buys Them All?

The new SaveLive venture from former WME exec Marc Geiger should have you worried about the future of live music.
JT
Chicago, United States
October 29, 2020, 5:21pm
SaveLive Marc Geiger Venture
Screencap of the website for Marc Geiger's new venture SaveLive.com 

The U.S. government has failed to save independent venues from certain death. The National Independent Venue Association had a survey that said 90% of independent venues, which have all been forced to close because of the pandemic, will have to close permanently without federal assistance by the end of the year. Each day, that’s becoming closer to reality as more and more venues nationwide shutter. But fear not: former William Morris Endeavor Chief of Music and Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger is here to save the day with $75 million in venture capital. 

According to an illuminating New York Times profile, Geiger and his investors plan to bail out venues with this investment money. “One of my favorite things in the world is to go to a club, be treated well and see an incredible band,” he said in an interview with the Times. “So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to raise a bunch of money and I’m going to backstop all these clubs. I’m going to be a bailout solution for them, and I’m going to call the company SaveLive.’” While we're not going to focus on Geiger, an esteemed power player in the music business and agent for artists like David Byrne, the Flaming Lips, Nine Inch Nails, and Lady Gaga, saying that he likes being "treated well" before seeing an "incredible band," what's truly concerning is that instead of just giving these venues money, SaveLive plans on "buying at least 51 percent of the equity in those businesses." That means that Geiger would have a controlling stake in any independent venue that agrees to his offer. 

While Geiger has said his intentions are to "be a long-term backer, helper, grower of these businesses, and enjoy the wins,” some are concerned about the implications of one guy with a sizable war chest taking over independent venues en masse. "Geiger’s solution on some level scares me,” National Independent Talent Organization co-founder and High Road Touring founder 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.” Independent venues need to be saved but if they are bailed out by Geiger and SaveLive, will they be the same institutions we remember before the pandemic? 

For his part, Geiger and his partners claim that despite having a controlling share of these independent venues wouldn't result in SaveLive flipping and selling these businesses to the highest bidder. SaveLive co-founder Jason Moelis, who runs Deep Field Asset Management and is the son of a wealthy investor, told the Times, “We don’t see this as a distressed-asset play. We see this as a business-building play, a play to be a long-term partner and to be around for a long time.” Looking at other industries like media, private equity infusions resulted in the death or diminishment of once-esteemed publications like the Denver Post, LA Weekly, Deadspin, and many more. While it sounds nice to give Geiger and SaveLive the benefit of the doubt, they have given so few specifics it's hard to trust them. "[SaveLive] being the only game in town where you’re forced to take the deal and you’re gonna lose your independence is sensationalism," Geiger said in a Rolling Stone interview. "That was never the intent. But I’m hyper-conscious of the perception because of what financial engineering has done in the past.”

No matter how you slice it, this is disaster capitalism, a concept  Noami Klein, author of 2007's The Shock Doctrine explained to VICE in March: "It describes the way private industries spring up to directly profit from large-scale crises," she said. Independent venues and live music as an industry has never been more vulnerable as it faces an extinction-level threat thanks to the pandemic. Now SaveLive plans to profit from that calamity. Just take Geiger's claims that SaveLive will be "profitable in 4 years" and that he plans to "enjoy the wins" when live music returns. There's little doubt that Geiger genuinely loves music: his all-star longtime roster as an agent proves he's doing something right. But no matter who is behind something like SaveLive, giving that many controlling stakes in independent venues to one entity should give any fan of independent music pause. 

If Geiger and SaveLive's intentions are pure then why demand a majority share in these venues? The greed inherent in asking for at least 51% equity in these businesses should raise red flags for anyone concerned about the plight of independent venues. These places thrive on their scrappy and disparate small business owners who have so far held out from selling to LiveNation, AEG, and others through their years of operating. Their fiercely independent spirit makes the surprisingly collaborative mobilization of NIVA so inspiring. Geiger's venture so far is pennies compared to the $10 billion price tag of the NIVA-endorsed Save Our Stages Act, which is currently languishing in Congress despite 200 co-sponsors but if passed would provide loans to all independent venues to cover costs until it's safe to reopen.

There's no way one venture could single-handedly solve the crisis facing the industry right now. Without federal intervention, venues will continue to close and cultural institutions will further slip through the cracks. But given the lack of alternatives, solutions like Geiger's might be one of the last appealing alternatives to struggling business owners. It's hard not to see this as a power grab: won't the folks who invested $75 million want to have a say in how these independent venues are run, how they look, and who they book? In such a dire time for live music no one can fault someone willing to sell but we're risking a lot if SaveLive is anointed the savior of the industry.

Marc Geiger did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE.