Of the many businesses laid flat by the coronavirus pandemic, small and independent music venues are among the most greviously impacted. They were among the first to close and will be among the last to reopen, and despite the $10 billion “Save Our Stages” act currently languishing before Congress and the efforts of organizations like the National Independent Venues Association, the outlook remains daunting.
However, former WME music chief Marc Geiger, who also was a cofounder of the Lollapalooza festival, has announced a plan to invest in small clubs and build an indie touring network, although that plan would see him acquiring a 51% ownership stake in the venues in question. According to an interview in the New York Times, Geiger has amassed “war chest” to help sustain clubs throughout the pandemic and help them to reopen.
“One of my favorite things in the world is to go to a club, be treated well and see an incredible band,” Geiger, 58, said in an interview. “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.’”
His proposal for SaveLive is to invest in dozens of clubs around the country — buying at least 51% of the equity in those businesses — and help them expand into regional forces once concerts return to full strength, which he and other observers do not expect until 2022 at the soonest.
SaveLive, which he founded with fellow former WME associate John Fogelman, has secured $75 million in available capital from an initial investment round, Geiger said, and is already negotiating with a number of venues around the country.
“The hope here is to create a network effect,” said Geiger, who left his post at WME in June after 17 years with the company. “To be a long-term backer, helper, grower of these businesses, and enjoy the wins.”
Some 90% of America’s independent music venues expect to shut down within the next few months if they do not receive federal aid, according to a NIVA poll conducted in June. However, the loss of control that comes with Geiger’s proposal — especially in a field as independent as music venues — is not lost on observers, although few other options are presenting themselves at the moment.
“Geiger’s solution on some level scares me,” 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.”
Geiger insisted to the Times that his venue deals would be partnerships and that he would not seek to flip assets. His primary backer, Jordan Moelis of Deep Field Asset Management, said, “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.”
Reps for NIVA and its New York representatives did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.
While the $10 billion Save Our Stages Act is part of the larger Heroes Act, Congress and the president have been playing politics with it for weeks and it seems unlikely to pass any time soon. The Save Our Stages Festival — which featured unique performances from Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus, Phoebe Bridgers and many more and was produced by YouTube Music and NIVA — raised nearly $2 million, the situation remains dire.
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