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August 25, 2011 


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FEATURE NEWS


Marc Geiger
Op-Ed: WME - By Bob Lefsetz
Posted: August 25, 2011
I told them they should call it "William Morris"...AND THEY FREAKED OUT!

Take everything I say below with a giant grain of salt, because I was paid. There, you've got the disclaimer up front. Hell, Geiger didn't even want me to write this, or to run it by him first if I felt the need, which you know was never going to happen. But I explained that I wanted to write about the vibe, the experience, to tell you what I felt, to give you a peek inside.

The office is in Beverly Hills. On the corner of Wilshire and Camden. And there's not enough room, so at this point some departments are across the street, like music.

And when I jetted up the elevator to the third floor I was confronted with a reception desk that had the look of officiality. It was like "Entourage" but without the attitude, without the humor. The help was friendly and I thought how receptionists are pooh-poohed, but to start here would be a privilege.

And then, over my shoulder, I caught the conference room.

I expected something different. Four walls and no windows. A bit of detritus on the floor. Something well-worn, like a schoolroom, where the tenants are temporary but the edifice remains. But this was clean and contemporary, with a skinny white table seemingly stretching to infinity surrounded by blue chairs, hell there were even bleachers, an elevated row of black seats on either side for overflow. My heart started to thump, it was clear, this is where it...happens.

Where does William Morris stand in the hierarchy?

Oh yeah, that's right, WME!

They kept testifying about Ari, about what Endeavor brought to the picture. It would be like a man insisting on taking his wife's name. They were bending over backwards to sing Endeavor's praises. The insight they got, how Endeavor was all about playing on a team.

And that's a bit different from the record business, where it's dictatorial, from the top down. The execs pay lip service to the peons, but that's what they are. There's no future at a label. But at an agency...

That's one of the questions Geiger asked me. Could agents be disintermediated?

And I spoke about the Buchwald case, how a California manager can't book gigs. And how a thin layer of superstars would be poached by Arthur Fogel. But someone needed to book the up and comers. It was now incumbent upon the agent to break bands.

Peter Grosslight protested that this is always what agents have done. And I agree. But now the spotlight is upon them. That's the question, who's going to break bands now?

The labels have abdicated their power, or operate in the tiny niche of Top Forty.

The other question is how you convince people to listen to new acts. That's a biggie. One the artists just can't understand, they think they're great, that they're entitled to success. But every great artist needs a businessman. In other words, to quote Lynda Obst, if the writer gives good meeting, he's a shitty writer. If the artist is great at business, he's a shitty artist.

But it was the vibe that impressed me most. That this is where it was happening. Sure, there were a couple of people on their BlackBerrys, but most were paying attention.

And Miami, London and Nashville were conferenced in. They were on the big screen. There were no glitches. NBC/Versus can't broadcast a bike race from Colorado, there's constant freezing, but at WME you could conference the world seamlessly.

And they're all about the world. Bringing Nashville to Europe. Opening up South America.

And it's fascinating that Geiger runs the operation. Because he's half techie. And tech is all about innovation. And this is a marked contrast with the old guard, which believes you build 'em and book 'em. Sure, you do that. But it's like a train set minus a few pieces of track. The public and the Internet have ripped apart the old system. How are you gonna connect the parts again? And what are the connectors?

Geiger could sell ice to Inuits. He's charismatic. You should have seen him lording over his troops. Some are born to lead. Not me, I'm a loner, I've got to get out of the way. He picks up the charge naturally, it was fun to watch.

Not that it was all lovey-dovey. He kept challenging his troops to ask questions. And he wanted controversy.

He asked me to speak about the perception of WME on the preparatory phone call.

And WME has become a formidable competitor to CAA. But what's with the name? It doesn't roll off the tongue right, the same way WWE is no match for WWF. And why throw away a century worth of good will. Everybody knows "William Morris", can't they just jettison "Endeavor"? Names count. Look at AT&T, the worst cell service imaginable, but since it's got the trusted name, it survives. If it was called something else, it would be in serious trouble.

And this is where the minions got angry. I still stand on my point, but the vociferousness astounded me. They believed. They'd take a bullet for Ari.

And Marc took me to see the man in charge, but Ari was unavailable. Not that I had an agenda, not that I had something to say, but it's always fascinating to meet the grand pooh-bah.

Who'd you like to meet in the record business? I was thrilled to spend time with Ahmet, Mo radiated intelligence, now you've got a bunch of rich, self-centered wankers playing for themselves. You know why recorded music is in such trouble? Because the execs are all nearing retirement and they don't give a shit what happens in the future.

But WME does. They're looking for their problems. They're investing in new areas. You got the feeling there was something happening here.

And everybody wasn't wearing a suit. And everybody wasn't radiating an air of superiority, like they do at that agency across town. But they were quite ready to play. They had their game down. It was not about killing their competitors as much as snatching the ball and running down a field of their own creation, one no one else could see.

Now Geiger failed at ArtistDirect. The idea was good, the timing was bad. So he can fail here. Then again, failure is a badge of honor in tech. You learn from your mistakes, you've been there and done that.

The barrier to entry in the agency business is nonexistent, same as in concert promotion. But both have gone through a period of consolidation. And one can argue strongly this is good in the agency field. Instead of doing one thing, they can do everything. It's harder for indies to compete. Where's the Web development team? Can you cross your act with sports and social media, never mind TV and movies? WME has all those departments.

You want to play for a leader. It's about sacrificing and giving your all to someone you believe in.

Geiger's troops believe in him. And they certainly believe in Ari. They'd take a bullet for each. There's no grumbling, just a percolation of ideas. So different from the doldrums at the labels and Live Nation.

If you were a young 'un, you'd want to sign up.

We used to want to work at the record label.

Now no one wants to do that.

Working at WME might not be a bad option.

Then again, I got paid to play.

But not paid to write this.

But I had to.

Because my adrenaline is still pumping, I can feel the vibe.

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