Monday, January 30, 2012

Midem 2012 (part 1) — Things seen and heard in Cannes

It’s the same old song: each year the music industry flies to the South of France to attend Midem, the international music market, conference and festival. It is the place to be to take the pulse of the industry. Here’s a review of a few things seen and heard in Cannes for this 46th Midem.

Getting used to the new settings 

Midem has changed. A complete re-jig of the event took place, under the aegis of new director Bruno Crolot, who replaced last year Dominique Leguern at the helm of Midem. Entrance is now through the recent extension and not through the Palais itself. The basement of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes is no longer hosting stands but is the conference hub. Stands are all in the upper level of the Riviera extension, which is an improvement because there’s access to the outside world (the Cannes harbour...), but since it’s raining it does not make much of a difference anyway. MidemNet, the new media conference does not exist any more, and has been replaced by a series of events focusing on all the different aspects of artists’ career, including brands, new media, etc. It takes a while to figure out how to navigate between the different stages but once you get the drift it works.

Kobalt’s Ahdritz is King of the Croisette

Hard to avoid the new player in town: Kobalt. The London-based rights management organisation company has re-positioned itself as a global music service company for the 21st Century, beefing up its team in the process with the addition of heavy hitters such as former Sony Music International president Richard Sanders, former SoundExchange CEO John Simson, the ex cofounder of digital music company PlayLouder Paul Hitchman, and a few others. Founder/CEO Willard Ahdritz, who graced the cover of Billboard (‘Saint or Sinner?’ was the headline) last week, is leading a revolution in music rights management and has the ambition to become a global leader in services to artists. Last year, Kobalt sent 12 people to Midem. This year, many more were in Cannes to meet their colleagues for the first time, and there was 20 of them. That’s probably that more than all the majors combined!

Scene from the Croisette 

Two publishers — one from Germany and the other from Canada — meet for the first time in front of the Palais. They are introduced by yours truly. A quick chat ensues. Very quickly they start talking about songwriters, songwriting camps, hits, artist development. Exchange info about their respective companies. Inquire about publishing partners they have in their respective countries. Share the view that sub-publishing for the sake of adding catalogues has little interest in itself aside from financial reasons. Agree that what matters is how well is the partner plugged into the local scene. And decide to have a business meeting the following day. Could not illustrate better why publishing is still a people’s business. It’s about relationships, and about finding likeminded people you want to work with.

A&R is passé!

The award for the most intriguing acronym goes to Ralph Simon who announced the end of A&R and the start of the era of I&R... Innovation and Repertoire. This new concept coined by the chairman emeritus of the Mobile Entertainment Forum is certainly intriguing. Please Ralph, can you explain what you mean by that?

Playing softball with US legislation

An American friend who is quite knowledgeable about life around Capitol Hill in Washington, DC described the recent defeat of the film (MPAA) and recording industries (RIAA) in their attempt to get the SOPA and PIPA legislations through Congress as the result of a typical 20th Century approach by these industries. The plan, he said, was to get a couple of sponsors in Congress to endorse a legislation that the industry lawyers probably have written themselves, get it through the appropriate committees, build bi-partisanship to support the bills, and get it approved by Congress. “They were playing softball, and did not expect to find people playing hardball on the other side,” said my friend, “and they lost”. Meanwhile, he added, the whole creative sector was caught in the storm and suffered from collateral damages. So in his eyes, it is going to be very difficult for the creative industry to go back before Congress with any bill of this kind that will be seen as infringing on people’s freedom. 

Commerce or chaos: Why copyright still matters online?

That was the enticing title of probably the most interesting session at Midem so far. And intriguingly, it was also the least advertised and took place in a small press conference room. It involve, among others, U2 manager Paul McGuinness and Robert Levine, the author of ‘Free Ride’. It was a fascinating dialogue about the rise of internet companies as the new masters of the world, and their relationship with the creative sector.  Some blogs have covered it quite extensively and McGuinness was once again in great form. “Google are bastards that respect copyright,” joked Levine, who added that what companies on both size want is “to maximize revenues and provide returns to their shareholders”. To which McGuiness added that ISPs, Google and other tech companies should be “more generous” because it is in their “interest that the flow of content will continue, and that won't happen unless it's paid for”. Reflecting on the recent SOPA/SIPA debacle in the US, McGuinness noted that Google “were able to turn their entire network in to a lobbying device”. “We were outnumbered,” he added. McGuinness, who also manages PJ Harvey, said that if his artists’ names were Google, the results would provide a “shopping list of illegal opportunities” by linking to sites offering illegal music. “They have done nothing meaningful to discourage that,” he quipped.  
Last but not least, McGuinness expanded on rumours that Google could be planning a worldwide database of content. “If successful, it will compete with rights societies worldwide,” he explained. “This should be the golden age of rights societies; they ought to have become dominant forces in our industry and I am sorry to say that they have missed that opportunity. Maybe that will produce at least a way in which they could give back. Nobody doubts on their capacity to gather data about consumers.”
Vintage McGuinness!

Rumours, Rumours 

A rumour on the Croisette is that EMI Music Publishing could leave CELAS, the structure set up to represent its Anglo-American catalogue for online and mobile exploitation in Europe, to solely offer its repertoire through PRS for Music. CELAS is jointly owned by the UK’s PRS for Music and Germany’s GEMA. Such a decision by EMI Group CEO Roger Faxon, as the company is about to be acquired by a consortium led by Sony/ATV, could radically shake the publishing industry and complicate the integration of EMI into Sony/ATV.  

Mitterrand introduces the CNM 

French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand (he is the nephew of the late French Socialist president Francois) paid his traditional visit to Midem. It is probably his last as national elections will take place in April and it is quite likely that, whoever wins, he will not be part of the new cabinet. This time, Mitterrand had a real project to announce: the launch of the CNM – National Centre for Music, a new organisation that will regroup under one same roof over a half-dozen existing bodies that are active (and provide funding) in the fields of live music, music production, export, video production, information centres, etc. The agreement between all the parties was signed at Midem January 27 and Mitterrand called the moment historical. All this considered, this is probably the case. It unites a whole range of activities that were previously spread between multiple players, and will be able to put back into the music eco-system some €120-150 million per year. The financing comes from various sources, from taxes to contributions from various schemes such as the home tape levy. 
For outsiders this would look like a lot of hot air, but the model it will try to emulate is that of France’s CNC, which has been instrumental over the years in financing French cinema, and helping the local film industry to be Europe’s film leader. Most people I spoke to after the event see the CNM — whose existence was decided by president Nicolas Sarkozy — as a good step forward with an organisation that will have a real capacity to help the music market in the current difficult times. For a lot of foreigners this is seen a good illustration of the Gallic special way of doing things and another example of France’s cultural exception... But it could also serve as a inspiration for other countries.

...and pins a medal on Shakira’s bustier

It is a regular fixture at Midem: each year, the Minister of Culture pins medals on the chest of international and local artists. Over the years, the likes of Peter Gabriel or Donovan were at the receiving end of these accolades. This year, it was the turn of French singer Patricia Kaas and Colombian superstar Shakira (present for the NRJ Awards). There was an awkward moment when an infatuated Mitterrand could no resist a long digression about himself that was stoically and politely listened to by Shakira (and her parents). You can be a politician and still be a fan!

Give Bieber a peeing break! 

As we were sharing a few jokes and drinks with friends in the lobby of the Carlton hotel on Saturday evening, we were suddenly pushed away by some minders with respectable muscles and radio earpieces (you know, the kind of guys you see in movies or in TV shows). As we were making way for what we knew would be one of the stars who performed at the NRJ Awards, a horde of screaming young (and not so young) people followed what appeared to be Justin Bieber as he was on his way to... the toilets. Bodyguards had to block the access to all these leeches trying to make a pic of the young singer with their mobile phones. A mob. Insane. It made me feel for the kid. He might be talentless, but at least he should be allowed to piss in peace!

(For those who were not there -- and those who were -- the complete Midem coverage can be found on the trade show's blog)

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