MIDEM is one of the largest conventions devoted to the state of the music industry. Hosted annually in the southern-coastal city of Cannes, France during the final days of January, this event draws mostly European policy makers, labels, publishers, artists, start-up entrepreneurs, and other music business interests, including some students.
When it began in 1967, MIDEM served as a venue for companies of different nations to negotiate deals. It was a forum for discourse upon which music’s globalization hinged. In its infancy, industries of various nations revered MIDEM as a festival of opportunities – a place to showcase their artists and ideas to potential partners. In 1968, for instance, early MIDEM organizer, Bernard Chevry, could tell Billboard Magazine that it was a venue for music industry participants to discuss problems, exchange products, expand their business internationally, and discover the strengths and opportunities of other nations.
Global is as global does, and the business has changed. Today, artists and music intermediaries may enjoy more independence and freedom and find followers or users among the most specific niches of the Internet, diminishing perhaps the need for face-to-face encounters. Meanwhile, lumbering labels continue to look for a way to knock down walls instead of fitting through doors.
Richard Gottehrer, co-founder of Orchard, has touched on the importance of “reinvention”, a major point of interest at this year’s MIDEM conference.1 Indeed, through a litany of competitions and panels, several forward thinking individuals showcased a variety of new ways to interact with, perform, and monetize music.
In the MidemLab contest series, for instance, a collection of ventures took on one of the biggest challenges in today’s music landscape: finding a way to introduce additional value. The hype and extensive coverage of this start-up competition reinforces the increasing importance of creative thinking in the music industry. In the end, Evan Lowenstein’s “Stageit” – a service that enables artists to perform impromptu concerts online and allows fans to show their gratuity by tipping – received an award for innovation in content monetization. Additionally, Fleur Pellerin’s start-up, “Audience.fm” received a special prize for creating a new approach to artist/fan engagement.
Another key theme at this year’s MIDEM was the evolution of branding. In response to record sale troubles, many artists have opened up to brand partnership opportunities in an attempt to support their careers. The festival included numerous events geared towards observing recent advertising campaigns and offering advice on how to maximize potential. The challenge in organizing effective branding, as many panelists and contestants addressed, is the difficulty in creating a mutually beneficial, “authentic” partnership. One panel questioned the effectiveness of Taylor Swift’s affiliation with Diet Coke, while rapper Theophilius London spoke about which type of car he would love to customize and endorse.
Many companies are attempting to form more genuine affiliations with artists. The electronics company, Philips, is using its “Sound of Creation” campaign to collaborate with the Portlandia theme song creator, Washed Out. NOKIA is working with Rihanna to create mobile apps and host web-casted performances. This growing industry-wide motion towards deeper, more meaningful, branding relationships will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities for artists and companies in the future.
Context and Final Thoughts
Blogger and tech-visionary Robert Scoble succinctly summed up the state of the industry during his speech. He explained that music today has the most value for consumers when in “context.” This statement resonated across the festival, both in Scoble’s “Visionary Monday” presentation and from other panelists throughout the weekend. At its core, the context concept suggests that consumers today are responding more positively to music when it intertwines with other aspects of their lives. This idea is becoming the basis of many developing approaches towards advertising, social media, and new monetization models.
In summary: this year’s conference offered a variety of interesting perspectives on the future of music. As the music industry has given way to a surge of independence, conferences like MIDEM are now valuable not only to the major players, but also to start-ups, students, and passionate entrepreneurs willing to experiment. These are the people exchanging refreshing ideas, pushing collectively for innovation, and embracing a more optimistic vision for the business.
Still, there is a question mark about the relevancy MIDEM. A global and wired marketplace and the drop in value of recorded music sales seem to justify a more austere approach to travel budgets all round, even for publishers (for whom MIDEM was historically valuable). Moreover, conferences like SXSW, non-existent twenty years ago, are cheaper and cater to innovation and startups just as well. MIDEM is certainly a good fit for European policy makers looking, among other things, to harmonize music rights and get the pulse of the industry. But more is needed to rescue the event, which could become a regional rather than international gathering: attendance seemed to be much lower than in 2012, and the overall trend was already downwards.
By Kyle Billings
1. Brandle, Lars. “Did Midem 2013 Hit the Target?” The Music Network, Feb. 1, 2013. http://www.themusicnetwork.com/music-features/industry/2013/02/01/did-midem-2013-hit-the-target/