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Inside MIDEM 2010

MIDEM is held every year in Cannes, France.

Photo: Stephen Hart

Held annually at the Palais des Festivals, in Cannes, France, this year’s MIDEM music conference (January 23 to 27) was attended by some 7,000 artists, labels and music business pros from more than 80 countries.

MIDEM has its roots in music publishing and artist acquisition over the decades, although its current agenda has been expanded to provide presentation opportunities for digital music business startups and MidemNet, a lecture/panel series featuring world-class participants focusing on digital music trends and concepts. This year’s speakers included Owen Van Natta, CEO of MySpace and top executives from Spotify, YouTube, from 2, We7, Warner Bros., Sony Entertainment, etc. The topics were inevitably based around monetization in the digital era.

The American Association of Independent Music represented more than 100 indie labels.

Photo: Stephen Hart

The exhibition Hall has two major areas, mostly filled by National Pavilions, who represent labels, publishers, artists and managers from major countries or groupings of countries from around the globe. The U.S. contingent is represented by the American Association of Independent Music, with more than 100 indie labels under one umbrella. Many pavilions appeared to have partial or full support of their governments; it’s encouraging to note that many governments actually support their artists, from heavy metal bands in Finland to traditional Chinese folk players.

MIDEM hosts concert series every night at several of the prominent Cannes hotels, with music from around the world, representing most genres. Your MIDEM pass gives you entry to all concert series. There are also numerous parties held at clubs by labels, management companies, etc.

The conference is expensive, but, extremely well organized, and business and networking opportunities have been maximized.

It was my virgin voyage to MIDEM, so without context it felt large, but I understand that attendance was down 13 percent from 2009. My impressions were that some of the opportunities that once existed for small indie artists have faded. Even though the Internet age has left the impression of independent operators running the show, there was still a corporate feel. Artists wandering the aisles with their demo looking for a record deal are a rare find.

With a few mods, your Technics turntable can become a vinyl cutter.

Photo: Stephen Hart

Back to the Future—and Present

The panels were of excellent quality, although the ever-present phrase “Crisis in the Music Business” was not particularly encouraging. The panel content was a continuation of dialogs on downloading vs. subscription streaming business models and what possibilities are for monetizing either; there are some who argue that once the digital floodgate was opened, there is no possibility of monetization based on sales at all and that the future of the industry lies in corporate sponsorship or patronage. Another approach discussed was the creation of a blanket fee on ISPs that would be somehow distributed to the creators of all media. Certainly, there was no clear direction for the future.

It seems that the new “physical” music sale will be the download as opposed to streaming content that is not to be stored in the consumer’s playback device at all, but will be accessible anytime, anywhere. Mobile streaming and downloads are making huge headway in Asia; however, it appears that even six-figure usages do not necessarily add up to any substantial income for the creators or rights holders. Certainly, MIDEM is good business for many types of ancillary music usages, and publishers with large, well-known catalogs of major and legacy artists.

I found only one audio product represented at the show, that being a tabletop vinyl cutter ( that operates on a user-provided Technics turntable with a unique mechanical cutting system. The cost of the unit is approximately $4,400 but I was informed that U.S. buyers must take a single-day training course in Germany—so, add in your travel expenses.

All in all, MIDEM 2010 was a very educational conference and given the proper content and focus, you may make that connection at MIDEM.

Author Stephen Hart is a San Francisco-based engineer producer and the owner of mixroom LLC , and is the president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy.