Flashback: 2014 MIDEM Music Conference

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Since my first day at Berklee Valencia, one of the highlights for all of the Global Entertainment & Music Business program Master’s candidates was the prospect of attending the Midem conference.  The annual music conference, Midem was held in Cannes, France from February 1st-February 4th.  This conference was the first official music conference that I’ve ever attended and it was also my first time visiting France.  Overall, these two factors contributed to a valuable and enjoyable experience.

Let’s briefly recap the events:

Initially on the first day I tried to remember all of the useful tips that had been driven and embedded to all of our heads. It could have been overwhelming at first sight—but fortunately I mapped out a game plan in advance and upon my arrival tweaked a few things with the assistance of the “Midem Smartphone App.”  My own personal interests were in the following areas: artist & repertoire field, music publishing, and digital streaming platforms.  I planned to attend events that catered to those specific areas.

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The “Midem Smartphone App” was my best friend over the course of the three-day period that I was in attendance.  It sent reminders/alerts for some of the panels and events, and you could also select your favorite events to add to your own calendar within the app.  This allowed me to use my time efficiently in order to maximize my experience by visiting the different exhibitors and attending the panels that were of interest to me.  Many of the topics related to growth, sustainability and innovation since the theme for this year’s conference was “Get back to Growth? Make it Sustainable.”

“The one peculiar thing that struck a chord within me was the lack of music.  We were at a music conference that didn’t play much music at all.  During the evenings on site there were live shows here and there, but music wasn’t heard throughout the course of the day.  On one occasion there was a brief dance number performed by Brazilian dancers and a few drummers.”

One of the Midem Talks that I highly anticipated on attending featured Lyor Cohen and was moderated by Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records.  I really enjoyed the dialogue between Lyor and Tom.  Although I had been following Lyor’s career for some time, it was awesome to hear him and witness him tell it/re-live those moments firsthand.  It seemed as though two good friends were just catching up on old times.  They discussed Lyor’s journey and briefly scratched the surface of his new venture, 300.

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Another highlight was the Midem Talk with emerging UK artist, Rita Ora.  I was somewhat familiar with her as an artist and I remembered her song “R.I.P” from a few years ago and of her Roc Nation affiliation, but outside of that I didn’t know much about her.  It was enlightening to hear about VEVO’s partnership with her to develop her as an artist while promoting her on their platform. She ended up debuting at #1 on the UK charts with the assistance of this partnership.  This showcased innovative ways of how artists are partnering with brands/platforms to assist in launching their careers.

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Ultimately, I met a lot of wonderful people from across the globe and received and handed out numerous business cards.  I had a few successful meetings with different people from different companies.  It was a realistic portrayal because it wasn’t all glitz and glamour.  Two of my other scheduled meetings were no shows for different reasons (one person sustained an injury and the other forgot about it).  These experiences helped to weed out the people whom I would want to keep in touch with after the conference was over.

It was an amazing networking opportunity, and there are people who I’m already in contact with.  I didn’t enter this conference with the mindset of securing a job, but I knew that I would meet people who could potentially share the knowledge and resources that I’ve been looking for in regards to my career interests.

Nautical Themed Pashmina Afghan

My MIDEM afterthoughts may be explained if you imagine that the music industry were represented by the boats in the picture below.

MIDEM BOATS

Those 20 million Euro yachts on the right represent the ‘big dogs’ of the major labels who spent their time on panels talking about the need to go back to ‘traditional ways’ of A&R but had no answer as to why that traditional model ever stopped. ‘What’s wrong with a good old fashioned sail boat?’

To the left are the modest and sturdy sail boats standing independent to those to the right. They set the trend for the current music industry and have always done so. There are only two boats, much fewer than those to the right but the grandeur is still there.

Take Lyor Cohen’s new venture 300 for example. Here we have a boat that wouldn’t be seen dead in Cannes as it stays harbored in Monaco. Lyor is a powerhouse but is trying to invest in a new sail boat. His talk at MIDEM ended with Tom Silverman from the New Music Seminar welcoming Lyor into the Independent sector, stating “you’re going to find like it’s much more like the 80′s again.” This boat called 300 is a label that doesn’t need a welcome party, Google has that covered.

On the yachts, you can hardly move without being trodden on by $845 boat shoes. Representatives of various streaming services that marginally differ from one another converse in shouting matches, trying to get the attention of four men sat in the corner eating caviar and drinking don. Over the noise however, two words keep coming through, they are ‘digital’ and ‘streaming’.

I spent a large proportion of my MIDEM with the Sail Boat that is Sounds Australia. It was nice being around down to earth music lovers. People who are in the industry for the right reasons, who are working for a brand that holds some moral integrity and is taking the music industry to a better place. An interesting statement that The Mae Trio posed during their performance at the Aussie Barbecue showcase was “considering this is a music conference, where is all the music?!”

I didn’t go into MIDEM expecting a SXSW atmosphere. At the same time I didn’t expect the focal point of the festival to be the Superbowl. I spent the night of the Superbowl party much like all of the other people in the room, not actually paying attention. I did tune in for the halftime show and that’s when I realised that the Industry is a hybrid of the two boats above. Here we have the branding, the advertisements, the fans but also Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers who went back to basics and put on a kick ass show.

They say the happiest two days in a mans life are : the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells it.

MIDEM demonstrated what I love and hate about the current state of the industry. The music industry isn’t for sail. (pun intended)

Here’s a nice picture with Ben, the conference manager of MIDEM.

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Why invest in Culture?

The answer seems obvious: an educated and cultured society understands, respects and coexists better.  We might even say that culture is the path to a healthy, well-adjusted and happy society. If we take a closer look at music, the benefits shoot up. Not only does music stimulate the brain, isolate stress and strengthen one’s health, but it also helps to work at a full capacity, sleep better and be optimistic, working as an emotional medicine. Should these advantages not be enough to convince someone about the importance of investing in culture, lets take a look at the economic benefits.

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Based on the French notion of the Parable of the Tuileries, there are three economic principles we should know about and understand.

The first is the concept of Positive Externalities, meaning a benefit that results from an activity and that affects an otherwise uninvolved party who did not choose to incur that benefit. There are activities which basically affect others in a positive way, so the benefit to the individual or firm is less than the benefit to society. An example would be France’s cultural image and how it is perceived by the world. This causes a call-effect of investment from other parts of the world, as well as tourists who are attracted and keep consuming more. Although things in Spain are changing due to economic cutbacks, the amount of music festivals Spain has to offer can still be taken as an example of positive externality.

The second principle is the multiplier effect of culture-based investment. Investing in music obviously benefits musicians, technicians, venues, record labels and many other players in the music business. However, if we take a step further we’ll notice how other industries are also taking advantage of these investments.  Just imagine a Friday night: You take a cab to go to a concert, but first dinner at your favourite restaurant. You arrive and buy the concert ticket but before entering the venue you have a beer or two. When the concert’s over, you’re so excited you buy the band’s t-shirt and album, have the last drink at another bar and take another cab home. Next morning you wake up, run to the drugstore and buy some Ibuprofen. Music has just generated benefits for different sectors which at first, had nothing to do with the music industry.

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Last but not least, there is an inspiring and unique principle known as  Diminishing Marginal Utility. What does this actually mean? Lets start by explaining each term. Utility is what consumers obtain –value– when consuming products or services, and by marginal we understand the gain from the last unit. Marginal Utility is therefore what the consumer gains when consuming the last unit. A Diminishing Marginal Utility should now start making sense.  The first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility, more satisfaction than the second and subsequent units, with a continuing reduction for greater amounts. Consumers normally get a positive utility when they purchase and consume a good or service, although this satisfying feeling decreases each time as the consumer becomes bored of the product.

diminishing-marginal-utility

You’ll probably understand it better with a real life example. Imagine if you eat paella –or something you really like– every single day: on the first day your level of satisfaction would be really high, and so would the second and third. Now imagine how you would feel ten days later, ten days eating just paella. You would probably still like the good (paella) whereas the level of satisfaction decreased. You wouldn’t enjoy it as much, would you? Now think about a whole year eating paella… The level of satisfaction might even become negative!

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Nowadays, this theory can be applied to almost every product. Remember, almost! All forms of culture, and specially music, have the magic quality of generating the opposite effect.  The more you listen to music you like, the greater the pleasure, generating a desire to consume other types of music and leading to a never-ending cycle. We’ll be more passionate about music each time, broadening our music preferences.

Debussy’s Clair de Lune has been playing in my parents house since I can remember. Probably, the first time I heard it I didn’t pay much attention, or none at all! But after listening to it several times and seeing my mum perform it, I really started appreciating its value. Now, each time I listen to it I get goose bumps. In other words, Clair de Lune provides me with more satisfaction each time I consume it.

Maybe now we understand why the main affected by cultural cuts is, in fact, society.

Just in case you still don’t understand why investing in culture is important, take a look at this video about the Parable of the Tuileries.

Parable of the Tuileries

By the way, tell me about your song, the one which will move you more each time you listen to it!

A country every week: France

The French government has a history of being involved in protecting it’s musicians at home. In 1922, the Syndicat National de l’Edition Phonographique was established to collect royalties due to artists and to protect them from copyright infringement. Much like ASCAP and BMI work, SNEP attempts to provide musicians with what is owed to them.

Recently, the SNEP has taken a front seat in attempting to revive the supposedly dying music industry. With the artist’s views alway in mind, the SNEP has passed some laws that actually make it more difficult for others in the music business, as well as on the outskirts, to get by.

The first step towards protection of French music was the enacting of a bill in 1994 to require radio stations to air at least 40% of their music programming in French. This was prompted by a large influx of English language music, with the perception that no one would record in French anymore. Radio stations found a way around this by playing only older artists and songs that were proven hits. The SNEP revised the bill later on stating that at least 20% of the French programming had to be up and coming artists. This proves difficult in the age of globalization where artists, in order to be more universally appealing, sing mostly in English. Radio stations are attempting to appeal the bill so they can have more freedom to promote French artists who sing in English.

In 2009, SNEP introduced the HADOPI law (Haute Autorite pour la diffusion de oeuvres et la protection des droits sur internet). This law was enacted in order to reduce piracy and the use of unregistered sites to stream and download content. It required a committee to monitor the usage of unregistered sites and attempt to punish users who were accessing these sites. The first warning was a cease and desist email from the committee. If downloading continued, the committee sent a written warning by mail. If the user still ignored the warnings, the ISP was required to stop internet services to the user and the committee could sentence the user to high fines and even jail time. In early 2013 the law was repealed. It was costing the government too much to police the internet and the benefits had not yet been realized.

This was an important step forward however, because the use of unregistered sites has dropped dramatically as well as illegal downloading activity. The record labels are realizing that the money they are losing in sales is pretty much even with the rise in payment for streaming. It’s promising to see that the money is ending up back in the industry, even if it is not going to the record labels.

In an increasingly globalized world, the French are attempting to save their own culture. It’s proving a difficult task but the artists in France are appreciative. It is necessary to preserve ones culture because there is a fear that at some point, it will no longer exist. The French government is making it easy to put money back into the country and the resources and culture that exist there.

The number one song this week in France.

My Tour Manager: Another Step Towards the DIY World

My Tour Manager: Another Step Towards the DIY World

I will say, I’ve taken quite a satirical approach to the music business in my previous posts.  Contract riders, punk bands, and social media for annoying your friends: they were, and were meant to be, very casual and fun reads meant purely for reader enjoyment along with an informative touch.  Today, however, I’ll bring up something nifty but more towards the realm of serious.

Today, getting those gigs isn’t any easier than it was a few years ago.  With Livenation and AEG dominating the touring world, the common DIY punk band will scratch their head and go, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to start using the phone and calling up some venues.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the way I’ve done it and it’s the way it’s gotta be done to get your foot in the door and your name out.  After all, if every no name up and coming band could score the big gig that Lady Gaga could score, everyone would be musicians.  To quote an incredibly cheesy and overly abused rock and roll quote, it’s (always) “a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.”

However, with everything getting so digital these days, why can’t the booking process be digital?  That’s where My Tour Manager kicks in.  This is a touring site based in France, so it’s not quite released out to the English (or other) language speaking worlds.  Basically, the way this site works is that you get to choose your shoes as the tour manager/booking agent, or as the artist looking for gigs.  You register onto the site, and then, if you choose the shoes of an artist, locate concert venues and promoters to get a booking.  If you are the agent, it’s the opposite: you get to look through the selection of registered artists on the site and it’s smooth sailing from there.  This is virtually the Craigslist without the creepy sections and black and white format.  It’s a neat flashy way to get it across.  If you’ve found other sites dedicated to booking artists, you’ll find that they are not usually organized or do not give you the option of presenting yourself in a flashy and interesting way.

While this site is great, it is not truly optimal.  Again, it’s France based.  It is, on the other hand, a step in the right direction.  From here on out, it’s all digital, and we have to face that; so why not take advantage of that fact, face it, and use it to get solutions in the future?  If this is one site, why not create more flashy online booking sites?  Has no one thought of integrating social media for bands into an online entity?  This is the future of the DIY artist.  Yes, digital has wrecked the old music business model, but it has opened many doors for recognition from the bands that we’d always whine “deserved more credit.”  

Sites like this are just the beginning.  The more we progress into the future, the more the independent, DIY artist is able to expand his reach just a little more.  Does this mean that majors are truly outdated?  Not exactly.  To be honest, the worldwide promotion you get from major companies could also be combined with this digital age.  It’s really up to the band in the end.  Regardless, no band starts out signed to a major record label with global reach in this age: so online booking sites are critical.  I’m eager to an age where you can contact everyone that you need to book for a tour from your bedroom.  Could it ever be that simple?