MIDEM ’09: Day 3 – morning…

Tuesday morning, 10.15-ish:

It’s still looking dreary in Cannes this morning – but at least it’s not raining. I have at least two and a half hours before my first big appointment for today, so I’ll recap on the rest of yesterday – starting with the gigs I saw.

Best of the evening had to be Monica Giraldo’s MIDEM Talent showcase at Magic Mirrors. Monica’s from Colombia; a new act and a recent Latin Grammy winner who sings, plays guitar and can handle traditional Colombian (read “African”) drums very well indeed. She sang with a three-piece band and was absolutely fantastic. Estoy totalmente enamorado – with her music, that is… Earlier in the day, I’d met a guy from her record label and he’d given me a copy of her debut CD. I will be playing that quite a lot, I reckon…

About eight or so British acts played as part of the ‘British at MIDEM’ line-up in the Ambassadeurs and Méditerranée venues in the Palais des Festivals. In the end, Paolo Nutini didn’t make it to Cannes, but Seth Lakeman was blazing! Pity I had to leave early to catch the last train home – only to discover there were no trains going my way anyway! So since I would have to take a taxi home (and therefore it didn’t matter when I left) I headed back to the Palais to see Jamie Cullum, who was headlining the British line-up. Halfway through his “swingified” version of Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music, I began to think that my more hardcore jazz-loving friends might have a point when they say he’s a one-trick pony. I stayed for a couple more songs, then left. Prior to arriving at MIDEM, I’d been all stoked up to see the Bomb Squad. But there was no way I was going to hang around here until 3am, or whatever unearthly hour the Electronica night was scheduled to finish.

I met a few more interesting people yesterday (the cocktail parties different exhibitors put on are great for that). Hanging around the Norway stand, eating chorizos and having my first taste of Linie (how does anybody drink that stuff and stand upright afterwards?), I met Jan – a friendly Canadian who runs a record label, an online radio/TV channel, and also works as a voice coach to singers. This is his 19th MIDEM; his first one coincided with the Gulf war kicking off (“Our plane in to Nice had a military escort,” he recalls). Jan confirmed yet again that MIDEM has scaled down this year – and that it’s not just a new thing because of the world’s economy, but that it has shrunk steadily over the years. And speaking of money – or more precisely, the lack of it – the issue of who gets how much was a big talking point here yesterday.

The first thing you see as you walk in to the Palais des Festivals is the enormous Napster banner draped across the front. It’s even bigger than the “Welcome to MIDEM” signs next to it. Many of us can remember the days when the music industry regarded Napster as Public Enemy No. 1. They may have gone legit (and, let’s be honest, totally overshadowed by the monster that is iTunes), but the file-sharing that made Napster’s name is still regarded as a problem by many in the industry. But the industry has had to learn to live with it. Which brings a new problem: How does the industry make money if they’ve accepted that people want free music, and more and more platforms are opening up to provide them music for (apparently) nothing? That was the issue under discussion at the Mobile Entertainment Forum’s workshop titled Music That Feels Like It’s Free – But What Does It Actually Cost?

Eric Nicoli, a former EMI boss, summed the industry’s predicament up pretty well. “Any company that relies on music sales will be exceedingly challenged,” he said. But Tim Clark (Robbie Williams’ manager) didn’t have much sympathy for record companies. “How can the major record companies justify taking 90% of the revenue and leaving the artist with less than 10%?” he asked. Then he had a go at the guys who provide the technology that helps people get free music, pointing out that the richest man in the record industry today is Steve Jobs (of Apple/iPod/iTunes fame).
Away from the heated debate, there are some people here with a more hands-on approach to helping both artists and their supporters gain from making music. Yesterday I had a chat with the CEO of Sellaband; today there’s the launch of NoMajorMusik – a new company with similar to Sellaband and with a ‘fairtrade’ approach to what they do. More on those later… but I will just throw in my own 2p on the “free music” thing. Music can’t totally be free. It takes a lot of hard work to make good music, and the guys who put in those long hours should have some reward for their efforts. Making music costs money, too. A couple of years ago, I met the guitar maker Matt McPherson. He let me hold and play one of his creations… and then he told me how much the guitar cost, and I nearly dropped the thing in shock! A decent guitar can easily set you back a grand or two – so how can music be free?

Anyway, that was most of yesterday’s goings-on here in Cannes. Along with all that, I also met a guy representing Chile’s number 1 hip hop act, who gave me the guy’s CD and some of his merchandise – which included a handful of condoms in packets with the guy’s picture and branding on. I had a chat with a friendly Norwegian singer – then lost the note with the venue of her gig on it, so couldn’t see her sing! I’ve had breakfast courtesy of the press club; I’ll post this, then head down to the exhibit area and hand out a few more CDs before the showcases and press conferences start.



  1. vincemillett says:

    Interesting….there are big questions to be explored as to how it’s possible in the new digital post-record-label world to make money from music. As you say, it costs at least some money to make music which hahs to be acquired from somewhere. The old industry thoroughly deserves to die (IMHO) but something more equitable and sustainable needs to be devloped to replace it.

  2. Yinka says:

    There *is* a way of making money from music – we just have to find it…

    People are still buying street music from UKGShop.com – and a lot of it is Grime, a genre owned by what was thought to be the most difficult demographic to sell to – teens to twentysomethings…

    There’s a lot to be said for connecting artists with loyal fanbases that understand the need to buy the product to support the artist. I think that’s what makes UKGShop.com, a niche-within-niche platform, tick over.

    The business models definitely have to change, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to that stage where the industry shifts the kind of numbers they have in the past (in terms of actually *selling* stuuf)…

    Apparently the US’s best selling album was free, according to observations picked up on by Chris Anderson.

    Makes for interesting reading: http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2009/01/the-best-sellin.html


  3. vincemillett says:

    The commenters on that article interpret things differently from the writer – but still suggest interesting business models of combined free and not-free projects.

  4. Exactly.

    …all which support your last paragraph about something ‘more equitable and sustainable needing to be developed’ to replace the ‘traditional’ distribution model(s)…

    I think the keyword here is ‘mass distribution’.

    We’re always going to need a ‘major’ to push artists (in the widest sense of the word) to the masses/mainstream, etc – I don’t think we’ll ever get away from that.

    But the Internet and affordable digital technology have given niche players access to their own specialist markets like never before, allowing these players to create their own potentially sustainable ecosystems.

    Majors by their very nature haven’t traditionally found those options/markets attractive enough in the past. Perhaps that will change in future…

    Ultimately I don’t think major labels and niche players (again both in the widest possible sense of the word) are mutually exclusive as many people seem to think they are. They occupy different parts of the same space with ample room for overlap…

    Like I think you’re suggesting: the future is more than likely going to contain a strong combination of ‘free/not free’ business models…

    Just my 2 pence worth…

  5. vincemillett says:

    The majors have, I believe, long had a policy of deliberately creating a business environment meant to crush and marginalise the smalelr, indepenedent people, whether stylistically ‘niche’ or not. They’ve had the clout to get legislation passed that favours themselves. They’ve been able to control rules for chart entry that deliebrtaely squeeze out people who don’t work within their own narrow, accountant-spawned paradigms of marketing or presentation.

    So – I don’t think we need majors at all. Many more small, independent outfits, maybe with a plethora of business models, distribution and marketing methods and ideologies, can provide all the music the world needs. They are the dinosaurs and we are the mammals. We will kick reptile butt!

  6. You know what…?

    Why don’t you just say how you feel…? (“,)

    Don’t know enough about the the detail of the majors ringfencing the marketplace to exclusion of anyone not willing to dance to their tune, but if current developments mean a more varied music landscape: bring it on, I say!!

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