MIDEM ’09: Day 4 – final thoughts…

Wednesday, Nice Cote d’Azur airport terminal; just past 7pm:

Well, that’s it for my second MIDEM. A very intense, very interesting four days. Before I go into summing up my last bits of business, a recap of yesterday – which was, for the most part, a fun day. Busy, but fun.

On the concert front, my two highlights of the day were Ndidi Onukwulu and Duke Special. Ndidi played at Magic Mirrors in the afternoon; a lovely, slightly quirky, very uplifting set. If I were going to do the lazy comparison thing, I’d call her a Corinne Bailey Rae with a little country music and Negro spiritual thrown in. At the press conference after her gig, Ndidi admitted that her musical influences were primarily North American, having been born and raised in British Columbia. But then when she and I had a little chat afterwards, she explained how a little Nigerian-ness does work its way into her music… but I’m saving that for when I write a proper interview piece on her.

Duke Special played the Méditeranée in the early evening, as part of the ‘New Music from Northern Ireland’ programme. Before I go on, am I allowed to make fun of the Irish? It’s just that I overheard this really funny conversation between a few Irish blokes on my way to see Duke Special. Here’s what happened: I’m walking towards the venue when the guy walking behind me sees two friends of his coming out of the venue and heading towards us. So he says to them, “Hasn’t it started yet?”
They reply, “It has. We’ve just popped out for a fag.”
He replies, “But there’s a smoking area up there! You didn’t need to come down all this way just to smoke.”
To which they reply: “Yeah, we know. But we wanted some fresh air!”

Maybe it’s just me. But wanting to smoke and have fresh air at the same time just sounds like a very “Irish” thing to say (look – I know I’m in trouble already, so I might as well just say what I thought and wait bravely for the ‘Paddy-slap’ I’m going to get for this).

Where was I? Yeah, Duke Special gig. Only half an hour long, but fantastic – that combination of mad theatrics and heartfelt, touching songs that shouldn’t work together but do. It ended with just enough time for me to go back to the exhibition area and do a quick set of voxpops amongst the American delegates (and hangers-on) who had congregated around the A2IM (American Association of Independent Music) stand for their Obama inauguration party.

That was yesterday. The only real bit of work I did today was attend the Press Breakfast with Dominique Leguern, the Director of MIDEM. Dominique’s overview of the event confirmed a lot of what people had suspected… and displayed a rather interesting take on the industry’s challenges.

First, the figures. A total of 8,000 people from 23 different countries attended MIDEM this year. That’s 1,000 less than last year’s attendance was. There were 250 exhibitors and 300 artists performing at various showcases. When asked what she felt the reasons for the declining attendance were, Dominique gave a quote from Chuck D of Public Enemy: “This is not a music industry crisis; it’s a CD crisis.”

According to her, the biggest fall in attendance was amongst people who deal in more ‘physical’ forms of music production – CD manufacturers, for example. In fact, of all the industry heads who spoke throughout the conference, Dominique came the closest to saying that the CD was on its way out. “The industry has turned a page,” she said. “Here in France, physical music sales have dropped by 60% over the last six years. What’s happening here at MIDEM is just mirroring that.”

Other reasons for the fall in attendance were companies sending fewer staff members, and record companies with no new releases simply opting to stay at home until they had something to sell. And while attendance might be down amongst those selling music the old-school way, those involved in digital distribution were going from strength to strength. Dominique had glowing words for the new acts showcased via MIDEM Talent – especially Charlie Winston. I met Charlie yesterday, and can confirm that he’s a cool bloke – and I have an exclusive CD of his!

Yes, it’s definitely been worth my while coming out here. Numbers may be falling, but MIDEM is still an overwhelming event in terms of its size and scope. And according to Harvey Goldsmith, the falling numbers aren’t necessarily bad news. “I don’t worry if there are 8,000 or 8,000,000 people at MIDEM,” he said. “It’s the quality of the attendance that interests me.”

I can kind of see Harvey’s point. I’m certainly taking less unwanted rubbish home with me this time round than I did the last time I was here! And it would also explain why I didn’t see any of the thing that bothered me the most about my last MIDEM: the Bio In The Bog.

Last time I was at MIDEM, I noticed that whenever I visited the Gents’ loo, I was always finding someone’s bio or demo that had just been discarded there. Some even had hand-written covering letters addressed to specific people! I spend a fair bit of my time telling would-be artists to put real effort into the bios and demo material they pass on to people. And to see someone go through all that hard work, then pay the ridiculous amount it costs to come to an event like this, give their hard work to someone, only for that person to dump it in the loo (no pun intended)… it just seemed wrong. Still, when I ran out of cassettes to record press conferences and interviews on, I knew where I could find some spares! So that’s been one big change between my last MIDEM experience and this one. Also, at my last MIDEM (1995, if I haven’t already said when it was), Jonathan King was one of the guest speakers, and he really seemed to enjoy his role as the major labels’ Rottweiler. There’s no chance of that happening again…

Of course, now that I’m sitting here typing this, I’m wishing I’d interviewed the bloke who came up to me in the Press Club this afternoon as I was trying to stick my MIDEM photos onto Facebook, and introduced himself as a representative of the Pan-African Film Festival taking place in Cannes in April. Still, I’ve got his email address.

Home, here I come…

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