How many things last for 50 years in the music business?
A music career, maybe, if you’re a bonafide rock legend like McCartney or Jagger. A record label perhaps, though only if you count ones that have been swallowed up by multinationals.
But generally, it takes a lot less than five decades to see off anything else the music industry has to offer. Music biz conferences, for example, tend to come and go like Chelsea managers or members of The Fall.
Unless you’re MIDEM. The Cannes-based shindig celebrates its 50th edition this year. That means it’s been an essential gathering place for the industry from the days of vinyl through to CDs, downloads, streaming and back to vinyl again. It has had harassed executives complaining about their Carlton Hotel drinks bills from the time when there were hardly any big record companies, through the era when there were dozens of them, back to the days when there are hardly any again.
The executives and the companies may change, but MIDEM has been ever-present. And the one thing that’s been around for almost as long as MIDEM itself, is speculation about its future. According to someone in the over-priced bars on the Croisette, MIDEM is always on the verge of closing down, moving to Barcelona or being turned into a tech conference.
This year, despite the good vibes around its Golden Anniversary, is no different. Two changes in date, before eventually deciding on June 3-6, suggested the move to summer – while undoubtedly bringing better weather – didn’t sit well with all delegates. Attendance has been in steady decline for years now and this year, as ever, conference cynics will be watching closely to see whether 2016’s expo occupies less floorspace than last year’s or whether the conference rooms are as packed to the rafters as they once were.
The man charged with dismissing such speculation in 2016 is Jérôme Delhaye. He is actually director of all Reed MIDEM’s entertainment shows, including TV/film-orientated events such as MIPCOM and MIPTV, but insists that music-focused MIDEM remains the jewel in the portfolio’s crown.
“MIDEM has a special place for us,” he insists in heavily-accented but perfectly-constructed English. “The name of the company, I would remind you, is Reed MIDEM. It has been our most successful event, our first event and the event that has brought us so much as a company, because it has always been at the forefront of innovation. And it’s a foothold in an industry that we know is critical for all the creative industries – every creative industry is using music, more now than ever. MIDEM is not only business for us, it’s a special place. There’s a lot of love for us with MIDEM.”
So, with the crucial 50th edition now just 10 days away, Music Week sat down with Delhaye to discuss the enduring appeal of MIDEM, and whether those who come to Cannes without a delegate’s pass really are worse than pirates…
How are things looking for MIDEM this year?
It’s looking pretty good. It’s our 50th anniversary, which is a very big deal for us. It’s going to be an action-packed MIDEM with a pioneers coming back – that’s people with more than 45 MIDEMs under their belt – to celebrate the 50th.
What should people look out for in particular this year?
In terms of programming, we continue to focus on the fact that MIDEM is a business event. The goal is, you go to a session and come out with something concrete you can use in your business. We have a big [theme] on copyright which is top of mind with everybody in the industry right now with the European Commission planning to change some of the laws in the autumn.
And then there’s the MIDEM Artist Accelerator; our programme that we launched last year to showcase younger artists that are already signed in their country, but that we think can use MIDEM as a springboard to become the international artists of tomorrow. Last year was the first, we learned a lot. It was a very big success, but this year will be even better with far more international artists and the artists are more senior than last year.
Flo Morrissey is part of it and she’s already quite well known, so we’re very proud to make a step-change compared to last year. We really believe that, in the coming years, we’ll look back at the MIDEM Artist Accelerator of 2016 and say, Wow, these guys were showcasing first internationally at MIDEM. Maybe I’m daydreaming there, but it’s what we’re planning to do.
So did any of last year’s Artist Accelerator acts go on to big success?
It’s a little early to tell. But what we know is their experience was fantastic. Part of the programme is, it’s not only the showcasing to professionals, it’s also the meetings. We organise sessions with key figures in the industry: managers, publishers, labels – some of the people that can help and mentor them at a key stage of their career.
The feedback on that was fantastic, they made a lot of great connections for their career. Le Galaxie’s manager said the Artist Accelerator surpassed all of his goals and it’s something he’d want to do again with another band. [Since last year’s MIDEM]they have signed a publishing deal [with Reservoir Media] and found a new promoter [Rob Hallett] so it’s been really helpful to them in their career. I hope we see more successes this year and continue to see the success of artists from last year.
How about the move to summer? Was that successful?
Yeah, definitely. Of course, it’s never easy to move an event that’s 49 years old because you don’t change easily the schedule of people who’ve been doing business in January for 49 years. That said, the majority of feedback was very positive, mainly for two reasons: Cannes in summer brings a new buzz to the event, that gives people a better spirit.
I’ve been working in the events industry for a long time but the music people are so passionate, they like to work in a good environment because it’s not only a business, it’s a passion. And then, more practically, the goal of moving to summertime was to be able to expand the working hours for everybody. Last year the feedback was tremendously positive from everybody – it gives them more time to network informally and that was missing during the winter, because if it was bad weather it was not very easy to get out.
Last year, clients were thrilled to be able to meet more people in a different environment at night, less formal but still very good for their business. The goal is to ensure that people can continue to network and use all 24 hours of the day if they wish. I’m sure they’re going to sleep for a few hours but you know music people, sometimes they can get away with less sleep than other people!
Yes, I’ve always wondered how they manage that... Meanwhile, you had to move dates a couple of times this year – was that because it’s much harder to do an event like this in the summer months?
No, it was just unfortunate. Initially, we had an issue finding great dates, so we had to announce late June, but we were always fighting to maintain the early June date. That took us a couple of months to fix and then the Songwriters Hall Of Fame had to move their event earlier so we were [conflicting] with them. We didn’t want to do that; we want to make sure that anybody
can attend the 50th anniversary, so we moved it again by a few days. We are already booking the date for next year, but we know it will be in the same period.
What have you learned from your work on other Reed MIDEM conferences that you can apply to MIDEM?
The events are very distinct, but we try and learn as much as we can from every event we run so we can replicate it when something works well. One of the things we’ve tried to do this year for MIDEM was make it more about meetings, networking, finding the right people. We’re pushing a lot of matchmaking tools so, when you register to MIDEM, our clients had the option to register with our programme which gives them recommendations for people to meet.
MIDEM was not the first show to use it but MIDEM people are the first to use that part of an event as much. More than 30% of people registered have used the programme. At other shows it’s been closer to 5-10%. That’s because, for music people, the meetings are critical. They’re always at the forefront of innovation anyway – the industry has been so much about change over the last 10-15 years that they’re always very keen and fast to adopt changes in new technology.
Do you see MIDEM as still being for the ‘traditional’ music business? Or is it more tech focused these days?
It’s both. The pillars for MIDEM are the publishing community, the labels and the technology players. All three are working together. It’s difficult to differentiate the two now [into] pure music and pure tech, the two are now combined.
What do you put MIDEM’s longevity down to?
I’m not talking about just me here, but for all the people who have worked for MIDEM or are working for it, it’s more than a business. We’ve got people who are passionate about what they’re doing here, we want to do the best event, we’ve spent a lot of time listening to our clients asking them for feedback. It’s not always fun because our clients can be fairly tough with us and I appreciate that. Every year for the last 15 years, we’ve been questioning ourselves.
How can we do better? What should we do differently? This year we’ve changed some things and next year we’ll do it again. That’s how we keep alive in this difficult environment, although I must say the industry is looking far better this year. The feedback from clients is that the health of the industry is far better. German clients are very optimistic, French clients, Germany, UK are doing great, USA too. The key markets are growing but, what you see when you look at the figures, is digital is now as big as physical.
We’ve reached the tipping point where the growth of new technology is a bigger part of the pie than the slow burn of the old world. That is very encouraging.
Will the growth in the business translate into greater attendance at MIDEM itself?
I think it will be roughly the same number [as last year]. We plan to have roughly the same attendance, we’ll see. But we expect to have more business for our clients. I know from having met with a lot of clients this year that the internationalisation of music is a key trend and everyone coming to MIDEM is coming, not only for the conferences or to network, but because they have partners to find because they want to export an artist or want to do sub-publishing deals.
I expect them to be on the offensive where, in the past, when times are tough they tend to focus on the domestic market. And rightly so, when times are difficult you really need to make sure you’re strong in your own country. But as times get better, I expect them to get out and try to grab every opportunity on the international side.
Last year, then MIDEM director Bruno Crolot told Music Week that people who come to Cannes to do business without registering for MIDEM were the same as ‘pirates’. Do you agree with that statement?
It’s a subject that bothers us, but we want to bring [those people] in. And to bring them in, we have worked with almost every trade association in all the key countries to provide an affordable rate for small labels or small publishers.
If you want to come to MIDEM and you think it’ll be too expensive because you’re a small player, reach out to us and we’ll find a way to make it affordable. In exchange for that, we have to remind all potential participants that, of course you can meet people and network informally when you’re outside the Palais, but part of the deal is you have access to the Palais, you can set up meetings, you have access to the conference programme and opening night party, the closing party, our accommodation department can give you the best rate on a hotel and so on and so on. Maybe we will not be able to convince everyone, but it’s a good value proposition.
What can you do about those that ignore your offer?
I’m not sure we can really stop them, but we’re going to offer participants who want to register more and more value and keep them in places where they can network together. This year, there will be people doing parties with us every night. It will be quite difficult to meet people from the MIDEM community if you don’t have a badge. All the major associations are supporting us. We will probably not do anything else [to try and stop people], but we will provide a better environment and services for all the people who pay for their participation. I must say that, for an industry that has suffered so much from the fact that people were not paying for music, I find it a little ironic that they are using our event without paying.
And how about the future of MIDEM? Does it have one?
People have announced [us] dead for the last 50 years, but we are still alive after 50 years so why not the next 50 years too? I will never be able to convince some people otherwise, but what we know is we are sitting on a brand, MIDEM, that has tremendous value. MIDEM is a brand that’s known by almost everybody in the industry, it’s very strong.
Our company is not in the business of throwing away this type of asset. We know for a fact that music consumption is growing, the industry is doing better, it’s not a good time to leave the party when money starts to come back. But I can’t convince people that we won’t announce MIDEM will be dead next year, or in Barcelona, in Manchester, Liverpool or wherever, or [merged] with MPITV… you name it, I’ve heard everything. But I tell you now: MIDEM will be in Cannes next year in June.