I’m currently sitting at the Nice Côte d’Azur airport waiting for a flight back to Paris where I will change planes to head back to New York City for the evening before flying out early tomorrow morning to Winnipeg. (Yeah, it’s a little nuts, I know.) Anyway, since I just discovered that the Nice airport offers free wifi to passengers in the departure terminal (why don’t all airports?), I thought it would be a good time to attempt to conclude my reports from MIDEM 2013.
As I mentioned yesterday (link to post), the final day of MIDEM is usually something of a ghost town. Many attendees don’t even bother showing up even though there are still panel sessions and the exhibition room is technically open throughout the day. The folks who run MIDEM seem to encourage this drop-off. The fourth and last day of MIDEM is the only day that they don’t publish a newspaper for attendees. (I haven’t had a chance to read any of this year’s newspapers yet, but they’re in my carry-on luggage so maybe I can catch up with them during the flight if Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections doesn’t hold my attention—I took it with me thinking I’d read it during various travels here but thus far haven’t made it past the first page.)
When I arrived at the Palais early Tuesday morning the MIDEM Festival balloons were already deflated as a small number of people proceeded across the red carpet to experience the final hours of this extravaganza. What a difference from 24 hours ago when everything was so manic. There wasn’t even a line to check my coat today. I quickly wandered the exhibition area to see what was going on. Many folks were already in the process of packing up, although some were still attentively manning their booths hoping for one last deal.
I did manage to finally run into a representative for the Ford Sync display which I had looked at somewhat befuddledly earlier in the week (what’s with all the automobile-related displays this year?) so I struck up a conversation with him.
But then it was time to head to a panel about innovations in mobile music—a rather appropriate follow-up, actually. Mobilium Advisory Group CEO Ralph Simon, who moderated the panel, claimed that this was “the most important session of the entire MIDEM.” I wouldn’t go that far, though to be honest, I only had time to stay for about a third of the allotted session time. While I was there it was heartening to hear Francis Keeling from Universal Music Group attest that, as a result of reaching developing markets across the world through mobile platforms, “the music industry is now properly going into growth.” According to South Korean entrepreneur Abraham Jo, who is currently the CEO of MelOn in Indonesia, 32 million people in South Korea use smartphones, which is 64% of the population. That’s become a huge market for music and it has transformed South Korea from a “notorious pirate country to a role model” for innovation in mobile music platforms. The real innovation has been switching the focus from downloading services to viable streaming services since, as Keeling noted, “the problem with downloads is that mobile devices can’t support them.” (But he’s not riding the subway like me and Jerald Miller from Nu Jazz Entertainment.) Pandora’s Heidi Browning talked about how Pandora has become one of the most successful streaming platforms through “disrupting traditional radio by launching a personalized radio” service based on a music genome which taxonomizes a total of 450 musical attributes and results in listeners not being “stuck in one genre” but, rather, “connected by the essence of music.”
But at that point I had to dash downstairs where I arrived just in time for the opening of a panel discussion on the latest developments of the Global Repertoire Database (GDR) which has been an ongoing theme at MIDEM in recent years. The GRD aims to be a one-stop repository for rights information for every piece of music on the planet. It’s a tall order and they have not gotten very far past the preliminary stages, although detailed blueprints will be unveiled in a couple of weeks and a soft launch is planned for 2014. “We want to make sure we get it right,” said Jackie Alway, director of international legal and business affairs for Universal Music Publishing. According to her, the GRD will be designed using enhanced ICE technology and advanced Siznet technology. The project is being overseen by a board of directors which contains equal representation from creators, other rights holders (publishers, labels, etc.), and collecting societies. But according to Michael Battison, vice president of international business development at ASCAP, the GRD is not set up to resolve copyright disputes; “dispute resolution will remain the same as it is now.” I’ve only scratched the surface in describing the conversation during this panel, but upon my return to New York City, I hope to publish links to more information about this project which should be of concern to anyone who creates, performs or listens to music—in a word, everyone.
The very last session I attended was a talk between Gramophone’s James Jolly and Chris Butler, the COO and head of publishing for Music Sales (the owners of G. Schirmer/Associated Music Publishers). After so many talks about music and monetization over the course of the past four days, it was refreshing to hear them talk about different kinds of success—artistic as well as commercial—and long-term returns on investments, a time frame that is pretty much inconceivable in the pop music realm. Although a downside to that, as Jolly pointed out, is that less than 4% of the classical music currently being performed and recorded is by living composers which is miniscule considering the amount of new music being written right now. Butler spoke about a publisher’s personal and lifelong relationship with a roster composer, “You’re a composer from the beginning until the end.” (There are some 80 living composers on the Music Sales roster.) When I asked about self-publishing, however, Butler was somewhat skeptical. Although “there is now no barrier to entry for publishing,” he claimed, “The best classical composers tend to find their way to publishers” since it is so difficult to promote, distribute, and maintain the requisite performance materials that will get the music in as many places as it needs to be in order to really be successful. I’m sure a lot of folks here might have some alternate views about this and people should feel free to offer their comments. Although I will say that Butler was an extremely enthusiastic advocate for contemporary music and it was very refreshing to hear his views about promotion. He asserted that “sometimes we obsess with protection and income but the road to monetization starts with exposure.”
Following the conclusion of their talk, I made one last circuit around the exhibitions and finally had a chance to talk with the attendees from Malaysia and Barbados, another country visiting MIDEM for the first time. Both countries loaded me up with music to listen to, so I’ll inevitably have more to say about them in the future. There were one or two more sessions about various legal matters still on the agenda, but at that point, I was saturated with information and decided to call it a day. As I walked out of the Palais in the afternoon, I caught a snippet of one last musical performance—a singer/songwriter set herself up right outside the exit and was singing a song about an ex-boyfirend coming back one last time to take his CDs. It was somehow a fitting ending to this zany week.