Tony Morris, Head of MH Media & Technology and a long term attender of Entertainment Industry events in Cannes laments the decline of MIDEM, what was once the highlight of the Music Industry’s calendar.
Since 1985, I have been regularly attending MIDEM and other Cannes conferences – including MIP and the Film Festival. For the last 4 or 5 years MIDEM has been in visible and accelerating decline. Irrespective of the fact that there would appear to have been 6,000 delegates registered in the ever-shrinking Guide, it is hard to believe that there was anything close to this number in evidence. MIDEM has failed to make enough of an attempt to meet the realities of the new music industry and has conspicuously failed to attract a new generation of entrepreneurs.
MIDEM was born in the days before email, the internet, faxes and even STD international telephone dialling. Its raison d’etre was to provide publishers an international forum within which it could review and negotiate its global sub-publishing deals. Not long after I started attending, CD arrived which led to a licensing boom that was a primary feature of MIDEM until after the turn of the Millennium. In the early days of MP3, MIDEM established MIDEMNET which ‘cashed in’ on what MIDEM perceived as a new boom. In separating the MIDEMNET activities from the main stream conference, and charging extra for it, MIDEM alienated a number of traditional delegates. The reality of that ‘boom’, which the industry was then beginning to understand, but which MIDEM has still not fully come to terms with, is that the media has taken over the message. In other words, the new boom has swept clean. Digital is the new paradigm. There is no real NEED for publishers from around the world to get together to do their deals face-to-face; licensing of sound recordings for compilations and secondary exploitation has declined alarmingly.
By the time MIDEMNET had been absorbed into the mainstream MIDEM it was too late. There are many, many competitor specialist conferences around the globe – music, digital, new media, convergence, telecoms, live – whatever. Many, if not most of these, are on a smaller scale to MIDEM and at many of which – Popkomm, SXSW – performance is as important as business. However, it is at these gatherings where the new paradigm is the paradigm and at which the new generation of entrepreneurs feels more at home and where the last vestiges of the sixties counter-culture and seventies record industry boom are seen as markers and not cornerstones.
MIDEM has become tired. The new paradigm has yet to reach its mid-teens. MIDEM is in its middle-age, with a spreading belly and achy bones.
The music industry in which those of us veterans still work, and about which we are still enthusiastic, also now includes self-promoting artists, seemingly ever-increasing numbers of venues, bigger and better concerts and festivals, social networking, merch-merch-and-more-merch, pop-up gigs and events, streaming and multi-media product launces, amazing digital quality sound recordings, TV/movie music related programming, documentaries and specialist TV channels. MIDEM does not seem to attract enough of those working in all of these areas to complement its traditional client base.
To be fair to MIDEM, one thing that it has excelled at is the breadth and quality of its conference, seminar and panel programme. During the last several MIDEMs this programme has continued to attract high calibre contributors and presenters. Sadly, however, the diminishing attendance and ever-decreasing lack of a real ‘buzz’ about the Palais has meant that some of these events have been less well-attended than they merit.
The real question is whether or not there is any longer a real need for a global industry conference, a single event where the industry meets as one, exchanges ideas, networks and does real business. I would not disagree with the majority view of the 2014 MIDEMites that those in attendance were there to do real business. Personally, I found it worthwhile. Meetings with long term clients from the US and Canada in particular focussed on current and upcoming projects. The IAEL conference was excellent and more or less justifies my coming down for at least a day or a day and a half, of not the high price of registration, hotels, meals and drinks. But these are all compensatory comments and ignore the bigger picture of decline – less people, less parties, less networking opportunities and less in the way of serendipitous encounters which, in the past, had led to the fomenting of long-term business alliances.
Though it is not within the competence of MIDEM execs to do anything about it, back in the 80s and 90s, the weather at MIDEM was usually sunny and warm during the day, if chilly at night; it didn’t rain much as it has more or less every year during the last 10 MIDEMs or so. Additionally, while the Cote d’Azur has never been cheap, the prices have become increasingly eye-watering and hard to address. With its decline, the registration fees, too, have become unrealistic – particularly if the intention is to attract a new generation of delegates.
If MIDEM is to survive it needs to change radically. It needs to be all-industry and all-age inclusive. The old guard, who still look back misty-eyed at the time when there would be 1,500 people jammed into the Martinez, should still be accommodated, but so should the new generation. More effort should be made to attract a broader constituency of the industry’s current principals – in merch, live, social networking and the like. Maybe the management of MIDEM needs to bring in fresh blood to deconstruct and repurpose the entire event. Moving it to a less inclement time of the year- and perhaps a different city – may also help.
In summary, MIDEM worked better when there were 8,000 or 10,000 folks visibly in evidence. It doesn’t work when the visible numbers are less than a third of that. Dodging continual dollops of rain to try and feel a buzz that isn’t there while paying €50 Euros for a round of three drinks (one non-alcoholic) is ‘getting to the point where it’s no fun any more’.
Martinez Bar, 11pm on Midem Sunday 2014; even 10 years ago, there would have been 1000-1500 folks crammed in.