Music market focuses on distribution issues

CANNES — The 33rd annual Midem music market kicked off on a Scandi note Saturday night with “Cool Sweden,” a showcase for young talent from a small country producing a disproportionate share of the world’s teen-friendly pop.

The main concert at the Palm Beach event was headlined by Swedish success story the Cardigans and supported by four female artists — Robyn, Meja, Emilia and Jennifer Brown, all currently making waves and hoping to follow in the steps of Ace of Base, Roxette and old-timers Abba.

In fact, Midem 1999 is very much the domain of women, with Cher — who performed her megahit “Believe” for the Dance d’Or TV show at the Palais Sunday night — the biggest star present, and Frances Preston, prexy and chief exec of American performing rights org BMI, receiving Midem’s person of the year award.

Cher is also likely to be joining Michael Bolton for a duet at a dinner in Preston’s honor Tuesday evening, replacing Donna Summer, who had to drop out.

Online distrib a key issue

The key issue at Midem this year is online distribution — via both mail-order Internet sales and downloading — by far the most significant challenge facing the music industry today, but one that can make even interested parties nod off into their soup.

Conference after conference is skedded to address online issues over the next three days. The record industry, amid the rapid growth of illegal mpeg3 music file downloads from the Internet and consumer mpeg3 players like the Rio, is trying to establish a secure means for online sales in time for Christmas.

The biz’s forum on online issues, SDMI, is due to convene sometime in February to address the various options for encrypting and “watermarking” product and then set a compatible standard. Not surprisingly, a number of companies at Midem — such as California-based Liquid Audio and the U.K.’s MediaTag — are each presenting themselves as the first to have truly cracked the problem.

Though Midem’s startup weekend is usually slow, Philips and Sony used Sunday afternoon to push Super Audio CD, the new superior sound-quality CD format. No software was named, but the first releases will hit the stands in Japan this spring and elsewhere in the fall.

Both Philips and Sony sell technology — CD rippers and minidisk players, respectively, each of which can copy CDs digitally — that some in the music industry find problematic. A Philips exec admitted that since the conglom sold off Polygram to Seagram, it is not as worried about home duplication.

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