Confab a chance to brainstorm as biz morphs

As the music biz continues to struggle with declining CD sales and changing business paradigms — all exacerbated by the global economic downturn — veteran and emerging players will be gathering in late January at Midem in Cannes to take stock, make deals and try to figure out how to survive the coming year.

While many companies will reduce their presence, key constituents are still planning to attend. For many industryites across the board, slashed budgets and fallen business models have made the trip to Midem even more important than five or 10 years ago.

“It’s a global platform that brings artists and people from all parts of the world who are serious about doing business,” says Rob Stone, CEO and founder of New York-based Cornerstone Promotion, which specializes in the merging of brands and music. “Even if the market has changed, some folks are still ready to write checks on the spot, and you see deals happening there.”

Stone — who’s set to participate in the “Images and Brands” panel along with Converse CMO Geoff Cottrill and PepsiCo senior VP Frank Cooper III — says networking at Midem can help him expand his international client base.

But for Ralph Peer II, the CEO and chairman of leading independent publishing company Peer Music who’s been attending the mart for more than 20 years, “Midem is now more about gathering some valuable information from meetings and less about commercial opportunities.”

In the past, Midem was geared toward traditional deals like album licensing and label distribution. Now the confab has diversified its programming to broaden its appeal to smaller companies and help music businesses navigate the mire of digital initiatives, social networking platforms and sync opportunities.

“We’re seeing an industry evolve from an acquisition-based model to a multiplatform world based increasingly on access to the performance of music,” says Mitch Bainwol, chairmen and CEO of RIAA. “That comes with challenges — fair-market licensing rates are more important than ever — but also with plenty of opportunity, too.”

Stephane Gambetta, marketing manager for Midem and MidemNet, explains that monetizing access will be the central issue to be discussed at the next edition. “The emphasis is now on hybrid business models where brands, Web and mobile communities can converge to bring new revenue streams.”

The event will also feature New York Metropolitan Opera topper Peter Gelb, who pioneered a business model that has delivered “high art” to broad audiences using nontraditional means of distribution.

“What we’re doing at the Met is a reflection of the changes in the way music is being distributed,” Gelb notes. “We produce and distribute more classical content than any classical label today. We just had our third transmission of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ go live to 1,000 screens in 36 countries, and it was attended by 200,000 people.”

He adds, “That’s much more than any major classical record label could possibly achieve these days with DVD or CD releases.”

According to Dominique Leguern, director of Midem, “many companies that used to only do publishing or recording are now coming to the mart looking to learn about 360-degree strategies.”

The music mart is launching MidemNet Lab, where 15 startups will be selected by a jury of entrepreneurs including Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek, Seesmic founder and CEO Loic Le Meur and the Hype Machine creator Anthony Volodkin.

The makeup of Midem’s participants also mirrors to a lesser degree the changes in the industry. The recording, publishing and physical distribution companies now make up just 58% of all participants while other emerging sectors like digital, images and brands have significantly grown in proportion.

“We’re looking to open up to a broader, younger clientele while maintaining our traditional clientele,” Leguern explains.

That’s why MidemNet, which focuses on digital trends, will now be free for all Midem participants.

“We didn’t want smaller companies, which couldn’t afford to attend MidemNet, to feel excluded from digital discussions,” Leguern says.

The topper says she expects about 8,000 participants from 80 countries to attend next January, roughly the same as the last edition.

For both majors and indie labels, the mart is still a staple in the music industry calendar for diverse purposes.

“Midem’s listening sessions are a great platform to launch artists,” says Thierry Chassagne, head of Warner Music France. Chassagne says two of the most successful singers he’s signed in the past couple years — Gallic pop artist Sliimy and French-Israeli performer Yael Naim — got their first big break at the confab. Sliimy’s album has since been released in 22 countries, and Naim has been signed by Warner Music for worldwide distribution and has sold more than 500,000 albums outside of France, Chassagne points out. Next year, the exec will bring Scottish pop singer Alex Hepburn to the show.

The confab is launching yet another live session called the Fringe, where emerging bands perform in a popular Cannes venue in front of music execs.

Peer, on the other hand, says he’s always looking forward to the publishing summit, which this time will showcase keynote speaker David Renzer, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group.

For Bruno Lion, who heads up Peer Music France, Midem is a big time-saver.

“In three days, we get the opportunity to catch up with the publishers we represent, brainstorm with our counterparts from the U.S. and Europe and meet with small indies and potential partners from faraway places like Japan and Singapore, who don’t have offices in Paris.”

As Bainwol points out, “With the diverse new players and initiatives entering the music realm, the future is undoubtedly brimming with even more innovation.”

Stone agrees: “When you’re challenged and cash-strapped you really have to start thinking outside the box. That’s why great ideas come out of recessions.”

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