Trade fair focuses on new tech solutions to old money

As the adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention. With album sales continuing to spiral downward and digital download growth tapering, Midem, the music industry trade fair held annually in Cannes, has found new ways to revitalize itself.

“There never will be a year where we don’t have to reinvent,” says Anne de Kerckhove, Reed Midem entertainment division director. “We have to lead the industry, not follow.”

She admits the economic climate remains “very difficult … It’s a tough world out there,” but adds that she noticed a positive shift at the 2010 edition of Midem.

“You sensed a real wind of change where people said, ‘Enough crying. It’s now time to build a future,’ ” she says. “People said (to us), ‘We want you to help us make new deals, help us grow our business.’ “

To that end, Midem, which draws 3,200 companies from 78 countries, has identified a few primary areas of global growth to highlight at the Jan. 23-26 event, including mobile apps and sync licensing.

“Mobile apps are really the hot thing, and so many of them are being led by music,” de Kerckhove says. “There’s a big desire to start funding companies.” Mobile music apps account for $17.5 billion in transactions annually and growing, she says.

Because the main areas of growth for music are seen through mobile apps and the Internet, Midem merged the formerly separate MidemNet, which focused on digital development, into its main structure last year.

“It’s all about bringing technology and music together,” de Kerckhove says. “How could we possibly say there’s a separate conference for that?”

In fact, she notes that companies that identify themselves as digital make up the fastest-growing segment of attendees to Midem, although record labels still make up the largest component at 32%.

Keynoters in January will include Twenty First Artists CEO Colin Lester, as well as noted music supervisor for “Glee” and “Eat Pray Love” PJ Bloom, who will address the sync market. “The fact the world’s largest music conference recognizes my relatively small field as a driving force in art and commerce during this time of extreme industry transformation is nothing short of amazing,” he says.

The sync business isn’t as developed in Europe and Asia as it is in the U.S., says de Kerckhove. In addition to educating, Midem hopes to provide “a platform for people to make (sync) deals on the spot with ad companies, game developers and TV and music (programs).”

The conference will also focus on new business models for music delivery, including cloud computing and the growing support for subscription services.

As Midem looks to the future, it is placing a great deal of resources into developing tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and, with this in mind, has greatly expanded MidemNet Lab.

Geared toward start-ups — and even absolute beginners — the program, which features discounted pricing, is designed to offer everything from one-on-one coaching to matching innovators with financiers.

“We didn’t have the venture capitalists last year,” de Kerckhove says. “For startups, you need clients and you need money.” As such, Midem made a concentrated push to bring in venture capitalists to the 2011 event, many of whom, she says, are loosening their purse strings after a few years of belt tightening.

In accordance with the overall fiscal conservatism, Midem offers registration on a sliding scale, with several different options offered as well as different tiers of early-bird registration. For those registering before the end of November, the rate is €790. Walk-up registration is €1,190.

Midem also recently formed a partnership with Boston’s Berklee College of Music, as well as Harvard, to present a new music conference in Boston in April that will address the challenges of doing business in the digital era. “We’ve got to have the next generation of thinkers,” de Kerckhove says.

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