Three years ago, when Bruno Crolot took the reins of Midem, the international music business conference that takes place every winter in Cannes, he inherited a raft of challenges. The confab — for decades a must-attend summit — had witnessed a slump in both attendance and relevance, with the increasingly important tentacles of the ever-splintering music biz going underrepresented.
As he gears up for this year’s installment, which runs Feb. 1-4 and features keynotes from the likes of former Warner Music Group prexy Lyor Cohen and WME music topper Marc Geiger, Crolot says he would give himself and his team a passing grade for their efforts so far, even if work remains to be done.
“My mandate when I joined was to reinvent Midem and make it much more relevant to what the business as a whole was becoming, and had already become,” Crolot says. “Midem was for more than 40 years a very core-business oriented event, especially important for labels, publishers, collecting societies. These companies are obviously still the heart of the show, but the business is now different, we have so many different players, tech companies, brands and agencies, and also the artists who are more and more the artist-entrepreneurs.”
Crolot says these traditional elements still make up between 65% and 70% of attendance, but the remainder is made up of new business, particularly tech companies and brands. “And that was close to zero maybe five years ago.”
A huge step in modernizing Midem came with the dissolution of the confab’s dedicated tech summit, MidemNet, which has been folded into the general program. (Crolot says that between 15% and 17% of this year’s attendees will come from the tech world.) Another of Crolot’s mandates has concerned beefing up Midem’s international attendance, and this year will see more than 75 territories involved, including several newcomers — Chile, Cuba, Cyprus, Armenia — which had previously been absent.
“Our five big countries are still the U.S., France, the U.K., Germany and Japan, and Japan has been more and more of a presence, we’ve seen a 50% increase of Japanese attendees these year,” Crolot says. “All of these countries together represent 50% to 55% of our attendance. The rest of the world is the other half of the show. We want to continue to develop that, we want more and more. Because music is much more global, consumers and listeners are much more open to listening to music coming from the other side of the world. Korean artists can break in the U.S. and Sweden and Brazil. If you can reach the listener, their tastes are much more open.”
Another key area of growth Crolot pinpoints involves licensing and sync, for which the confab is bowing its inaugural Global Sync & Brands Summit. It collects 10 music supervisors from the likes of Fox, Nike, Xbox and EA, and allows attendees to pitch music for sync opportunities. Crolot has also been key to expanding the Midem brand outside France, last year hosting panels and mini-conferences in the U.S., Spain, Germany and Dubai.
Yet despite the strides into newer branches of the business, worries remain regarding the sheer attendance numbers. Attracting 10,000 attendees as recently as 2006, Midem’s 2013 edition saw 6,400, down from 2012’s tally of 6,900.
The continuing malaise in the biz, coupled with economic instability gripping Europe in particular, has made it unrealistic to expect attendance growth.
“When we started planning for (2014), we decided to plan for roughly the same number as the last one, which would be nice after many years of decreases. We won’t have big growth, that’s for sure, but I hope we reach this even number or close to that. That’s still the plan. And there may be fewer people, but hopefully the people who come are the right ones.”
Of course, making sure the people who come are the right ones means making sure financial squeezes don’t keep out the smaller indie labels, which for decades provided the confab with its lifeblood. Crolot concedes the cost of schlepping to Cannes can be too high for penny-pinching labels to pony up for every year, but stresses the importance of providing a bit of a lift. Midem cut ticket prices by 30% in 2012. Crolot says they’ve set up some reduced price points for startups and labels less than 3 years old, with a staff of five or fewer people.
“The smallest companies are really the heart and the blood of this market, and the ones that need it the most,” he says. “Major labels are important to have here, but if UMG wants to launch a new artist internationally, they can rely on subsidiaries all over the world. For an indie owner, he needs to find distributors, and that’s difficult to do from home. It’s true that it’s expensive, and that some of the smaller labels may need to skip a year or come out with fewer people. There’s that uncertainty they have to deal with, true.”
These indies are important to have, Crolot reasons, because even if the days of labels and distribs hashing out deals with pen and paper on the confab floor may have gone the way of the cassette, orchestrating face-to-face meetings among far-flung businesspeople remains invaluable.
“Back in the day it was really like, ‘I have my stand, I have my CDs and LPs, I have my catalog, and you my customer, can just check the boxes — 10 of this title, 20 of that title ….’ It was a lot like a supermarket. Now it’s much more about licensing deals and partnerships. Deals are still done at Midem. Maybe not right on the floor of the Palais, but in the coming weeks or months. But two years ago, the CEO of Next Big Sound put it to me best when he said, ‘at one point you just have to meet people.’ You have to develop the confidence and trust that comes from knowing people. You have all next year to develop and sign the deal over email, but the start is made at Midem.”
When: Feb. 1-4
Where: Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France