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Confabbers dialed into Midem

Biz rings up $3.5 billion from cell phones

The line has a familiar ring: Huge in Japan, big in Europe, a growing audience in the States. Usually it’s an assessment of a hotshot guitarist or a tyro pop singer; nowadays it’s the sound of a phone ringing. Literally.

Ring tones are expected to be a major subject of conversation this year at Midem, the world’s largest music confab, which unspools in Cannes Jan. 23-29.

True, the idea of downloading songs to set an individual ring on a cell phone has only a small audience in the U.S., but it’s the hottest ancillary market in the rest of the world.

“It’s a huge concern for the European industry and for the first time, we have all the big phone companies attending,” says Midem director Dominique Leguern. “In Europe and the U.K., ring tones are making more money than singles.”

Sales of mobile phone ring tones jumped 40% in the past year to $3.5 billion, according to a study by London-based telecommunications consultant the Arc Group.

Confab boasts about 9,000 attendees from 92 nations, including labels music publishers and agents; as of Dec. 30, 302 companies had registered to have stands in the Palais.

This year will see a heavy presence from Poland and Denmark and, as usual, will emphasize musical genres that are more niche than megapopular — electronic dance, jazz and classical.

Special events include a concert celebrating the 15th anniversary of Virgin Classics; EA selecting the music for its vidgame Seaside 2005; the fifth annual technology conference, MidemNet, Jan. 24; and a keynote speech from pioneering DJ Grandmaster Flash.

“Midem always reflects the current trend,” says Midem attendee Len Fico, president of the Hollywood-based reissue label Fuel 2000 Records. “Some years it’s dance music, a couple years ago it was the Internet. I’ve received at least 20 phone calls of people looking to license music for travelogue TV shows.”

The Jan. 25 opening night party, hosted by Denmark, will be entertained by 10 Danish DJs and the trio Banzai Republic. A concert featuring Danish jazz musicians, including the Danish Radio Big Band with Etta Cameron & Toots Thielemans, will be staged Jan. 27.

For the third consecutive year, the French label Pschent will hosting the final party Jan. 28 with five DJs spinning sets, among them Stephane Pompougnac.

The evening of Jan. 27 will be dedicated to premiere female vocalists: rising fado queen Mariza from Portugal, Candid Records/Harmonia Mundi jazz singer Stacey Kent, Ivory Coast soul-funkstress Manou Gallo and singer-songwriter Ilene Barnes, who has been described as a cross between Joan Armatrading and Nina Simone.

That same night, Wojciech Rajski and John Axelrod will conduct the Polish Radio Orchestra in a program that includes “The Suite From Coppola’s ‘Dracula.’ ”

The popular Electronic Village, which began in 1998, returns again to the Palais with more than 500 labels, distributors and promoters working in dance and electronic music.

The Village boasts an improved media partners corner, listening booths and workshops. Among the attending labels will be Compost, Intergroove, Word and Sound (Germany), Coco Machete, Deep Dish Records and Sub Pop (U.S.), Ministry of Sound and React Music (U.K.) and Crammed Discs (Belgium).

Like their film and TV brethren — from NATPE to AFM to the Euro film markets — the majors take a back seat to the indies that make the confab a meet-and-greet forum.

And from publishing to recording to distribution, there’s a contingent that feels indies will make moves the majors will follow rather than vice versa, according to Evan Medow, of music publisher Windswept Pacific — a Midem regular since 1973.

Music publishing has long been the backbone of Midem, and this year will be no different.

BMI, the U.S.-based performing rights org, uses Midem to meet with music publishers from non-U.S. territories.

“It also provides a valuable opportunity for us to meet with colleagues from other copyright organizations, especially now since we are now working with many of them in the FastTrack Technical Alliance,” says BMI exec VP Del Bryant.

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