This is a the first in a series of posts live from Midem 2017, in partnership with Music Ally!
Streaming and subscriptions are the talk of the music industry in 2017, fuelling a healthy (so far) return to growth for global recorded-music revenues. Midem 2017’s ‘Streaming Day’ strand explored some of the trends around this area.
The day kicked off with a debate about how streaming services have come of age, and what needs to happen next to continue their growth and evolution.
Lyricfind CEO Darryl Ballantyne; Armonia CEO Virginie Berger; Musimap CEO Vincent Favrat; Amazon director of content acquisition Rishi Mirchandani; and Qobuz CMO Malcolm Ouzeri took part in a discussion moderated by consultant Ted Cohen.
Amazon’s Echo and its Alexa voice assistant loomed large. “In my house right now I’ve got two young daughters, and they run around our house talking to Alexa all the time, saying ‘play music’. It’s all they’re ever going to know,” said Mirchandani.
Ballantyne was blunt about the thought process behind licensing new music startups. “If we believe in what they’re doing and their model, we’re much less likely to ask for money up front, or different terms. We want to see that succeed,” he said. “If we don’t believe in it, if we don’t think it’s a sustainable model: we’ll still license it, but that’s when we’re going to want a cheque upfront. We’re either going to want a quality service or a quality cheque!
Qobuz’s Ouzeri said streaming services should do more to boost audio quality. “It’s really crazy the amount of money spent on R&D when it’s ‘we’re going to talk about voice control, we’re going to talk about artificial intelligence’. But there’s something that lacks in the foundations… the quality.”
One way music-streaming is evolving is the development of ‘hi-res audio’ services, which promise to deliver music at the quality musicians hear it in the studio when recording.
A panel debate saw some of the industry’s evangelists for the technology marshal their arguments for hi-res audio as an important part of the industry’s future.
7digital deputy CEO Pete Downton; MQA CEO Mike Jbara; Qobuz CMO Malcolm Ouzeri; Sony Music’s SVP of partner development for its global digital business Andre Stapleton; and Universal Music CTO Ty Roberts took part in the panel, sponsored by the Digital Entertainment Group, whose senior director Marc Finer moderated.
“Most of the important works are the ones that are getting the focus. It’s a big deal in our company,” said Roberts. “It’s absolutely a priority for us. We’ve been investing in this for some years now,” agreed Stapleton. But Downton warned that hi-res audio’s success must be about more than simply converting catalogue.
“The install base is pretty much there already… But it’s got to be simple for the consumer. If the consumer has to read and figure this out for themselves, you’re never going to drive mass adoption,” he said. Meanwhile, Ouzeri delivered a warning to the industry about its chances of convincing younger music fans to pay more money for hi-res streaming subscriptions.
“When you go to them and say how much they’re going to spend on hi-res music, are they going to spend 20 euros a month, when they have so much trouble spending 10 euros a month at the moment?” he said.
Major labels are enthusiastic about streaming – trade site Music Business Worldwide recently estimated that Universal, Sony and Warner made nearly $150 every second from streaming in the first quarter of 2017.
Another ‘Streaming Day’ panel investigated how independent music companies are benefiting from and responding to streaming’s growth. SoundCloud’s director of content partnerships for Europe Raoul Chatterjee; Downtown Music Publishing’s MD Roberto Neri; and Mom and Pop co-president Thaddeus Rudd were moderated by Midia Research media analyst Zach Fuller.
“You have this range of services: probably the most level playing field we’ve ever seen in the music business,” said Chatterjee, on the wider market and its potential for independents. Rudd said it’s changing the way labels and their artists approach a release, if not the creation of the music itself.
“The current conditions require artists to be ambitious and savvy in terms of spreading their music. I wouldn’t say ‘marketing’ their music necessarily, because Courtney Barnett doesn’t ‘market’ her music,” he said. “But that music is going to spread and be shared differently, and that’s an opportunity. It’s made artists that might have been bespoke and niche and cult have the potential to reach many more people.”
Rudd continued later. “We should celebrate innovation and thank all these companies: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple etc, because they’ve transformed our business,” he said. “At Mom and Pop the revenue from Apple Music in one year has become incredibly large compared to what it took Spotify to reach that point, and it’s replaced erosion on the sales store.”
The world’s largest recorded-music market was also under the spotlight on day one of Midem 2017, with a session offering tips and strategies for breaking America as an artist or music company.
The panel of experts included Michele Amar, director of the US Office, Bureau Export; John Katovsich, VP of theatrical music at Lionsgate; Andreas Katsambas, recording executive at BMG; and Andrea Da Silva, global team leader, media and entertainment at the US Department of Commerce. The moderator was Fiona Bloom.
Language was a major theme running through the session – despite increasing globalisation, American audiences still want lyrics in English and artists doing interviews in English.
“A lot of American audiences want to literally understand what they are listening to,” said Da Silva of the issues that non-English speaking acts face here. “There is definitely a demand for English-language content.”
That said, English was only deemed essential if acts want to be truly mainstream in the US and that they can have very strong niche careers singing in their native tongues.
Streaming services were cited as changing the rules of engagement for international acts now. “It has gotten easier with streaming services,” said Katsambas. “I spend a lot of time on Spotify listening to New Music Friday playlists […] Social media is also very compelling now. You can go on YouTube and discover new acts. Finding artists is not very difficult now. It’s what you do with the afterwards that is the challenge.”
Then, just after lunch, a treat was in store for Midem delegates as Wyclef Jean, ambassador for new talent programme the Midem Artist Accelerator, shared advice for young artists, and tunes including this extract from his forthcoming new album, Carnival III:
When asked by an audience member why he was at Midem, Jean simply answered “I’m here to help out young artists, the same way Quincy Jones helped me.”
More from Wyclef very soon – notably when he plays a full set on the Majestic Beach tomorrow night – and more from Midem conferences tomorrow!