This is the fourth in a series of four Midem 2017 review posts.
There were plenty of music and technology industry executives at Midem this year, but they were joined by a number of artists, in recognition of the fact that musicians now have a key role to play in the key industry debates, from streaming to digital marketing.
Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus arrived in Cannes with the ambitious goal of writing a brand new song live, on the conference stage, during a half-an-hour keynote. They didn’t quite get to the finished article, but it was an entertaining – and often educational for the audience – session while they tried. And the Facebook Live video of their session reached over a million people!
Danish star Christopher also joined Midem 2017 for a keynote session hosted by Warner Music Group, outlining how it had helped him find an audience in one of the toughest markets for western artists to break: China.
He talked about how his manager first told him that his music was breaking through there. “He said ‘we have a number one on QQ Music!’ I said ‘Great! What is QQ Music?’… but then I said ‘we have to go’ and after going there and doing the TV performances, we felt it start to grow,” he said.
— MusicAlly (@MusicAlly) June 7, 2017
Christopher even showed off one of the tricks that has delighted his Chinese fans: his ability to sing one of his songs in Mandarin.
Daddy Yankee was riding high on his global number one Despacito when he spoke at Midem. We’ve covered some of his comments in our first review post, but it was fascinating to see his firmly-independent attitude.
“I am independent today. I was manufacturing by myself and distributing by myself. I was making money by myself,” he said of his rise to fame. What does a label do in this environment? “Distribution and positioning. And that’s it!”
This independence even extends to the world of music videos, as Daddy Yankee explained. “The label [generally]invests in you as an artist, but I own my own masters,” he said. “When I went to YouTube and Vevo, they were surprised I had no label. I said I wanted to do a direct deal with them. No middle men. I don’t know if there is another artist who has that.”
Elsewhere at Midem artists like Kiddy Smile, M.anifest and DJ Questionmark didn’t just perform on the Majestic Stages as part of the Midem By Night programme: they spoke on panel debates (about France, Africa and Taiwan respectively) to ensure artist views were represented in the Midem conference.Managers were also having their say at Midem. One of the keynote interviews was with Sarah Stennett, CEO of First Access Entertainment – a joint venture with investment company Access Industries, which also owns Warner Music and Deezer. Her company combines recorded music, management and publishing.
Stennett was enthusiastic about the disruption in the market. “If you look at what is happening with the emergence of grime in the UK, that scene existed outside of the more stable music business and corporate system,” she said. “Those artists, the audiences and the community – let’s call it a movement – has forced its way into the system. They have made their own space within the system.”
Stennett also talked about one of her newest acts, Lil Peep, and how he had found new audiences well beyond his home country.
“When he first wanted to go on tour, he said he wanted to go to Russia. I was like, ‘Russia? You want to start a tour in Russia?’ He said he thought he had a lot of fans in Russia. We started in Russia and he went to three cities there,” she said.
“What to me was completely mind-blowing was that this kid – who had no PR and had not released anything – could go there and find a headline audience of its own. Even he was shocked.”
— Midem (@midem) June 8, 2017
Run The Jewels‘ manager Amaechi Uzoigwe from Monotone also talked about the importance of independence and knowing your own mind as an artist, in a session alongside Zena White from label services company The Other Hand, who also works for the hip-hop duo.
“What’s important is the music, the fans, and making sure you’re compensated fairly for the work that you do… If you don’t have good content, and if you don’t have an audience that cares about it, what’s the point?” said Uzoigwe. “So for us, that relationship with the fans is sacrosanct… their fans are everything. And so long as you give your fans something of value, they’re going to repay you.”
He also warned his fellow managers not to get caught up in a herd, but to think hard about how to best pilot their artists’ careers.
“We’re in an industry where everyone just follows like sheep. ‘Someone’s doing free music? We’ve all got to do free music! Someone’s doing VR? We’ve all got to do VR!’,” he said. “People mistake tactics for strategy. There are tactics all over the place. ‘We can do this! We can do this!’ Sure you can, but what’s the strategic underpin to your gameplan?”
Pedro Winter, CEO of Ed Banger Records and Headbangers Publishing was also a prominent voice of independence at Midem 2017. Speaking on the France After French Touch panel, he talked about the need to stop shackling young artists to past terms for specific scenes – the “French Touch” house music of the late 1990s and early 2000s in this case.
“We are in 2017 now, and now it’s time for the younger artists: to let them grow up and invent and create their own thing, and write their own history about French electronic music,” said Winter. “What excites me in this industry is the fact that I believe… what makes us special and French artists special is we manage to get influenced by a lot of different genres.”
Gender diversity was one of the intentions of Midem 2017’s conference lineup, and some of its networking and conference sessions too. Midem partnered with Women in Music (WIM) to hold a networking session on the Tuesday and then a private brunch, panel and networking event on the Wednesday.
There was also a Meet the Women in Music ‘speed networking’ session on the Tuesday, with a group of senior women from the industry holding meetings with attendees.
The sync side of the music industry was present at Midem, as part of the Sync & Brands Day strand of conference sessions, sponsored by SynchAudio.
SynchAudio notably hosted a session that showcased entries by songwriters and musicians in a contest to have their work featured in one of two Sony Pictures-produced TV shows: One Day At A Time on Netflix and The Night Shift on NBC.
Tony Scudellari from Sony Pictures Entertainment and Nora Felder from Picture Music Company were present to assess the entries and explain some of their thinking when choosing songs.
“One of the challenges that we face is that the music needs to fit… We as music supervisors go back to our executive producers and directors with those pieces of music, so that they can place them on the show,” explained Scudellari. “Because of that, obviously it needs to be in the genre, in the style that we specifically ask for. So if I’m asking for music that represents a Cuban-American family, I should not be getting Portuguese music!”
“There were many similar mistakes that were happening, or people not putting the metadata,” warned Felder. “I can’t stop what I’m doing to take the time to search all over the internet to find someone! The point is you want to make it as easy as possible for us to be able to find you…”
Meanwhile, for those Midem attendees looking for tips on how to best pitch their catalogues to TV, film and advertising supervisors, a panel session titled ‘From Pitch to Placement’ provided some more wise advice. Much of the discussion focused on getting the basics right, to ensure that supervisors have as few barriers as possible to getting a track licensed quickly and without hassle.
“If you’re a musical artist, you shouldn’t just be thinking about the portion of the copyright that you control. If you have collaborators, it’s in your best interest to have their contact details, have their manager’s contact details, know who the publisher is. Because the turnaround times are really tight for everything,” said Louisa Rainbird, creative manager, television at The Music Sales Group.
Ed Bailie, director and music supervisor at Leland Music, said that the personal touch is vital when building a network of people to pitch tracks to.
“It’s all about building a network of people who are aware of your music… It’s all about relationship-building and having representatives in certain places… There are so many people working on so many different projects, and there’s such a wealth and variety of opportunities out there,” he said.
“You will have a full-time job if your role becomes building a Rolodex of trying to find all of the different ad-agency people to get in touch with, all the film music supervisors, all the TV supervisors. So if you can, I think it’s worth finding sync reps, if not labels and publishers, in certain territories that can represent your catalogue, because they already have those contacts and trusted relationships.”
John Katovsich, VP Theatrical Music Creative at Lionsgate, stressed the networking aspect for music companies and creators to make their way in this world. “To get in contact with those people, there’s not like a list out there where you go ‘Oh, here’s all the sync agents!’. It’s a very community-based, network-based part of the television / film / media-licensing placement music community,” he said.
Midem’s Legal Summit has become a well-known fount of discussion on some of the thornier challenges of the music industry’s digital ecosystem, and that reputation continues after the 2017 summit.
Its IAEL Main Seminar session focused on technology, disruption and evolution in the industry. Adam Rendle, senior associate at Taylor Wessing, outlined the big picture. “Technology might have been a dirty word. It inflicted some serious, deep wounds in the entertainment industries, particularly the music industry, starting in the late 1990s,” he said.
“Technology in the shape of portable devices, downloads, streaming services, started to stem the flow slowly from the mid-2000s, and now technology is supporting a return to growth, and generating disruptive and evolving avenues for revenue-growth. We’ve gone from technology destroying value in the industry to technology supporting value-creation.”
Kenneth J. Abdo, partner at Fox Rothschild who represents a variety of artists, raised some warning notes. “From an artist’s perspective, I don’t think it looks very good. I think it’s unclear but not very good. Especially for the emerging artists… There are so many disparities. We are in a transition vortex, and things are just unclear,” he said.
Abdo predicted that streaming will be the engine of the future music industry – “Forget about download revenues: I think that could be extinct by 2020. Vinyl is cute, but that is not going to save the music industry” – before returning to the uncertainties around the model.
“There are a certain number of problems. Subscription fees are declining instead of increasing: scale is going up but fees are declining… we have real problems worldwide in terms of equalising the costs,” he said.
“There’s a reluctance in emerging markets to pay for subscription services. The advertising-supported services are dominating, and that’s creating a problem with revenue increases. Also in a lot of countries, there are anti-competitive practices. For example in China, three major streaming services are owned and operated by China’s leading tech companies, so it’s not competitive.”
Meanwhile, another session focused on a specific area for legal issues: musicians as contestants in TV talent shows, and some of the legal headaches this creates.
“More and more, television is becoming an A&R source for our music industry,” said Bernard Resnick, founder of Bernard M. Resnick, Esq, which has reviewed “dozens” of contracts around shows like The Voice, American Idol and Dancing With The Stars.
“The biggest problem that I see in these deals for music shows is that there are a series of contracts all going on at the same time. So in order to even compete… you need to sign all of these different contracts for all of these different rights,” he said: management, merchandising, music publishing, recording and touring agreements, as well as “All Rights” agreements for ancillary income.
Problems here can include conflict of interest; a loss of control for the artist over their career; no legitimate opportunity for an attorney to review the contracts; non-negotiable business terms that may be below the industry standard; and inadequate protection for child contestants.
Tiffany Almy counsel at Reed Smith, agreed that there are plenty of pitfalls based on her experience representing contestants in these kinds of shows.
“The consensus is indeed that the agreements are one-sided. But I think the bigger issue in representing contestants is really what is the actual benefit to your client for entering into these contests?” she said. “Looking back at season one of The Voice, I really liked Dia Frampton… She was one of my favourites, and the platform gave her an opportunity to develop her solo career… but she was dropped after her first album by the label that signed her – that had those 200 pages of agreements.”
Midem’s final day saw the emphasis shift towards radio and music discovery, with some high-profile speakers explaining how they saw the world. In a session on The Magic Words of A&R, a panel talked about the art (and science) of discovering new talent.
The panel included a pushback from Mute founder and chairman Daniel Miller on the notion of ‘data-driven’ A&R for labels. “In terms of using data in decision-making, that doesn’t come into for it for us. We don’t ignore it but it’s not a major part of the decision-making process,” he said.
“Gut reaction and emotional feeling are the most important things and you take it from there. When you find a new artist, there usually is no data – it’s only 10 people at a gig… There was one act in particular I signed on the basis on two songs. No live career. They had just written two songs. They have gone on and continue to have a very successful career 15 years later.”
Vidhi Gandhi, A&R at Ninja Tune, talked about some of the development work that indie label has been doing in partnership with streaming services, to help artists reach new audiences around the world.
“We have definitely have started putting more effort into doing bespoke stuff with Apple Music [in India]around Bonobo releases as we know he can sell 4,000 tickets in India,” she said. “It is definitely something we are looking at a bit more seriously whereas probably even four years ago it was not even a thing as no one knew what was happening there. These guys are going there and playing these festivals.”
When it comes to influential radio people, Chris Price is currently one of the most prominent: as head of music at the BBC’s Radio 1 and 1Xtra. In a fascinating session, he made his case for radio’s continued importance for music discovery, even in the age of streaming.
“We’ve got around 10 million listeners to the linear listen. But we’re just as focused on getting young people to watch and share our content… We have a YouTube channel which has four million subscribers: we’re now the most-watched radio station in the world with about 100,000 hours of content being consumed on there every single day,” said Price.
“And then ‘share’. Across our various social platforms – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat – we’ve got about nine million followers. So we’re really really focused on trying to get our listeners to watch and share our content as well.”
Price said there is scope for the radio and streaming worlds to work more closely together, rather than to be seen purely as competitors.
“As a radio programmer I feel a little bit like Tonto to streaming’s Lone Ranger… Tonto and the Lone Ranger had a very very strong partnership. And I believe that radio and streaming can have a very strong partnership. They already do, but it could be stronger,” he said.
“But it’s streaming’s Lone Ranger that’s out there in the Wild West kinda getting all the glory for fighting crime, and chasing down the outlaws, while Tonto, his trusty faithful Native American friend with all of his many years of experience, is there in the background, enabling him to do what he does… Radio’s been there in the background all along, driving listeners to streaming services, and building their businesses.”
Price made his case for, in the UK at least, radio’s importance to the ubiquity of Drake’s ‘One Dance’ hit in 2016, noting that while the track’s streams peaked at just under 10m a week before totalling 142m for the year, on radio it peaked at 50m “impacts” a week, and one billion for the year. “Radio is still the difference between having a hit and not having one,” claimed Price.
Meanwhile, for artists and labels eager to understand how to get onto the traditional airwaves, there was a session of experienced radio execs to offer advice. Watch it in full on YouTube.
And that, to coin a phrase, was a wrap! Catch up on all of our Midem 2017 review posts here. And see you in Cannes next year, June 5-8!