In preparation for a return to Midem this June, I was asked to answer the question of what’s the value from an A&R perspective on attending music business conferences? Is it really possible to get a meaningful artist signing done? Why come all the way to Cannes to discover artists when all the data is on the DSPs and the internet?
To answer that I wanted to take a step back, into a prior era, when I came up in the music business. After a first job or two working at labels and in records, and settling into a small indie label venture and a day job in promo, there were 2 festivals here in the US which we magnets for me and my colleagues: CMJ in New York and SXSW in Austin. One in the fall, one in the spring. The former, paired with the New Music Seminar, the embodiment of everything the NYC scene was: dank downtown clubs, secret shows at Meatpacking District lofts or illegal bars, bar crawls until 3am. Fond memories of seeing DIY bands right out of university and the college radio and indie press fawning over new would-be-stars. Austin was always different, felt like rock and roll spring break, with bands walking the streets toting backline from bar to backyard to hotel, a strong concentration of national music press and international industry.
As important to me at that time in my life was the intersect with the real music biz: managers, publishers, major label A&Rs. Those brief meetings in the Four Seasons lobby, or outside Mercury Lounge or Under Acme were more meaningful in my early years than the day to day work at home. Some of those connections led to real and meaningful relationships. Bumping into the guy who ran Spaceland was super big then, but now it’s a lifelong relationship; he promotes shows by many of our artists in LA these days.
As I assumed a larger role, co-running/owning a label called Mom+Pop with my partner, the legendary Michael Goldstone, we make it a point to travel and be present. To paraphrase another industry legend, part of our job is to do our thing, be visible, catch shows and every so often you’ll bump into a genius. At that point, it’s up to us to recognise the value and potential of that artist and make the most of the collaboration.
Speaking for myself, it’s less about the act I may see onstage at Midem at Night this year. I’m sure there will be some great shows, and there are few better places to be than Cannes in early Summer. The value is the people. It’s the people that you bump into that help lead you to the geniuses. As we contemplate and adapt to an ecosystem with endless data points (playlists, socials, emerging global markets), it’s easy to lose perspective in the value of conversations, relationships, follow up.
As a label that frequently works with non-US artists (Flume, Courtney Barnett, Alice Merton, to name a few), Mom+Pop needs to maintain reciprocal relationships with A&R and managers in every continent. We’re often great partners to artists and teams who’ve developed in a non-US market and have a burgeoning career and in need of a high-quality US partner.
There’s also a multitude people representing complementary interests. Every publisher or live promoter I meet is a source for insight to their own markets, to musical trends and concerns in their countries.
I fondly remember a brief dinner with a manager friend from another country. I’d made a cross-Atlantic trip the prior year to interest him and his artist with working with us in the US, and it didn’t lead to a deal (at least not yet!). But there’s a mutual respect and collegial relationship, so we grabbed an hour and a big plate of shellfish on La Croisette, and split up for our respective evenings.
Two or three weeks later I got a call from that friend, saying he’d just had a meeting with an artist team who had an extremely exciting record in a couple European countries and thought we might be a great fit for their North America plans. I loved that record from first listen, and our M+P team set ourselves in motion, flying to Berlin the next week, to make the relationship and figure out if we could work together. A couple months later, in August 2017, we released Alice Merton’s debut, “No Roots” in North America, and in January 2018 Alice became the first female artist to go #1 at Alternative Radio since Lorde.
It took that chance dinner, that artists we didn’t end up signing but the friendship made in the process to lead us to Alice.
I’m looking forward to another four days in Cannes and look forward to making new relationships.
Top photo: Alice Merton