Back in London, I thought I’d write up some snippets from various interviews and try to put up some audio. Click on the names to hear it.
First up is Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor of Wired magazine.
Chris brought the thesis in his book to Cannes, arguing that the fragmentation caused by digital technology means the era of the blockbuster hit is over – the internet is giving the smaller niche products, programmes, songs that can’t find space on the shelf a new lease on life.
The traditional role of the music majors – to find talent, create and market the CD and distribute it to the consumer – had been overtaken by the internet. All this can now be done on the web and consumers of music are now looking for “authenticity”. That means bands and artists need to be more “organic and performance oriented”. The music companies, for their part, can help artists with marketing and promotion.
This seems to me to be a bit like Coca Cola’s business model, where Coke is a marketing company with production and distribution left to individual local bottlers.
I met Rob Wells, digital supremo of Universal Music Group International, at the Carlton Hotel for breakfast. (He says he has a fear of the Palais, the main building where Midem is held – “I haven’t gone to the Palais in the last four years, and I made the mistake of spending one hour there yesterday.”)
Rob is frustrated by all the “doom and gloom” around the music industry, pointing out that “Universal has actually had a very good year”. It’s true – many of the top artists on the charts at the moment are on the label’s roster.
But he adds that if music companies want to do business in eastern Europe, India and China, digital rights management, or DRM – the coding that prevents illegal copying and prevents consumers from running downloaded music on rival technologies and devices – is essential. Interoperability between devices, he says, is an issue for the hardware makers and the tech companies.
There was really only one question to ask Rob Glaser, chairman and chief executive of RealNetworks: when is Rhapsody, the company’s online music subscription service, coming to Europe?
A quick perusal of the service – which is only available in the US – shows a system that seems easy to use, and the concept of a stream of music which you can use like a radio is very attractive. Wells raves about it, saying “maybe the problem is that it’s too good.”
Downing two Diet Cokes in quick succession after a heavy night out, Glaser says the European market is too fragmented in terms of legal issues surrounding downloads, and many of the negotiations with collection societies has to be done country by country.
The upshot is that the timing of a European launch is unclear. Well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Never one to pull punches, Rob has strong views on interoperability and DRM. In his presentation the previous day, he called Microsoft’s Zune player a “goof”. What about Apple’s iPhone? “If Apple achieves its goal of capturing 1 per cent of the mobile phone market, I look forward to working with the other 99 per cent.”
There were several digital names which kept on cropping up during various conversations at Midem. Here are a few of them:
I didn’t meet him, but people that did kept on talking about David Pakman, chief executive of eMusic, the online retailer of indie labels. During Midem eMusic said it had passed 250,000 subscribers.
The site boasts deep relationships with its users, who are 25 or over, and offers all of its tracks in the universally compatible MP3 format at prices from 27 cents (US) or 17p in the UK.
Indie labels, mainly out of necessity, have been leading the way in digital distribution.
This is an internet radio station combined with a music recommendation service, similar to the one at Amazon. It boasts data on 65m tracks and there is a social networking aspect to it, with users having their music profile pages. It has 15m unique users a month form 244 different countries.
There is a taste-ometer which matches people with similar music tastes, and the founders claim that thanks to this, several couples have met and actually got married. Who knew that musical tastes were so important?
I met Felix Miller and Martin Stiksel, two of the founders, who told me that when they started in 2002, they were so poor that some of the coders who came to work for them had to live in tents above the office building.
This is a very pink social networking site for girls aged 10-17 based on the concept of paper dolls. (Wacky, but true.) Users create avatars – online characters that represents the user – and pay to dress them by going to the site’s online boutiques and buying for clothes.
Apparently it’s not making money yet – it must be quite difficult to make money from little girls who don’t have much spending power – but has 4.9m members and a friend says his seven-year old is addicted.
Originally founded by a 58 year-old Finnish woman – named only as Lisa, for some reason – the company is run by Mattias Miksche, who gave a presentation at Midem, (I think his own avatar was called something like Max-y-Million) and backed by venture capitalists Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital.
I had a day rushing around interviewing Rob Glaser, head of RealNetworks; Rob Wells, who looks after Universal Music International’s digital music; and Barney Wragg, digital honcho at EMI.
They’ve all got strong opinions about DRM and interoperability.I was hoping to write up a bit of this and put up some audio, but a delegate bag mix up has meant that I’ll do this on Tuesday.
There has been some interesting news, with the indies announcing a deal via Merlin, their new licensing agency, a deal to sell music on MySpace. The files are unprotected, which flies in the face of what some of the large record labels are demanding from social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube.
With Merlin represening about 30 per cent of the world’s music, the indies are now a “virtual fifth major”, according to Martin Mills, chairman of Beggars Group, whose artists include bands like The Prodigy, Lemon Jelly, Basement Jaxx, and head of Impala, Europe’s association for smaller labels.
The indie music folk tell me that Eric Nicoli has been trying to get EMI to become a member of Association of Independent Music. The association has been politely rejecting Nicoli’s claims that EMI was “Britain’s largest indie” on the grounds of market share.
Cynics may claim that if market share was the main barometer, EMI could soon become an Aim member, but Mills is sympathetic to EMI’s plight. He says that the way the company deals with its artists is much more in tune with independent record companies.
Sipping a martini at the Majestic Hotel bar, he tells me that “EMI does care about artistic integrity,” and the record label’s artists tend to like working for it, compared with its peers, which tend to be much more commercially focused and ruthless in its treatment of artists. So is EMI a molly-coddling and indulgent label or a caring and artistically credible record company?
People at Midem were wondering whether Mr Nicoli would show his face, but we bumped into him at the MCPS-PRS (the collection society) party. He was sounding a bit hoarse after a football match which I think involved Arsenal (he’s a fan).
Mr Nicoli was also at the VIP room at Midem’s official opening party, sponsored by EMI Music Publishing, where he circulated among EMI execs. Roger Faxon, the publishing arm’s new head, was present, as was JF Cecillon, who was last week appointed chairman and chief executive of EMI Music International, looking after continental Europe, Japan, Asia, Latin America and Australia/New Zealand and reporting to Mr Nicoli.
The cigar-chomping Mr Cecillon is apparently known as JF (for Jean-François), and was formerly chairman and chief executive of EMI Music Continental Europe. I guess EMI’s recent “delayering” doesn’t necessarily mean an end to corporate title inflation.
After the party, we passed Amy Winehouse who was looking sober as she strolled with her boyfriend. She will be performing tonight at a concert featuring British artists.
The chatter among the digital music types at Midem has moved on to the next conference - 3GSM, the mobile event in mid-February. Edgar Bronfman Jr, the head of Warner Music, is scheduled to be there, along with 60,000 other delegates, including my colleagues Andrew Parker, the FT’s telecoms editor, and Maija Palmer, who looks after IT.
Cannes is a funny place to be during industry conferences. This weekend, big haired matrons with their toy dogs mixed with a smattering of tourists and participants of Midem, the music industry shindig, identifiable on the main drag La Croisette thanks to their badges dangling from their necks.
Midem is a strange beast. It started out over 40 years ago as an event which provided independent music labels the opportunity to negotiate licensing and other business deals. More tech and telecom companies having increased their presence, and the issues surrounding digital music distribution and piracy have been topics discussed in various seminars and forums.
Management executives from the major labels tend not to have a big profile due to the working tradefair nature of Midem, but there was speculation about whether Eric Nicoli, chief executive of EMI, would come for the opening party on Sunday night. Midem has come right after EMI’s shock announcement of a management shake-up which saw the heads of its recorded music Alain Levy and David Munns roll.
There was a flurry of excitement about the news that Marty Bandier, the departing head of EMI Music Publishing, pulled out of a seminar on Sunday last minute. Was this because he was indeed launching a rumoured bid for EMI Music Publishing, some people speculated?
Either way, the fact that he should have agreed to do this in the first place was inappropriate, said one music industry official. Roger Faxon, Mr Bandier’s successor, is to take his place.
The forums and debates started with a bang, with the heads of US music industry association and hardware makers clashing over whether technology benefits or destroys copyright.
I didn’t make this one, but it certainly created a buzz, with Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association reportedly saying: “Cars are produced that can go very fast and can kill people. It’s not the cars that should be blamed – it is how they are used by people that should be restricted.”
Mitch Bainwol of the Recording Industry Association of America hit back: “Technology is not a licence to steal. It really needs to respect the law even if it challenges current business practices.”
Rob Glaser of RealNetworks addressed interoperability and digital rights management issues, saying that both prevented consumers’ easy access to digital music. Mr Glaser is a proponent of the ‘jukebox in the sky’ but says codes which prevent different devices from playing the same downloaded music and DRM, or codes that often prevent multi-usage of downloaded music, was hampering the digital download market.
Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, said that the traditional role of the music majors – to find talent, to create and market the CD, to distribute it to the consumer – had been overtaken by the internet. The web has democratized the function of the record label and they needed to find a new raison d’etre.
I’m hoping to post interviews with both Mr Glaser and Mr Anderson on Monday.
And remember Jacques Attali, the former head of the EBRD in the 1990s? He popped up as a speaker at Midem, claiming that he had predicted the rise of the mobile phone and music through mobile devices when he pronounced “nomadism” of consumers in 1985. Er, OK, Jacques.
Most journalists avoided the NRJ, the French equivalent to the UK’s Brit Awards. If you are lucky to be invited to the Brits, you are fed and watered, but the thought of having to sit through 4 hours of French music awards in an auditorium held little attraction to most international journalists despite performances from the likes of Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera.
Drinks on the RealNetworks yacht was one of the few parties in town and those who most of Midem headed off to Carlton Hotel bar at the end of the night to soak up the atmosphere and to do a bit of celebrity spotting.