By Thomas Chardin and William Kiendl
This summer BerleeICE provided us with 3 student passes to attend MIDEM music conference in France. Internationally recognized as one of the most significant music gatherings in the world, we quickly jumped a flight from Boston to Cannes with high hopes of taking full advantage of the events 50th anniversary. MIDEM began as a trade show with the intention of fostering global distribution channels. Historically it has served as the international platform for music discovery and networking opportunities. The industry gathering, even despite major downsizing in recent years, still serves as an important medium for artist managers, music publishers, and label executives, and delegates to do business together. Furthermore, innovation and technology programming has only recently been introduced in an effort to showcase some of Europe’s most promising music startups. In between artist showcases on the Carlton Beach, here are the 3 key trends we spotted at MIDEM this year:
DATA DATA DATA
New digital interactions between music and artists are yielding incredible amounts of data. Using this raw information to make smarter decisions is fundamental work of labels, managers, agents and music marketers. The vision of data within the music industry has matured immensely and the implications increased dramatically. Companies like Next Big Sound were founded in order to know which artists would break, where, and how. So much information is available at our fingertips that it has now become widely accepted as a commodity and resource. In fact, people have learned how to harness the speed of the big data allowing real-time decisions to be made in business. Nevertheless, some A&R’s remain skeptical and warn that using data driven insights to spot talent might prevent artistic discovery diversity. Simon wheeler (Beggars Group) stated, “We’re talking about art here” reminding us there is still a demand for organic reach and talent Alibaba Music’s new platform – Alibaba Planet – is harnessing data at a new level giving fans the opportunity to support artists they like and participate in the A&R process. The music platform uses the data to promote artists and help them find who and where their fans are. Chairman Gao Xiaoson summarized the initiative at MIDEM: “It’s just a platform, sharing big data with everybody, and serving everybody.”
INTERACTIVITY IS KEY.
With Periscope or Facebook Live, it has become essential for artists to use live streaming as a means of interacting with their fans. MIDEM hosted a panel on live streaming stressing its foundation on the ability to chat and engage with the broadcasters. Fans not only want to watch their idols but also hang out with them and initiate conversation. Despite the increase in popularity of live streaming services it still seems the music industry is unfamiliar and disconnected with this now essential social engagement tool. Live streaming creates brand new experiences. There is in fact a big contrast between super edited YouTube videos the audience won’t watch beyond 3mn versus 1-3 hours broadcasts where the audience hangs out with the host. Here the audience is actually willing to pay and platforms are monetized through digital tip jars as well as advertising. The conversation at MIDEM seemed extremely optimistic emphasizing the size the market could reach – as big as YouTube – and the new source of revenues this could bring to the table. However music rights issues still make people extremely nervous when using these platforms. When someone broadcasts content they do not own how does the owner get compensated for it? Should the stream be shut down? Gregor Pryor (Reed Smith) argued despite the lack of answers to these questions the disruption is unstoppable and right owners are unable to do much about it. In addition, this live streaming revolution will be magnified as virtual reality technology evolves and enhances the experience. In fact, Marc Scarpa (Simplynew) mentioned how important the participatory element was during a VR conversation. While the legal landscape remains largely unclear, the shift towards digital fan engagement is unstoppable and evolving further everyday.
BLOCKCHAIN IS HERE TO STAY.
A panel discussion around the problematic “How can blockchain change the music industry?” shed some much-needed light on still confusing topic. The technology behind Bitcoin caused insecurities with less tech savvy industry members and vigorous talks around the blockchain have been going on for a couple years now. Nevertheless organizations have recently been able to communicate together and agree on what is necessary for larger adoption. Part of the innovators leading that trend, Imogen Heap has put tremendous energy to advocate for her artist’s perspective. She created a case study named Mycelia and is still working on developing a more elaborate ‘pilot’ to demonstrate blockchain is not that scary for artists after all. The panel stressed the importance of keeping it simple. The idea is to make the administrative experience as seamless as the consumer experience with streaming. The first part is an open source platform in the like of iMDB for music, a simple database that records who did what. The second part is smart contracts that allow ‘real-time’ and ‘truthful’ transactions between parties. To make this scenario possible the industry needs to agree on fundamental standards. What panel members didn’t maybe stress enough is the need for these standards to be open along with formats to record the information. Basically free tools available for all to record rights and collect royalties, leaving the existing parties to validate agreements and focus on the art. The opportunity to attend MIDEM during its 50 th year anniversary opened numerous professional opportunities in the international music landscape. In addition to forging new relationships with music intermediaries and artists, we also were able to connect with a team of Berklee Valencia students also attending the conference. Collectively, we shared industry insights, compared campus stories, and enjoyed all of the live shows hosted in front of the Carlton Cannes.