MIDEM Festival Wraps Up in France

Selah Sue Performing at MIDEM Festival - H 2012
Eric Megret

Selah Sue Performing at MIDEM Festival - H 2012

The inaugural edition of a new live music component within the long-running music industry conference MIDEM debuted with a promising start the past few days, thanks to artists such as Selah Sue and The Ting Tings.

The 2012 edition of Europe’s most venerable annual music industry conference, MIDEM, may well be remembered for two things: the unusual lack of sun (it rained nearly the entire duration of the event) and the launch of the conference’s new live music component, MIDEM festival.

“2012 is the year of change,” said MIDEM’s executive director Bruno Crolot Tuesday as the "SXSW of Europe" wrapped. What kind of change, exactly, remains to be seen for the long-running gathering of the music industry’s top business executives and the myriad music labels, publishers, mobile/tech platform developers and lobbying groups from countries all over the world who attended the trade show once again, despite the high costs of doing business in Cannes, France, where MIDEM has been taking place since the 1960’s (for all coverage of the numerous music/tech developments announced at MIDEM this year, see Billboard’s MIDEM coverage).

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Perhaps the most notable change this year for the business-minded meeting of the minds for EU executives actually was inspired by America’s successful SXSW, it turns out.

“I went to SXSW in 2011 for the first time and found it great,” Crolot told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday when asked about the inaugural MIDEM festival, which attempted to bring live music to the forefront of a trade show more known for sometimes dull (to some) panels on the business side of music and deals struck over expensive cocktails in nearby hotels instead of concerts.

But 2012 set the tone for a promising future at MIDEM, one more open to the public and one that embraces live music in small clubs and larger venues….using its considerable brand name to lure top talent. However, Crolot cautioned, “Cannes is not Austin…we are not trying to be SXSW as we have very different DNA than SXSW” so things may progress slowly on the festival side as MIDEM morphs from simply a trade show to a trade show featuring more live music as this decade unfolds.

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Still, over the weekend, the inaugural festival component of the confab was a deemed a modest success: despite the dreadful rain that hung over the entire city throughout the duration of MIDEM.  

Names such as the Ting Tings, Columbia Records’ Selah Sue and others shared the main stage with some of France’s most critically acclaimed acts, including the French answer to Eminem, Orelsan, and buzzing duo Brigitte.

Hundreds of artists officially took part in some way at the festival; many playing at one of eight clubs as part of "MIDEM Off," which showcased smaller buzz bands (see Sweden’s You Say France And I Whistle or Ukraine’s The Hardkiss). That’s up from two clubs that took part last year before MIDEM officially began to brand itself partially as a SXSW-esque showcase for bands as opposed to a pure music industry business trade show.

However, it’s not clear most attendees at MIDEM were even aware of the festival raging at night that delegate badges gave free entrance to….many opting instead to hit the hot hotel bar scenes instead in favor of schmoozing over rocking.

Around 500 badge-holders came through the first night to catch Selah Sue and others at the Palm Beach tent, the largest venue specially set up for larger acts. The second night, as word spread, 800 badges came through, joining many more ticket buyers, to see names such as the Ting Tings. These numbers were beat by at least a 2-to-1 margin by locals, who paid 30 Euros per evening to see the top talents.

French artists such as OrelSan were thrilled to have the opportunity, at least, to reach an influential, international audience as well as hardcore local fans.

“Playing for the music industry is hard because, you know, they’ve seen it all….but it’s a chance to show what I do live which is different than what I do on record for them and also my fans,” said the rapper who is nominated for three Victoires de la Musique awards this year (the French equivalent to the Grammy Awards) before his set Monday night.

To be sure, the fledgling festival potion of MIDEM still has a long way to go before it approximates anything like a SXSW experience, or even rival festivals in Europe.

But the confluence of industry and fans may well prove a heady mélange irresistible to many in the years to come.

“We want to have much more live music for delegates and the public next year,” added Crolot, stressing that MIDEM is now committed to live music as a proper festival to add to the conference experience.

And while MIDEM has always had music in the mix, expect official live music via MIDEM Festival and MIDEM OFF to increasingly be a part of the future at the once "must-attend" biz event, especially since the number of exhibitors was down in 2012 (although actual visitors were up 13 percent this year, according to the press office set up by Reed Exhibitions).

“They will do whatever is possible to keep it alive,” said Doris Denke, a music publishing executive from Germany’s M.P.S. who says she has been coming to MIDEM for around twenty years.

“The last few years it’s really visible how much MIDEM has shrunk,” the Cologne-based Denke added before noting that it is still an industry “must” for many even if crowds may not be what they once were in the 1990’s, for example.

“You still need to connect with people you may have emailed with in person,” she said. “That part is important and you need that personal feeling and socializing in the music industry…live music is part of that.”