Thursday, 27 January 2011

MIDEM, Music Ubiquity and Neil Young

As announced, the JB blog is winding down, but I could hardly come back from four days in Cannes without comment now could I?

The sun was out and a cool (too cool?) breeze blew in and the talk was all about The Cloud, this app and that app. The old hands were telling me how much it’s all changed and I can imagine it has, though I’ve nothing to compare it to, having never been.

The Palais des Festivals was certainly crawling with ‘kids’ – young app developers, programmers and more than a few shiny toothed or oily-skinned entrepreneurs. In fact, 155 start-ups attended, with almost everyone I spoke to under the age of 30 on ‘AUTOPITCH’, even in a social setting when it was probably better to switch off and just chill.

It felt to me like being stuck in a bubble techno world a la ‘Logan’s Run’ – and I had the feeling that somewhere out there was a real world – a sanctuary – probably with a lovely independent record shop with friendly, informed staff selling beautifully packaged CDs and LPs. Ha! All I could find was a rather depressing FNAC store on the Rue Antibes – oh well. The contrast was telling.

I have to admit doing nothing more than breezing in and out of MidemNet, the theme of which was ‘Music Ubiquity’ (they pitched it like it was a good thing). Of the various visionary’s I only caught Terry McBride giving his five minutes – in which he chose to impart a gloomy warning about a black cloud coming – some kid in Russia coding the next music killer – and so we’d all better get our act together.

It was hard to argue with when placed in a historical context, but that was part of the problem with MIDEM. It was all so focused on the future and The Cloud that I was left with an empty feeling we weren’t making the most of ‘now’.

All We Need Is Now – even Duran Duran have realised that!

With The Cloud so ominous, Sony’s Music Unlimited grabbed the moment to be the ‘talk of MIDEM’ – though apart from the optimism of Sony’s own Press Conference, the general vibe on Music Unlimited’s chances of success were muted at best. Those in the know about such things and those who’ve watched the market for a long time were sceptical.

The Cloud is somewhat intoxicating, seductive – like a lot of what the technologists tell us about the way we’ll consume music. Mark Mulligan’s brief talk at MidemNet underlined the message from the consumer perspective at least – highlighting the fact that 12-15 year olds only really know of a connected, ephemeral relationship with music – nothing tactile, permanent, collected.

Mobile was big news and generally positive at last, with apps for this and that – for everything almost. These ranged from the ingenious to the irrelevant. I liked the look of City Sounds and the Discovr service by Jammbox (though I've previously doubted whether consumers will pay for pure discovery, without a track allowance thrown in). I was pleased too, to see win some award – what a great innovation that is. If only its links could be to high quality audio and video. 

I know it’s a trade show, but MIDEM gave me the feeling that music is going all ‘B2B’ – being traded as a commodity – bait to reel in more consumers, flog more bandwidth, more devices and soak up more attention.

I heard not once the term ‘willingness to pay’ – that seemed an irrelevance in the trading world, despite the consumer being the most essential end of the value chain (aside from the creators at the other).

It’s a convenient panacea, the cloud. It’s something I contemplated as I jogged along the marinas and promenades – passing the yellow parasols that made me pine for Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’ – an album I frustratingly didn’t have on my iPod.

So, in future situations maybe I don’t need to worry about that happening again. I can just call up Neil’s masterpiece from the cloud and pray it works, for the money I’ll pay for the pleasure. It seems like a tricky formula to me.

After I’d given my talk at the MidemNet Academy on Tuesday (Make These Innovations Work – Now!) I wandered out for one last look out along the bay and I bumped into Evan Stein from Decibel, which was fortunate serendipity as we’d meant to hook up.

One last beer in good company it was then (apart from the airport where it was more serendipity, more beer). We talked about what we’d seen & heard and of the future, but mostly of music. Evan is a thinking man’s thinker, so I asked him what he thought about the cloud and my theory that it almost looks too good to be true. “If we don't consider why we are using it, our problems could end up in the cloud too” was his answer. Great insight.

The person I’d really like to ask is Neil Young. “So, Neil is the Sky really about to Rain”? I wonder if he’d tell us were all just pissing in the wind.

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