Every year in Cannes, France, the music industry gathers for its biggest boondoggle, MIDEM. I’m fresh home from the 2011 edition, my fourth visit to Cannes in as many Januarys. I can’t speak to what MIDEM *used* to be like (though if it’s anything like what’s depicted in “Kill Your Friends” I’m truly glad I missed it) but by all accounts there’s a new MIDEM to go with the new music industry. This year the “does the music industry still deserve a trip to France every year?” story was a popular one (eg. “C’mon, Really: Does Midem Make Sense Anymore?” in Digital Music News & “Is Midem A Waste Of Time And Money?” in The Music Void). I admit I wondered myself before I left this year. Topspin is a startup and very conservative with money. Plus I was called to NYC and London on the way and left my wife, Julie, home with our four year-old, Lucinda, for eight days — it didn’t help Julie sprained her ankle the afternoon I left or that Lucinda had a fever/ear infection when I left, either. I wasn’t looking for an excuse to spend Topspin’s money disappearing from the office and my family for a week; this trip better be worth it or next year I’ll take my daughters to Mammoth for a week instead.
Well, it turns out the rumors of MIDEM’s utility waning have been exaggerated — I had my most productive visit to Cannes yet. I’m told MIDEM attendance has declined by more than 50% since it’s peak (currently ~7,000 paid attendees, down from ~15,000? — can someone confirm?). But the fact remains I always manage to make great connections and get important business done in Cannes. Where SXSW is good for broadcasting a message MIDEM is great for having serious sit-down get-shit-done meetings. The concentration of people to do business with is high and there’s no better time/place in the year to get 30 meaningful meetings (PER PERSON) done in three days. Seems everyone is aware they’ve come all this way for a reason and they’d better come home with something to show for it. Plus the Croisette is small enough you can easily move from meeting to meeting quickly, visit a couple of gatherings in a single night, get introduced to a future partner in a hotel lobby, or talk about preschool in Santa Monica in a hotel suite at 3am (yep. happened.). It’s a brutal gauntlet and I averaged less than five hours of sleep for a week straight, but the most concentrated business I’ll do out of the office all year, to be sure.
I definitely wouldn’t be sad if they moved MIDEM somewhere where the drinks at the hotel weren’t offensively expensive (and I’m used to LA prices) but you don’t have to spend like the music business of yesterday to make Cannes useful. I’m fortunate enough to be asked to help with MIDEM’s MIDEMnet Labs and MIDEMnet+ programmes and they comp my badge as a result. We found a cheap apartment online and split the cost between six of us. And we threw a party at the local sports bar, split the bar tab for a couple hours between six startups for an inexpensive splash on the town. You still have the cost of flights and meals but all told it doesn’t need to be extravagant.
Three years ago I accidentally started an odd MIDEM tradition: taking my daughter. Zoe started college at MIT three years ago and first year gave me an excited, “Guess what?! I have all of January off!” message. “Awesome!” I replied, then realized, “Wait, I have CES and MIDEM in January — I’m barely around!” She thought for a second and said, “Sounds fun,” and I thought for a second and said, “Why not?” Zoe’s been coming to work with me since she was a baby. So this was her third year and it’s funny how many acquaintances she’s made on her own. She knows the city and what to do when I’m in countless back-to-back meetings. She knows where the good pizza and crepes are and which bar at The Carlton has mojitos and which one doesn’t. It’s an odd bonding experience but a bonding experience nonetheless and we’ve made the most of it. Next year she’ll be old enough for SXSW…
Unfortunately Zoe and I have started another tradition: getting sick in Cannes. Four years ago I was still working for Yahoo! and went to MIDEM without Zoe. On the way home I missed my connection in London and spent countless hours in the British Airways lounge (in the Yahoo! days I flew business class. alas, no more.). After a long sleep on a couch there I woke up and walked out to check the monitors for an update on my situation. I immediately spotted Nick Cave sitting at a table enjoying some BA lounge gourmet grub. I made a move to introduce myself, something I’ve almost never done but I’m a fan and when am I going to have another chance, I thought, I was going to make an exception and totally fan out (in a calm and professional way) on Nick Cave. But as I got a few steps from him I realized, “Um, no, actually I’m going to throw up.” So I redirected to the BA bathroom and began a 12-24 bout of illness instead. When I emerged, Nick Cave was gone. Probably a good thing. THAT was a fun flight.
But not as fun as the first year Zoe and I went to MIDEM, on the cheapest tickets possible, connecting through Amsterdam. As we’re about to take off from Amsterdam to Los Angeles, sitting in our middle seats at the way back of the packed plane, Zoe heads to the bathroom. “That’s odd,” I thought. But hey, smart to pee before take-off if you really have to go. She comes back, sits down, and quietly and nonchalantly reports, “I just threw up.” I stare ahead emotionless, letting the gravity of the possibility sink in and covering it with a thick coat of denial. This isn’t happening. 15 hour flight. Middle seats. Back of the plane. Vomit. The plane takes off. Suddenly in MY stomach I feel the unhealthy churn of a body rejecting something which has been placed inside of it. Zoe and I didn’t sit much on that flight. We spent 15 hours dominating the bathrooms and wishing we were anywhere but in a sardine can above north america.
LAST year I made it through unscathed but Zoe woke in the middle of the night with terrible stomach illness again. I mentioned it to a French local and she nodded, “Yep, happens to you Americans every year. I think it’s the fish.” I’ve since done some research and I think *specifically* it’s the mussels. Just ask Griff Morris and his fiance about their MIDEM 2011. Ask to see the photos, too.
Speaking of 2011, thankfully Zoe and I made it all the way through and kept all our food from exiting the same way it entered. But we both ended up with crazy respiratory viruses when we landed. Just listen to Zoe’s radio show from this morning for a taste.
See you there next year,