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Alexandre Deniot

Interview: Alexandre Deniot

Alexandre Deniot
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This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Alexandre Deniot, director of MIDEM.

With 330 speakers, 2,000 companies represented, 5,000 registrants from 80 countries, and with 28 concerts, and 44 start-up sessions, MIDEM 2019  celebrates its 53rd year in Cannes, France, June 4-7.

With a 4-day program of conferences, summits, networking events, live performances, competitions, and representation from labels, publishers, music creators, technology companies, streaming platforms, and brands from around the world, there’s really is no other music trade conference like MIDEM—the acronym for Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale–in an increasingly global music industry.

What can be described as a rejuvenated MIDEM will include focused sessions on Africa,  Latin America, streaming, copyright, electronic and urban music, and fashion and music; a songwriting camp; MIDEMlab, a music start-up competition; and the MIDEM Artists Accelerator competition which will give competing artists the opportunity to have their music heard by a panel of experts.

Among the other new MIDEM moments are the inauguration of Esports and music; the MIDEM Hall of Fame Awards; and new sector area for talent called the Artist Hub to network, share ideas, and to create music. Also, there’s the High-Potential Markets Programme.

In her first keynote address, Sylvia Rhone, Chairwoman & CEO, Epic Records will be interviewed by Dina LaPolt, Owner, LaPolt Law.

Much of the reshaping of MIDEM has come about due to the leadership of Alexandre Deniot who joined in 2017 as its managing director. He replaced Bruno Crolot who had left in 2015 after five years and is now managing dir. of France and Benelux for Spotify.

Deniot has a full two decades of diverse experience within the music industry.

He began his career in 2001, as part of Sony Music Entertainment’s sales marketing team in Lyon, France. He joined Universal Music Group in 2002 as regional sales manager for eastern France, then southern France, before being promoted to key account manager for physical sales in 2006, and key account manager for digital sales in 2009.

In 2014, he was named head of business development at UMG’s digital division, managing Universal Music On Line, a specialist digital subsidiary of Universal. In 2016 Deniot was named business development director within UMG’s digital division in Paris.

MIDEM is part of Reed MIDEM, a global leader in the organization of international professional markets in music, television and digital content industries.

Convince me as a label executive, a music publisher, a producer, a music attorney, an artist or as an artist manager to attend MIDEM when I haven’t been in years. Tell me about the new MIDEM.

MIDEM is the leading international event for the professional since 1966. We have over 80 countries coming. We have opened it to the world in terms of music so that if you come to MIDEM, you save time and money. We have around 2,000 companies, 5,000 attendees, and we represent a global ecosystem from the artists to the tech companies. They are all at MIDEM. When you come you have access to the heavyweight players of this industry; like this year, we are going to welcome Cococure (Afrobeats hip-hop event). We are going to have major presentations from NetEase Cloud Music, one of the biggest streaming platforms in China (a company with origins as a gaming platform). A lot of the top players of the industry will be at MIDEM.

Is MIDEM still the place to make a deal?

Yes, of course. In 2017, official figures from the government of Brazil indicated that the revenue generated by the Brazilian delegation during MIDEM was around $1 million.

Where do the largest number of MIDEM delegates originate?

If we look at Europe and the U.S., the biggest number of attendees come from these two areas. Right now, we can see more coming from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Mainly the U.S. and Europe, but now it is getting bigger from the high potential markets.

Many consider MIDEM as a French music trade conference. But it really isn’t is it? It’s not even a European event. More accurately, it’s a global-styled conference located in Cannes, France.

Exactly because in terms of attendees we have less than 20% attendees (from France).

That’s surprising given the activities of  Le Bureau Export, which launching in 1993, has a team of 30 employees in 5 countries, supporting the French music industry internationally. There’s also been the international popularity of such acts as David Guetta, Daft Punk, Air, MC Solaar, DJ Gregory, Shazz, Kid Loco and, more recently, French rapper Niska, and the heavy metal outfit Gojira. Electronic and hip-hop greatly transformed French music in recent years; an abrupt departure from the world of solo singers with original songs that had traditionally dominated French pop music.

Hip-hop is very big everywhere in the world, and especially in France. EDM as well. We have great talents in France, and everywhere else. In Africa, I saw some of them, and in the U.S., of course. So yeah, for sure, we are going to have EDM and hip-hop artists at MIDEM.

I’m not sure if you tapped Sylvia Rhone to receive the MIDEM 2019 Hall of Fame Award before she was promoted to chairwoman and CEO of Epic Records. But quite a feather in your cap to be able to have her at MIDEM this year.

We are very, very honored to welcome Sylvia. It is going to be the first time for her to do a keynote speech, a short interview with Dina LaPolt (owner, LaPolt Law, and attorney advisor to the Grammy Creators Alliance) as this year they are doing the Grammys. So it is two powerful women of the business. It is important for us as we have been promoting women in music for years now.

(Previously, Sylvia Rhone had been president of Epic Records since 2014, where she oversaw releases by Travis Scott, Camila Cabello, Future, 21 Savage and others. Prior to Sony Music, she was president of Universal Motown Records, and an executive VP at Universal Records; chairman and CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, and held executive positions at Atlantic, WMG, ABC, and Ariola. She began her career as a secretary at Buddah Records in 1974.)

At the beginning of 2019, David Hazan was named head of North American business for MIDEM. Was the reason David was hired because MIDEM needs a greater presence in America?

For me, it was important to have somebody with strong experience based in the U.S. Now we have an office in New York, and we have David, and we also have Juliette Black, who we recently appointed as a sales and partnerships associate for North America. So they will work together. The country is big and North America, it is even bigger. Through our European office, we are also very much in contact with people in the industry in the U.S, but it was key for us to have people in the field.

The last truly glory year for MIDEM was in 2001 with over 10,000 delegates. Last year’s attendance was up 9% from 2017 to 4,800, but still down from 2015 when the conference attracted 5,500 registrants. It seems as if the music industry gets a cold, MIDEM gets a cold. Today, the music industry is seemingly on its way to recovery, having growth, and there is an air of confidence returning to the business. Are you seeing that reflected at MIDEM?

Yes, exactly. We had a good increase last year of near 10%, and right now the trend is around a 25% increase. Of course, as we are a professional event mainly, we follow the trend of the industry. As you know for the past 10 years there has been a dramatic decrease of professionals in this business. Nowadays are better and because there are new opportunities around the world, that’s what we are doing at MIDEM. We are really the home of the global music community, and what we put out throughout the community as a family member is our support to create business opportunities, but also artistic opportunities.

Following music consumers transitioning away from physical formats, and downloading towards streaming, artists began to achieve a broader engagement with global music fans through digital distribution and social media. Streaming counts, in particular, have the ability to push artists onto the global stage, breaking down the sales stranglehold of the U.S./UK axis which may be a reason contributing to MIDEM attendance spiraling down in recent years. Americans don’t go as much as they once did.

So the American attendance right now we have an increase of 25% (from last year).

Yes, but with that 2001 MIDEM attendance mark of 10,000 attendees, 25% of the attendees likely would have been American. So really, American attendance is still down.

Since I have been here I can see a strong increase in American attendees, and we have some key people from the industry from the U.S. including as we talked about Sylvia Rhone (chairwoman & CEO, Epic Records), and Dina LaPolt (president LaPolt Law), but also Steve Berman (vice chairman, Interscope Geffen A&M); Troy Carter (CEO & founder, Atom Factory); Dia Simms (president, Combs Enterprises); and Cortez Bryant (co-CEO, Blueprint Group). We’re also partnering for the first time with A3C Conference & Festival in Atlanta (founded in 2005), the biggest hip-hop conference in the States. So there are a lot more activities than, maybe, in the past ,and we are very aggressive about it.

MIDEM is bringing music creators and related rights owners from potential world music markets together in order to learn from the global music communities. I think that ultimately might be the core value of MIDEM. As much as social media is galvanizing the entrepreneurial spirit in these markets what is needed are partners to take their businesses to a higher stage, including developing copyright, technology, talent agencies, music publishing, management and so on.

Yes, we have been extra careful to focus on start-ups for the past 11 years. We have a competition, MIDEMlab which supports entrepreneurs with a new program to help start-ups take their business to the next level because we know that the new generation, as well as innovation, are going to  shape the future of these industries, and we have a strong backing for start-ups at MIDEM, and also for upcoming artists. So yeah we are really supporting these people.

(MIDEMlab 2019 sponsors and partners include: Deezer, Recochoku, Bluenove, Music Ally, Abbey Road Red, TechStars, Lincc, East West Digital News, Maddyness, Music 4.5, Music Norway, Music Tech Germany, STHLM Music City, France Digital, Numa, Starther, STATION F and Ukraine Digital News.)

What causes you to leave Universal Music Group in 2017 after 14 years to become director of an annual music industry trade conference?

Well, first of all, I am a musician and, for me, it is important to be useful to my community. That is why I jumped onto this new job because I saw that it would be really helpful to the community. What I am doing is a simple job, really because I believe in what I am doing right now. That is why I am going to Africa. That is why we are going to Latin America. That is why we are doing all of these new things for the artists and trying to create opportunities in some of the businesses, and in creativity. To be a benefit in what you are doing, I think that it is very important, and that is why I am here.

I’m delighted to see a drummer that has solid business acumen. So few musicians do.

(Laughing) Exactly.

Were you a professional musician working with bands?

I started when I was 7 years old. I played with bands for maybe 20 years. I wanted to be a professional, but when you play in a band sometimes, especially when you are a drummer, you rely on others. So that’s why I decided to work in the recording industry. I started my experience as a musician, and now I am here, and I am glad to be doing that.

Did any of the bands have recording deals?

No. But I went to Australia. I went to Canada. I had a touring deal with my band in the U.S but due to different reasons, we had to postpone. It was a very good experience for me anyway.

Do you still play?

Yeah, I still play. For fun now. I still play.

While at Universal you would have attended numerous music trade and tech conferences. After you came onboard at MIDEM did you check out other conferences to gauge what their strengths are?

I went to a few conferences, of course, along the road. Not to compare but MIDEM, I would say, is quite different from the others.

When MIDEM kicked off in the ‘60s, the core activities at the conference were record distribution and music publishing. Legal and copyright issues as well as developing regional markets were added on as the years went by. Today such fields as music syncs for film, TV, and gaming, sample clearances, brand connections, streaming, and live music are all represented. Most of these fields are also represented at other conferences, but you are right, MIDEM is considerably more universal.

That’s why last year we did a sponsorship with Pollstar to have a bigger representation of the live music industry at MIDEM. This year, as I said, we have a partnership with A3C, and last year we had a new track for audio-visual. This year we are going to talk about eSports and music (also known as electronic sports, a form of competition using video games). So we are trying to address all of the key topics of the music industry, and the topics where we can create some business opportunities for the professionals also.

The MIDEM Hall of Fame Award, the MIDEM Music Awards, the Global Indie Voices, each of these has been introduced at MIDEM in the last couple of years.

Exactly because I think that the music business is a bit different than what it was in the past. There are different ways of generating income for music professionals, and for artists. The music sync, for instance, of course, and there are always publishing and recording deals, but there are other ways. That is why we are introducing eSports and music because we can see that there are some opportunities there.

Who are some of the artists coming to MIDEM?

Malik Beery, one of the most talented artists from Nigeria, will be our ambassador at the MIDEM African Forum. We also have DJ White Show, one of the main producers of Lady Gaga. He also produced most of the soundtrack of “A Star Is Born.” We also have this great project Inna De Yard from Jamaica with legends like Winston McAnuff, Cedric Myton or Ken Boothe. They will perform onstage and we are going to show the world premiere of their documentary, “Inna De Yard.” Also, we are welcoming David Rowntree, the drummer of Blur as an ambassador of the new program dedicated to artists, the Arist Hub. So it is going to be very exciting because the global ecosystem will be at MIDEM from artists entrepreneurs to tech companies. It is going to be very exciting because we have these giants of the industry all together at MIDEM. The biggest family meeting of the music industry.

There’s also the return of the MIDEM Artist Accelerator program. This year’s competition is being presented by re-invented record label and music distribution platform, Amuse.

This is the fifth year. It’s a great year because we had over 800 submissions from more than 80 countries. If you look at a list of the finalists we have artists from Palestine through to Colombia and to Denmark and to Puerto Rico  through to Kenya, and South Africa. So it’s good because we present the different communities. It’s international. And what we are doing through MIDEM is collecting that music. It’s exactly what we do. We collect people and their music.

(All finalists will perform live on the MIDEM Beach in Cannes during MIDEM By Night concerts held over three nights June 4-6.)

For this year, a new MIDEM Music Awards will also be happening. Your announcement claims that that the awards will be the first “truly data-driven” international music prize. What data is involved?

Yes, the musical digital awards. What we want to achieve is to really represent the fans that are engaged. Of course, it is through music, but they are also engaged with their favorite artists on social media. They watch videos on platforms like YouTube, and they buy tickets to shows. They use Shazam to discover artists. Based on all that we have data, and what we see, and what we believe is that the way that you measure success in the music industry could be different. We believe it has to be a mix between streams, social media, and the live music industry. We want to create this algorithm that is going to be a mix between the different platforms used by the music fans.

While with us since 1966, I’d argue MIDEM largely coasted on its laurels throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Also, North Americans looked at MIDEM, then in January (until 2015) as a break from winter. Then the music industry nosedived, eventually recalibrated and broadened its activities and geographical focus, and became more diversified. MIDEM attempted to innovate but change didn’t come quickly and other music and trade conferences took a piece of its traditional sole domain.

Among them were: South by Southwest in Austin; Canadian Music Week in Toronto; the Reeperbahn Festival & Conference in Hamburg; Eurosonic Noorderslag in the Netherlands; and such tech-based conferences as XLIVE in Las Vegas; and eMERGE Americas in Miami.

To compete MIDEM has had to adjust to a new business model, but also in response to the slew of trade conference now available.

Of course, we are adapting with what we provide to our community, and more than ever artists are at the center of everything that we do at MIDEM. We did for the first time last year an international songwriting camp (with 10-15 songwriters and two superstars working together) creating music at MIDEM. We have more live music at MIDEM. We did a partnership with Pollstar (with The Live Summit) which we are continuing this year. We are doing for the first time, as I said, a new area called the Artist Hub (in association with the International Artist Organisation) where the artists will be able to meet and have a specific program with master classes, workshops, and networking sessions with key players of the international music ecosystem.

It is certainly a challenging time for music-affiliated companies, and for creators.

It is more an exciting time because this new era of digital provides opportunities for everybody. I think that it’s a good time for the music business, and we are glad to be here, and we are here to support our community again.

Music fans today can either find the music they are looking for or quite easily discover new music. As a result, we are starting to see healthy growth figures in revenues. Yet, is the music industry still transitioning?

Well, it depends on where you look at it. If you look at the mature countries, I think now that the transition is almost done. It is mainly digital, especially in the U.S., it is digital-driven. The good thing about digital is that it is based on subscribers which means that the revenue is more secure than in the past.

In its most recent financial report, Spotify—which commands a 36% global market share of paying music streaming subscribers–announced that it has 100 million premium users. However, it has 217 million users, 117 million of which are still sticking with the free, ad-supported tier. Spotify still can’t turn a profit, losing $158 million in its last quarter. Spotify simply can’t sustain losing hundreds of millions of dollars year after year. Meanwhile, there are industry concerns of Spotfiy’s attempt to legally obstruct a pay rise for songwriters in the United States; over its direct artist deals; and its growing abundance of podcasts that may reshape the platform.

For sure, there’s still some concerns, but what we see in terms of subscription there’s a big increase of subscribers in the world. The freemium tier is really helping to convert people into being subscribers. Of course, depending on the country, it is going to take time; but, if you look at France or some of the other big countries, you will see that there is a good conversion into subscription model.

(Despite Spotify losses its stock has an average rating of 1.69 (Buy) from the 21 analysts that cover the company, according to Zacks Investment Research recently. Only one analyst rated Spotify with a strong sell rating, 5 had a hold rating, one a buy, and 14 a strong buy rating. Analysts’ 12-month consensus stock target for Spotify is to be at $188 per share, a 38% increase. Spotify stock is currently trading in the $136 range.)

While Spotify streaming is allowing the music industry to grow, its all-powerful algorithms, which sift, sort and promote the most-played songs on its service largely benefit pop and hip-hop genres which then generate the most streams. The algorithms don’t benefit jazz, folk, and classical niche genres, particularly in new countries with cheaper models. It is difficult as a smaller label or as an independent artist to break through that glass barrier.

Yes, because there are so many tracks on the platform, between 40 and 50 million. That is why when you release a song it is pretty difficult to be listened to. Yeah, it was the case in the past with physical distribution, and it’s still the case with digital. The good thing is that it’s easier to be distributed everywhere around the world, and music travels around the world very easily.

Labels have begun analyzing the massive flow of streaming information in order to develop dedicated marketing strategies. If the skip rate is high on a track, for example, then they know they have to redirect their marketing strategy. I don’t think enough people are doing that quite yet.

It’s probably like a tool. Like now the way that they look on data when an act is  going on tour. They check the data to see if they have fans in this city or not and they make the decisions sometimes based on that data.

As technology continues to improve and forges even more of a hold in the marketplace, there will be further opportunities for music publishers and the labels in the emerging markets like India, China, South Korea, and Brazil. The hope in the future years is as these markets continue to grow financially, the contribution made by non-North American markets will materially expand. And MIDEM is a great place to influence growth in those emerging markets.

That’s why we are here. We have some great speakers, and we try to address all of the key topics of the industry.

As I said earlier MIDEM has been tied to the health of the music industry, but it is also tied to the evolving and now complex diversity of the music industry. For decades, the global music industry has been American and British centric, and it seemed that labels in international markets mainly existed to sell recorded music from the United States, and the UK.

With new types of online music outlets, including: download stores; on-demand and cloud-based streaming services; video-sharing sites; and Internet radio, music-based experiences became more effectively delivered in an assortment of connected ways, leading more recently to a subtle geographic shift in the global music industry. It is telling that China, Brazil, and South Korea featured in the IFPI’s Top 10 commercial recorded music markets in 2018.

(As Adam Granite, EVP, market development at Universal Music Group, told Andre Piane in Music Week (April, 3rd, 2019): “We are seeing a growth in local repertoire everywhere in the world. It’s fueled by investment but also the increased ability of artists to connect with fans.”)

Many in our industry overlook Africa as a potentially significant music market, but there are an estimated 453 million internet users on the continent. With mobile penetration making it easier for recorded music to be sold and to collect revenues, the prediction that 500 million African citizens will own smartphones by 2020 could be a game changer. People haven’t quite grasped that yet.

Yeah, exactly. With a population of around 1.3 billion, and half of the people there being under 30, there are a lot of synergies (there), and that is why we are there to support the culture, and to create bridges between the continent, and the rest of the international music communities. We launched last year a new initiative–The High-Potential Markets Programme–and we started in Africa. The program has been developed to assist with the structuring and professionalization of the music industry in emerging regions, and to stimulate its international exchanges.

You have long been an advocate for Africa. Following the success of the 2018 African Tour, MIDEM returned to Africa for a second edition in April 2019 which culminates in a dedicated day on during MIDEM this year.

It is exactly what we are doing. As I said, we announced last year a new initiative for the high potential markets and we started in Africa. We feel that our role as a member of the community is that we support our community in Africa to connect with the rest of the world. We did four events in four countries. We went to South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and the Republic of the Congo. I just came back from Africa. We did the second edition with three events in three countries: Senegal, Cameroon, and Nigeria with conferences, workshops, networking events and showcases. We did MIDEM African Song last year with the follow-up doing panel discussions and workshops and think tanks at MIDEM in Cannes. “Why the West is Looking at African Music,” of course.

It is very important for us to be in these high potential markets. So we did Africa, and also in November (29th-30th) we went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We did MIDEM Latin American Summit there.

(The Latin American Summit in Rio de Janeiro paves the way for the 2019 MIDEM Latin American Forum in Cannes, as part of MIDEM’s on-going High Potential Markets Program.)

Through the decades African artists as Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Letta Mbulu, Juluka, Mahlathini, Lucky Dube,  Stimela Wizkid, Angélique Kidjo,  Ali Farka Touré, Magic System, Cesaria Evora, Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, Victor Kunonga, Yemi Alade, Oumou Sangaré, and the Mahotella Queens—to name only a few–have broken have broken through on the international stage.

We are witnessing a growing internationalization of African artists and their music. Such talents such as Maleek Berry,  Davido, Black Coffee, Yemi Alade, DJ Maphorisa, Aya Nakamura, Fally Ipupa, Moonchild Sanelly, and others.

The high value you place on Africa did that develop when you were at Universal?

Yes. I launched a music service in Africa on mobile. I was well aware of the challenges in Africa and also the potential of Africa. It is one of the most influential music markets in the world right now, but you can’t really see it in some of the revenue streams yet. So there’s a gap, but there’s talent, a diversity of talent in Africa, and a lot of creativity, and that is why the potential is there. Technology and digital are really going to help the business there.

(Universal Music Group has been ramping up its presence in Africa over the past year. The company, which set up offices in Lagos and Abidjan under Universal Music Nigeria, became the first major to license Africa’s biggest streaming platform, Boomplay, and the first to license Nigeria’s domestic subscription-based music store and streaming service uduX . In 2018, UMG acquired a majority stake in Kenya’s leading label, AI Records.

Universal has signed a host of Nigerian artists including recently Tiwa Savage but also WurlD, Odunsi (the Engine), Tay Iwar; Ghanaian-born artists Cina Soul and Stonebwoy; Banku singer and songwriter Mr Eazi; and co-signed Tekno, and Tanzanian singer/songwriter Vanessa Mdee.)

Warner Music Group is the latest major player to invest in the Afrobeats genre, inking a partnership deal with the Nigerian label, Chocolate City Entertainment. Sony’s RCA label is home to Afrobeats’ two biggest stars, Davido and Wizkid.)

One of the most persistent slams against MIDEM through the years has been how exorbitantly expensive Cannes is—the hotels, the food, the liquor. Have you looked at ways of minimizing that?

Of course. We have special rates now for the MIDEM attendees. The accommodations start at 70 euros for the night. Now we have a new area on the beach called The MIDEM Beach where there’s a cheaper rate for food and drinks. We are really extra careful to create a MIDEM that is accessible for everybody because what we are doing right now, compared to other parties (music trade conferences), is that MIDEM really is an experience So we are going to have three stages outside on the beach we have live music every night and activities during the day. We have a restaurant. It’s how we welcome all our family at MIDEM, all of the professionals. For us, it is key to support the community, and to focus on artists first, and to present topics which will create business and artistic opportunities.

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.

He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.

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