Midem in Cannes was the embodiment of a flourishing music business for decades. A tribute to one of the most glitzy and important international music trade fairs.
by Marcel Kaufmann (FONDATION SUISA) and Erika Weibel (SUISA)
“Due to the lasting pandemic and following a review of its activity, RX France has decided to no longer continue to organize the Midem event.”
(midem.com, December 2021)
Midem, which is an abbreviation for: Marché international du disque et de l’édition musicale, was the most important global business platform for music labels and publishers which flourished until the late 1990s. The music industry has now lost one of its most traditional trade fairs. Since 1967, the trade fair had been held annually at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes right on the Côte d’Azur, a prestigious location which is also the venue for the renowned Cannes Film Festival or NRJ Music Awards, but also a symbol of what ultimately brought about Midem’s downfall.
Since 1989, SUISA and FONDATION SUISA had organised the joint Swiss stand at Midem with the support of the Stiftung Phonoproduzierende (Foundation of phono producers). After this long-standing commitment to encourage networking between the Swiss music industry and its counterparts abroad, today we take a look back on this event:
On 30 January 1967, Midem opened its doors for the very first time. Bernard Chevry, the organiser of the first Midem editions, had deliberately chosen the Côte d’Azur as the backdrop for the world’s inaugural music business meeting. In the auditorium of the Palais des Festivals, countless songs and shows were performed in front of the label and publishing representatives over the course of the five-day trade fair. The rights were usually subsequently negotiated in one of the pop-up offices of the Grand Hotel Martinez. Four French radio stations broadcast the event live, and more than 200 international journalists reported daily on Midem. More than 1,000 music experts, mainly from North America and Europa, attended the pilot edition. This figure was twice as high within a year, and the exhibition space increased threefold.
Whereas many of the major Swiss labels hesitated initially, various publishing houses came on board early on.*
Chevry had struck a chord and proved that the malicious tongues which claimed Midem was just an attempt to improve the booking rates of the hotels in Cannes during the sluggish winter season were lying. The idea of launching his own trade fair for music producers and publishers had come to the busy businessman during a discussion with representatives from the music industry at a trade fair for TV programmes which was also his brainchild. The new offer was relished, and how! To this day, members of the older generation of former participants talk with a chuckle and a touch of wistful nostalgia of the glittering parties in the grand hotels on the Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes from the 1970s to the 1990s, at which there was a steady stream of big bosses, stars and starlets.
Contrary to Chevry’s original plans, Cannes remained the permanent venue of Midem and increasingly became a symbol of the annual industry get-together at the beginning of the business year. Until the late 1990s, Midem continued to grow until it reached a peak of about 10,000 trade visitors from more than 90 countries.
At the turn of the century, the Internet became increasingly dominant and fundamentally turned the music business on its head. Physical records became less important. Instead, technology firms appeared on the scene and developed unprecedented possibilities for using music. However, this new clientele no longer really fitted in to the elegant setting and the conventional trade fair format of the Palais. “Piracy!”, the battle cry of the battered music industry, was soon replaced by “culture of free services!” and “value gap!”. Musicians increasingly turned to the live music industry, where it was still possible to earn money. Competitors responded in the form of countless showcase festivals spread all over Europe; Midem, on the other hand, did not change.
Within a few years, an entire industry had changed. This pace was too quick for many. Due to the drop in income, many thought twice about whether Midem accreditation was still worthwhile given the local hotel prices. The number of exhibitors dropped continuously.
In 2015, the organisers took the bull by the horns: thanks to the postponement from January to June and the summer temperatures on the Côte d’Azur, it was indeed possible to slow down the dramatic drop in the number of participants which had occurred in recent years. However, at the same time, this encouraged the freeloading phenomenon: more and more people refrained from buying professional accreditation, instead inviting their business partners by mobile phone to the cafes and bars on the beach promenade or organising parties in rented houses and apartments. The exodus from the trade fair halls continued.
The Midem organisers had got the live music sector more involved since 2017. Under the former Universal France Manager, Alexandre Deniot, some creative and popular beach stages were set up. Providers of new technologies were wooed, conference topics adjusted and attractive formats created for start-ups and Midem newcomers. In 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, Midem also presented what at the time was the most attractive digital solution as an alternative to the annual meeting. However, all of this could not prevent the demise of the trade fair. About half the number of people registered for the last physical edition in 2019 as ten years previously, so the organisers have to live with the accusation that they did not see the writing on the wall until it was too late.
Ultimately, Midem came unstuck over its outdated format and the venue. A conventional trade fair coupled with the expensive Mediterranean location: neither met the expectations and financial means of the current clientele. The Festival Palace and the magnificent hotels increasingly became nostalgic references to a bygone era.
What remains are countless encounters – from 1989 also at the joint Swiss stand – which occurred at and thanks to Midem and had a lasting impact on numerous musical careers. The Swiss music publisher, Albert Brunner (Helbling & Co.), put it in a nutshell in as early as 1968: “A single personal contact is worth more than 100 letters.”
Midem founder, Bernard Chevry, did not experience the demise of the trade fair. He passed away in 2019, shortly before the final physical edition.
Midem, grande dame of the music business, you successfully brought people together for decades against your glamorous backdrop, making numerous dreams come true. Thank you. We will miss you.
*Accredited Swiss companies, Midem 1968:
• Editions Chappell S.A.
• Editions COA
• Goodman Music S.A.t
• Edition Helbling
• International Melodizs
• Editions Melodie
• Mondiamusic S.A.R.L.
• Muzik Center Zurich
• Musikvertrieb AG
• Phonag Schallplatten AG
• R.C.A. Overseas S.A.
• Editions Sidem S.A.
• Southern Music AG
• Star Record
• Swiss Record Editions Televox
Ref: Billboard 20. Januar 1968 »