[An edited version of this story was published by Music Week]
By Emmanuel Legrand
The three days of Canadian Music Week's conference (May 4-7) in Toronto were packed with dozens of sessions covering wide the music sector, from A&R to live, syncs to music cities, streaming to royalties collections, copyright issues to creators visions. Here are a few takeaways from the conference.
1 - The war on YouTube is open
The tone was set by music industry leaders during the super session on 'The State Of The Global Industry' opening the 34th Canadian Music Week: It was open season on YouTube, responsible for the growing "value gap” (IFPI CEO Frances Moore) or “value grab” (Cary Sherman, CEO of the RIAA). Each leaders of recorded music trade organisations IFPI, RIAA (USA), BPI (UK), ARIA (Australia) and Music Canada hit at the Google-owned video streaming platform, accused of exploiting loopholes in the law to build a business on the back of creators with “safe harbours.” One who did not believe (no pun intended) that there is a value gap is Denis Ladegaillerie, Founder and CEO of Believe Digital, one of the world’s leading digital distribution company. “There’s no value gap for us,” he said. “YouTube represents 20% of our revenues. We have a staff of 60 focusing on video revenues. There is a value gap with majors because they do not know how to extract the best from YouTube.”
2 - Streaming is No.1
There was no doubt that streaming has impacted the music industry in 2015 like never before. In her keynote presentation, IFPI CEO Frances Moore, noted that the global 3.2% growth registered in 2015 owed a lot to streaming with streaming revenues offsetting the decline in physical sales and in digital downloads. Even markets that were slow to embrace streaming like Japan and Germany are catching up, which gave industry leaders present in Toronto for a cautious optimism. “We have had five years of consistent streaming growth,” said Cary Sherman, Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), confirming that streaming revenues rose to $2.4 billion in 2015 from $1.9 million in 2014. “There is a lot of room for growth in the subscription market and that's good news for us,” said Sherman. In his keynote, Charles Caldas, the CEO of indie labels’ agency Merlin revealed that for 70% of its members, streaming is the main source of revenues. He indicated that in 2013, audio streaming represented $75 million for Merlin’s members, $130 million in 2014, $200 million in 2015 and he forecasted that in 2016, it would reach $275 million. Apple Music’s launch in the second half of 2015 made a difference. “The more people get exposed to services, the more they are embracing it,” said Caldas.
Many participants at CMW pointed out that Canada was a country "where the music industry is punching so much above its weight,” as IFPI’s Moore said. It produced three of the world’s ten most successful artists in 2015: Justin Bieber, Drake and The Weeknd. It also helped that CMW took place on the week Drake was shattering digital records with his new album Views. Universal Music Group Canada President and CEO Jeffrey Remedios -- who was previously co-founder of indie label Arts & Crafts -- is confident this is just the start. “It’s our time to be confident as an industry to take artists from here. We’re looking to sign them here and develop them here. It’s a huge mandate of mine,” he said.
4 - UK artists have their best year in the US and Canada
CMW gathered this year 2,900 delegates, among which a larger contingent of Brits than usual because the UK & Ireland were the countries in focus this year. From the BPI’s Geoff Taylor’s to UK Music’s Jo Dipple, BASCA’s Vick Bain, MMF’s John Webster and WIN’s Alison Wenham, many organisation leaders had made the trip to Toronto. Supported by UKTI, the British presence included networking sessions, prominent slots on panels and artist showcases. BPI’s Geoff Taylor used the CMW platform to reveal new figures about the success of British acts in North America. British acts accounted for 17.6% of artist albums bought in the US in 2015, up from 12.2% in 2014, while in Canada the share is 22%, thanks to such acts as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Coldplay and Mark Ronson. “The drumbeat of British music success in North America just keeps getting louder,” said Taylor. And there were a few drink parties. The one hosted by the British delegation saw UK Music's Jo Dipple marvel at the “handsome” new Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, while asking the British government for more support for the arts…
5 - The revolution will be blockchained
Whether it will work or not, one thing is certain, the blockchain technology is getting a lot of attention. The CMW session on the topic was packed and offered participants a taste of things to come. Pledge Music founder Benji Rogers has turned into the world’s more passionate advocate of the technology for the music sector. For him, the ledger of transactions that the technology allows will allow more transparency and also better tracking of the works and their usage. Canadian tech guru Don Tapscott and his son Alex, who made a presentation linked to the release of their book ‘Blockchain Revolution: Finally! Musicians Will Be Compensated Fairly For The Value They Create!’, also believe that the blockchain is the answer to data issues in the music industry.
6 - Virtual reality will arrive…but be patient
John Textor, executive chairman of Pulse Evolution Corporation, who “resurrected" Tupac at Coachella in 2012 and Michael Jackson at the Billboard Music Awards in 2014, with virtual representations of the artists, is buoyant about the future of Augmented Reality (AR) more than about Virtual Reality. Textor thinks VR still suffers from giving users a sense of unbalance, but he sees a great future for AR, especially in the field of music. “We are going to make VR more engaging through hyperreality,” he said, revealing that a world tour with a virtual representation of Elvis in in the making.
|AEG's Meglen & Ralph Simon|
7 - When Prince calls, you pick up the phone
John Meglen, President & Co-CEO, Concerts West/AEG Live, recalled some of the landmark moments in his career, including securing a residency for Celine Dion in Las Vegas, which was, at the time, "the single biggest deal with an artist ever," worth $150m. In the wake of the Vegas deal, Meglen was in his office and his secretary tells him Prince in on the phone. "I said 'yeah yeah' and she says 'I think it's really him', so I pick up the phone and it's Prince who says 'I've been reading about what you did with Celine' so I say 'why don't you come see it'." Prince goes to Vegas and Meglen sneaks him in the venue after the lights were down and gave him a tour of the theatre before meeting with Dion. "If that's the way you treat artists then I want you to work with me," said Prince. Added Meglen: "We made a deal and there was no manager, no agent, no lawyer and no contract, and we worked with nothing in writing from to 2004 to 2008.” Well, not exactly, they had something in writing for the 21-night residency at the O2 in 2007 because AEG’s founder Philip Anschutz was worried something might happen
8 - It's a "human being business"
Because the music industry is a business, people tend to forget that it's a business made first and foremost by people. Such was the useful reminder from Neil Warnock, the global head of music and United Talent Agency. "We are in a human being business," said Warnock. "We are here to motivate artists, to help them and the artist is relying on us to be at the very best so that we can to bring a lifestyle or make a career. But you need think skin." So his advice to aspiring agents: be entrepreneurial, understand it is a 24/7 job, be able to communicate well with people, and "you've got to absolutely love music. The whole thing about being an agent is to see a talent and be mesmerized by it." Warnock gave a glimpse of what this relationship with artists means to him when he spoke of Motorhead's founder Lemmy Kilmister, whom he represented since his time with Hawkwind. "I felt a terrible loss when I got the call," said a visibly moved Warnock. "Lemmy was unique and uncompromising. He was one of the smartest men I know, he was well read, always had his head in a book. He knew where he was going all the time. He had the music he wanted, the lived the life he wanted. He was probably selfish and that's what made the man and the music. And he was gone in a bang. I miss him daily."
9 - It's the "most exciting time" for music
Major labels are alive and well and continue to play a crucial role in the global eco-system if they keep on investing in new talent, according to Steve Barnett, the chairman and CEO of Capitol Music Group. "What is lifeblood of the industry? To break new artists. And who is the best to do that? Us, labels," said Barnett. "Look at Sam Smith, when we do something like that, it helps the whole ecosystem." He added, "I think is it the most exciting time ever for music and the gate keepers can't stop you." Barnett, who is from Wolverhampton, has been involved in the US careers of several British artists. When he was at Columbia he oversaw the launch of Adele's 19 and 21 and worked with One Direction. At Capitol, he was instrumental in building the career of Sam Smith. He praised the support of UMG Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge in the efforts to revitalise Capitol. "I can't think at one time when we wanted to do something that they did not agree to," said Barnett. "They've been very supportive. It was a very difficult acquisition. The idea was to recruit team and our ambition was to rebuild the company. It will go down as a great acquisition. EMI had been belated in the past five years and it is now integrated into Universal which is by far the best system in the world." Barnett also told of his pride to be the custodian of a legacy that includes Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and the Beach Boys, to which he also added recently Neil Diamond. "What's the most important catalogue in the world? The Beatles! And we have that," enthused Barnett.
10 - Who pays your salary?
There was an awkward moment during the panel '21st Century Schizoid Creators?’ when US singer/songwriter, label owner and music activist Blake Morgan pressed Featured Artists Coalition CEO Paul Pacifico to reveal who paid his salary. Blake implied that Google was funding the FAC, a rumour that has been gaining traction in recent weeks (sometimes Google is replaced by Spotify). Pacifico joked that he wished that his salary was paid by Google because it would probably be higher. And on a serious note said that the FAC budget is made mostly of contributions from patrons, including FAC members such as Nick Mason, as there are no fees charged to members, and that these contributions are capped at £10,000 per person. Morgan accepted the response but did not seem convinced. Speaking to Music Week afterwards, Pacifico said he did not understand the foundations for these rumours simply because the statutes of the FAC made it impossible for one company to finance the organisation and that anyone in his position would abide by these rules and therefore this innuendo was just plain rubbish.