Backbeat: MIDEM Pulse Check: Attendance Is (Reportedly) Up, But Conference Is Scaled Down
Backbeat: MIDEM Pulse Check: Attendance Is (Reportedly) Up, But Conference Is Scaled Down

Two major concerts during MIDEM had attendees sprawled out across Cannes: Sony's showcase featured the Ting Tings (above) and 2ManyDJs while Music Dealers hosted You Say France & I Whistle and Black Pearl. (Photo: MIDEM)

For many MIDEM attendees, this year's conference started out on a quiet, damp note - literally, as it rained with a fair amount of regularity from Saturday morning well into Sunday night. The first two days of this year's conference were a scaled-back version of the 3,000 seat amphitheaters of MIDEMs past, with breakout panels, meetups and hack sessions rarely topping out at over 200 attendees apiece. Many MIDEM staples told Billboard they appreciated the renewed focus ("they finally caught up with the realities of the business," one 25-year veteran said), and programs like Midemlabs and even a Saturday-afternoon YouTube panel were standing-room only.

But the overall size of MIDEM has drastically shifted from its heyday - even 2010, when Billboard reported an attendance of 7,200 (a 10% decrease from 2009). Although MIDEM director Bruno Crolot told Billboard's Lars Brandle that attendance was up 12% this year to 6,900 - the first gain in five years - many hotels have been notably frustrated about their low registration numbers. One hotel - The Majestic - was even threatening to stop hosting MIDEM guests due to this year's turnout, according to two executives familiar with the hotel's plans, although the hotel denied those claims and told it had a 90% occupancy rate throughout MIDEM's run from Saturday to Tuesday.

Read All Our MIDEM Coverage On Billboard.Biz's 2012 Blog

How to explain the disconnect? For starters, many attendees are staying at hotels further down the Rue de La Croisette to avoid the high rates of staples like the Majestic, Carlton and Martinez. The exorbitant prices of Cannes are finally starting to raise red flags among the music industry ( a shot of Johnny Walker Red at the Carlton will set you back a cool 20 Euros - roughly 25 U.S. dollars) - despite the industry's first "up" year since 2004. Even newly D.I.Y. singer Joss Stone, in town for two MIDEM appearances, told Billboard she and her manager were staying at a Radisson Inn 10 minutes outside of town to save cash. And with a growing number of MIDEM-goers coming from the U.S. startup community, it's getting harder to justify the international airfare when South by Southwest and other music-tech festivals are much closer.

Gawkers Gawking: Fans awaited the red carpet arrivals at the 13th NRJ Music Awards were held in Cannes Saturday night to honor French music fans' favorite domestic and international recording artists. Justin Bieber, Shakira, LMFAO and Seal were among the international stars to attend this year's awards show, which was launched in 2000 by pop radio station NRJ in association with French television network TF1. LMFAO later gave a surprise performance at the NRJ after-party in the Palm Beach Casino. (Photo: Louis Hau)

Perhaps it was a simple disconnect between perception and reality, as evidenced by Swedish label X5's private party in the Carlton's exclusive Sean Connery suite (rumored to go for 17,000 Euros a night,) which folks were clamoring to get into despite many not knowing a single thing about the company. (For the record, the Scandinavian digital-music label, which had more charting albums on Billboard's Classical Top 50 in 2010 and 2011 than any label except Universal, hired Amazon's Griff Morris in August and threw a similarly lavish party for him on the 73rd floor of the Empire State Building in September.) Several industry vets at the party said they couldn't identify a single person in the room, yet over the course of the night a bevy of music and digital VIPs -- including Google's Tim Quirk, Ted Kartzman, Dave Krinsky, Helen Marquis; Amazon's Steve Boomer, Craig Pape, Steve Bernstein and Stella Mowen; Spotify's Owen Smith and Gerrit Meier; Echo Nest's Jeff Bronikowsi and Shane Tobin; iTunes' Steffen Meister, Kelley Brogan and Jonathan Gruber; Microsoft's Christina Calio; Warner's Stephen Bryan; Rdio's Scott Bagby; MOG's David Hyman; Naxos' Jim Selby and Sean Hickey; SXSW's Roland Swenson, Kobalt's Paul Hitchman; Richard Gottehrer and Brad Navin of the Orchard -- enjoyed the festivities. The presence of Gottehrer, who of course co-founded Sire Records with Seymour Stein in the 1960s, was just one reason conversation often veered toward Stein, who was honored with Billboard's Icon Award on Sunday morning.

The "Sitting Area" in the Sean Connery Suite at the Carlton Cannes Hotel (Photo: ichotelsgroup)

Gottehrer said it was great to see his friend being honored during his lifetime at a time when too many industry greats pass away before being properly thanked for their contributions. Also on Saturday night, The Orchard hosted a 15th anniversary party at the Villa d'Estelle penthouse that was filled with a cross-section of digital and old school music execs, from Garth Brooks manager Bob Doyle and Seymour Stein to Topspin's Ian Rogers and Google Music's Elizabeth Moody.

Joss Stone (right) and her manager Brian Nelson looking refreshed following their decision to stay at the Raddison Inn, ten minutes outside of Cannes. (Photo: Andrew Hampp)