Above (from left): Billboard editorial director Bill Werde, Beggars Group founder and Billboard Industry Icon Award winner Martin Mills, Reed Midem CEO Paul Zilk and Midem director Bruno Crolot. (Photo: MIDEM/D'Halloy/Image & Co)
Martin Mills, founder of the Beggars Group, was honored with Billboard’s second annual Industry Icon Award at MIDEM Sunday morning at a breakfast reception sponsored by Nokia Music. A music legend and MIDEM regular since 1976, Mills was welcomed with opening remarks from Reed Midem CEO Paul Zilk, Billboard editorial director Bill Werde, Nokia Music’s Jyrki Rosenberg and a custom sizzle reel featuring testimonials from 2012 Industry Icon Seymour Stein, Matador founder Chris Lombardi, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, early Beggars Banquet signing Gary Numan, XL’s Richard Russell and more.
AIM's Alison Wenham introduced Billboard Industry Icon Award winner Martin
Mills and unfurled a roll of toilet paper with Mills' supposed bad qualities.
(Photo: MIDEM/D'Halloy/Image & Co)
AlisonWenham, chief executive of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) and president of Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), introduced her longtime friend and industry colleague with the goal of speaking to his flaws having seen the two pages full of praise in the current edition of Billboard. “He’s quite embarrassed by all this good stuff so I made a list of all his bad points,” she said, unraveling a long sheet of toilet paper with the word “stubborn” scrawled across it more than 20 times. “I went around and asked all the staff and colleagues and even phoned his wife Yvonne and said, ‘Come on, give me some dirt,’ and the one thing I managed to flush out of everyone was ‘stubborn,’” she said. “One person said, ‘Negotiating a salary review with Martin is probably the toughest job of all.’”
On the plus side, Wenham noted, “I’ve never seen Martin lose his temper but once.” She recalled an email documenting Mills’ lone outburst to her. “This most mild-mannered and congenial of men used the F word and the B word – and you know which B word I’m talking about. [He said], ‘You’re buggering about with the industry’ and that was it really.” Speaking to a packed room full of industry colleagues and friends from AIM, IMPALA, Merlin, Matador and many other sectors of the industry, Wenham added, “We’ve been on a long journey, and we have a long way to go. Without Martin I don’t think we’d all be here in this room.”
Martin Mills delivering his acceptance speech at Billboard's Industry Icon Award
at MIDEM (MIDEM/D'Halloy/Image & Co)
Wenham’s candid anecdotes cued up Mills’ impassioned speech (full text here), in which he spoke out against not his presumed rivals, the major labels, but the government that polices all content owners.
“I’m not here to attack the majors,” Mills said during his nearly 10-minute speech, “I am here today to agree with the majors in all the creative arts. I want to talk about the lack of support that governments and bureaucrats worldwide show to the creative industry. Many pay lip service to the importance of the creative community, but most fail to match that with their actions.”
Mills also accused the government of scrutinizing content owners more than the technology companies that have devalued that same content in recent years. “My small company apparently paid more tax at a proper rate in the UK last year than Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon put together. Having politicians discriminate in favor of companies against us in most ways I perceive as cheating the tax man,” he said. “in what ways does that make sense for serving the economy?”
Politics aside, Mills was ultimately humbled by his honor, which recognized a career that began signing bands in the English punk scene and has recently been buoyed by the astronomical success of Adele’s “21” (a joint release between Beggars’ XL Recordings and Sony’s Columbia). “Obviously I never expected to be here,” he said. “I never started working in music with any idea that Beggars would achieve what it has. I’ve never taken any odds against it. I think Beggars certainly does provide an illuminating parallel for the times. We’ve been quietly putting out music we love, getting more focused at what we’re good at and getting better at it. Now I think we know what we are and what we represent, as enabled by the technological challenges of the last 15 years.”
Among Mills’ friends, colleagues and peers in attendnace were Seymour Stein, The Orchard’s Richard Gottehrer, TAG Strategic’s Ted Cohen, Kobalt Music Group founder Willard Ahdritz, Glassnote Records founder Daniel Glass, MAC Presents’ Marcie Allen, Warner Bros. Records’ Lori Feldman, Warner recording artist Theophilus London, entertainment lawyer Kenneth Abdo, Whitesmith Entertainment’s Emily White and many more.