Pharrell Williams was the big star name in attendance for the opening day of MidemNet, where there was a generally positive attitude about digital music and the future of the industry.

MidemNet launched 11 years ago and the digital-focused conference in Cannes precedes the main MIDEM conference and trade fair, which runs Jan. 24-27.

In his keynote address, N.E.R.D star Pharrell Williams spoke of the need for the music industry to keep on top of new developments in technology.

"You need to embrace the technology and see how it can help you," he told Cornerstone CEO Rob Stone. "But you're not going to be able to control it. [Previously] the music biz ignored it and thought it could do whatever it wanted. But Steve Jobs made it very clear that it's all about technology and if you're the one riding the horse you'll get to your destination quickly. If you're not, you'll be walking behind and you're a follower."

Williams - who was slightly late for his session after suffering from a stomach virus - also compared illegal downloading and file-sharing to the "taste-testing" you get in shopping malls.

"It doesn't stop you going to that restaurant," he said. "People have so many choices we should allow them to taste-test and see if they want to get involved."

Williams is currently working on a new N.E.R.D project but juggles a number of other interests and businesses, including his artst.com site ("There's no 'I' 'cos it's not about me, it's about you," he quipped), which offers opportunities to young people in different fields of the arts.

"I don't just want to be purely creative," he said. "I want to be a leader to young kids and let them know you can do anything."

Williams also mentioned working on new projects with Ludacris, Jay-Z and the Game, and he spoke of his pride at the Neptunes being named producer of the decade by Billboard magazine. "I considered it an honor, I was very surprised," he said.

Ted Cohen, managing director of TAG Strategic, opened the conference with a bullish message about growth for the music business. "Our industry remains in flux, it continues to retract but I firmly believe we are at the low point," he said. "People will pay for music, you just have to show them the value."

Cohen added that "really good personalization" was a key approach to get consumers to engage with music.

Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO of Eastman Kodak Company, offered his perspective from a company that had to change its business model - switching the focus from the high margins on supplies and processing for film-based cameras to Kodak digital cameras and software - in response to the new digital environment.

"You've got to be brave," was his advice. "You don't get great products and great business models by being timid. Our job, especially in a creative sense, is to move people to the edge of the table."

Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, noted that last year vinyl "was the fastest growing part of the music business actually being paid for," describing it as an "awesome" product for indie retail or for acts to sell on the road.

But McBride stressed that the future was with "digital valet" services, such as ad-funded Spotify which has yet to launch in the U.S., where users can access playlists anywhere without using up space on their hard drive. He voiced concern that the labels and publishers, particularly in the U.S., were reluctant about the model and said they "will lose an amazing opportunity" if they don't change their thinking.

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