The 43rd edition of the MIDEM international music market and conference gets under way this weekend in Cannes, starting with MidemNet, the international forum focusing on the music business in the digital age, on Saturday, Jan. 17.

Dominique Leguern was appointed director of MIDEM in 2000. During the 40th edition of MIDEM in 2006 she received the Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters). The cultural award is given in recognition of outstanding achievements in the arts.

Billboard.biz spoke to Leguern as she put the finishing touches to this year's program.

Billboard.biz: U2's manager Paul McGuinness caused a stir last year with his attack on ISPs not tackling illegal file-sharing. Are you expecting fireworks this time?

Dominique Leguern:I really think that the opening [MidemNet] keynote with Eric Nicoli [chairman Vue Entertainment and R&R Music, formerly chairman and chief executive EMI Group] and Michael Robertson [CEO MP3Tunes and founder of MP3.com] will be one of those powerful conversations between two very strong personalities who don't have the same approach at all. One is coming from the majors and the other from the digital world, it's going to be interesting.

How did you decide on the speakers?

We are looking for the companies that are really bringing new models and new ideas for the music industry, especially for MidemNet. The people we are welcoming are people with a very strategic vision. We are also looking to present keynotes that have not been seen at every single conference everywhere in the world! When you come to MIDEM and attend MidemNet, which are premium brands, you want to have value of content. You don't just want to see the same people you see everywhere.

As well as Nokia's Tero Ojanpera, you've got key digital and mobile players such as Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion, confirmed for MidemNet. Is there a major theme this year?

The theme of MidemNet this year is the artist-fan relationship and how to monetize this relationship. We have been able to attract to the main social networks and I think it's very important to have them attending. Jim Balsillie is doing a keynote at MidemNet and the format is that he will be interviewed on stage in Q&A format and he will talk about the future of digital music delivery on platforms like Blackberry.

How is the difficult economic situation globally affecting attendance figures?

Of course, I think we are going to see a decrease in our attendance, we don't know exactly how much yet. We are not protected -- especially because we are in the music industry -- from what is happening in the rest of the world. I don't see how we could not also feel these changing times. We are expecting some decline. The music industry has been in a crisis for five years now. I think the acceleration of physical distribution shrinking is very tough for our clients.

But we have the main players there, we also know that the quality of the delegates will be there, which means that the people who are going to be there are going to be very willing to do business very seriously.

MIDEM begins with a day of programming dedicated to the Russian music industry, organized in conjunction with Billboard Russia. Are you looking forward to Russia being this year's country of honor?

We are all excited to discover some of these [Russian] artists that we've never had the occasion to see anywhere. We also believe that the Russian conference will deliver some important tools to the other delegates to access the Russian market, it will be an important moment of MIDEM. We already have growth of approximately 70% on last year for the Russian delegation.

Why did you feel it was important to recognize the veteran French songwriter Charles Aznavour for an award at this year's MIDEM?

Charles Aznavour is the only French-speaking singer or writer known everywhere in the world, he's written over 800 songs and sold more than 100 million records. He is also an actor who has been in more than 60 movies. I really think he deserves this. And he's also a publisher. So that's why chose him to receive the lifetime achievement award, which is different from what we used to deliver. It's usually called 'personality of the year.' This is the first time we have delivered a lifetime achievement award.

Billboard.biz will have full coverage of MidemNet and MIDEM in the days ahead.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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