How Music Conferences Like Midem, A2IM Indie Week Will Carry On -- Digitally

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In addition to the countless tours and festivals that have been halted by the coronavirus pandemic, the music industry's biggest professional conferences have also taken a hit.

Some conferences such as Music Biz postponed its May event in Nashville to August. But other entities, including international trade show Midem and American Association of Independent Music's (A2IM) Indie Week, are experimenting with hosting remote events.

"We felt that, during this very uncertain and unsettling time for our industry, it was more important than ever to bring the global community together," Midem Director Alexandre Deniot tells Billboard of moving the annual Cannes event online. 

The Midem Digital Edition will be accessible to all and will feature livestreamed keynote sessions, talks and presentations rather than holding off until the live version returns June 1-4 in 2021.

"The digital edition will enable us to serve the Midem network and beyond and allow people in all parts of the music business internationally to benefit from the Midem experience while they're unable to physically travel," Deniot adds. "This seemed by far the best option, rather than making everyone wait indefinitely, especially during a period when we all need each other more than ever."

The ability to reach more participants through a digital version also appeals to A2IM CEO Richard James Burgess, who oversees a membership of individuals with varying levels of income.

"A plus for us, is that it opens up the possibility of reaching many more members than we normally reach because some people don’t come because of scheduling conflicts or the financial strain of flying in," Burgess tells Billboard of the New York event that has moved online between June 15-18. "So we will be able to reach out all across America to members all across the country. But also be able to reach internationally."

Annually, Indie Week and its corresponding Libera Awards bring together professionals throughout the independent music world with as many as 35 international territories represented in 2019.

"We debated canceling or postponing or virtual. Because of everything that I am seeing about the coronavirus is looking like it is going to be a lot longer than some people in our country are indicating, the idea of postponing didn’t seem like a good one. And canceling, well that just leaves everybody hanging," Burgess says. "I am hoping that doing the conference and the awards show digitally will help create a sense of normalcy in a sea of uncertainty. Everyone is feeling a little bit unsure about where things are going."

Both conferences admit that there was already a concentrated push within their conferences to move aspects of the events online.

"We've actually been planning to launch a digital platform for some time, so the need to move Midem online for 2020, as unexpected as it was, just gave us the push we needed to speed up the process," Deniot says. "We see this as just another great opportunity to develop and innovate, adapting in the most relevant way to the needs of the industry as they stand right now. This seems to us completely appropriate, not just as a solution to working in the current climate, but also to matching the digitally-driven nature of the music business more widely."

In the increasingly digital business of music, moving events online not only makes sense but also gives the organizations an opportunity to capture additional data.

"One of the things that we want to get out of this indie week is a bunch of data that tells us what works and what doesn’t work. That will inform us going forward," Burgess says. "We collect quite a bit of data now at the live events, but it is limited. This will be incredibly precise data and it should be very valuable to us to make sure that we are serving the needs of the membership."

Both conferences will see speeches, round tables and performances move online, not only collecting data on who attends, but also obtaining that content for on-demand and future use. In addition, the conferences are continuing to facilitate one-on-one conversations and networking opportunities which are a key component for professional events.

A2IM says its 2019 conference helped facilitate 1,800 one-on-one meetings and that they are in the process of securing digital partners that can help move those interactions online with Burgess adding "Obviously, there is no substitute for being able to go up and say ‘hi’ to people, but we are going to try to do the best that we can to create those kinds of chance interactions as well."

"The Midem Digital Edition will feature live streamed keynote sessions, talks and presentations, as well as opportunities for online conversations and speed-meetings between participants," Deniot says. "In terms of networking, for now, we're planning some interactive sessions with keynotes and high profile speakers, which will be a rare opportunity for the online audience to have meaningful access to and gain insights from those in the industry with fantastic experience to draw on in these exceptional circumstances. We will also set up virtual roundtables around specific topics including COVID-19 and its impact on the music industry."

For Burgess, an unexpected silver lining of being forced to move conferences online will be the lessons learned in terms of sustainability. For years, A2IM and the industry as a whole has been grappling with the music industry's dependency on touring, which is harmful for the environment.

"Here now, in one fell swoop, we have made our conference and our awards show incredibly green, incredibly low carbon footprint," says Burgess. "At the end of it, hopefully we will have learned some important lessons from it and we will be able to apply those lessons going forward. Which doesn’t mean to say we will scrap all live conferences, because obviously face-to-face interaction is very special. But at the same time, it might mean that we can move certain things online and not have the massive carbon footprint that we always do now. We can augment our physical activities with our virtual activities."

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