The Int'l Power Players Speak: Seymour Stein, Martin Mills, Alison Wenham, Frances Moore, Willard Ahdritz on Paul McGuinness, Midem & More (Q&A)

From left: Beggars Group chairman Martin Mills, Billboard Industry Icon Award honoree Paul McGuinness and venerated music man Seymour Stein

Desjardins/Image & Co.

It only makes sense at this year's Midem, the preeminent global music conference, a large contingent of Billboard's International Power Player list would be in attendance. Here, at Billboard's event honoring longtime U2 manager Paul McGuinness, we caught up with a power coterie that included music legend and former Billboard Industry Icon Award winner Seymour Stein, Beggars Group chairman Martin Mills, IFPI CEO Frances Moore, chairman and CEO of the Association of Independent Music Alison Wenham and Kobalt CEO and chairmanWillard Ahdritz where we got their takes on Midem, McGuinness, and their own businesses.

Seymour Stein:
Co-Founder, Sire Records

Billboard: How long have you been coming to Midem for?
Seymour Stein: Since the very first one in 1967 -- I was 23 years old. I was at the San Remo festival -- the only international event at the time. That's where people would pick up publishing to songs like "Volare," Ciao, Ciao Bambina" "Al Di La." I took a train from there to Cannes, I found a room—I had no money, Sire was just starting—for the equivalent of $8.00. It was many, many years ago and it had its own toilet and shower, just down the road. I came here with a little bag and I've been back to almost every one.

What are you best memories of Midem
I've signed a lot of artists here. I signed Focus here, which was my first million selling band. I started the negotiations with the people Holland and in Luxembourg but the deal was signed here. I also picked up Plastic Bertrand (starts singing “Ca Plane Pour Moi”).  I also picked up Telex another Belgian band.

So Midem really helped your career.
Midem was a great help, the greatest thing that helped me early was I was there with the founder of Blue Horizon which I helped to start and became his partner -- Mike Vernan. That brought me over to England all the time, back and forth and back and forth.   I've been to most every Mdiem I can tell you the first Midem I missed which was the 6th or 7th Midem when my second daughter was born. I didn't miss another year after that for another 20-25 years. But then other things came up. I probably only missed five Midems at the most.

What's your take on Paul McGuinness winning our Industry Icon Award [which Stein won in 2012]?
I met him in Brooklyn. When he first came over I was eating in Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn. All of a sudden the waiter brought over a bottle of champagne. This guy comes over, a manager I knew, and he said this is my friend Paul McGuinness. He said he's had this band U2. And I said "I know all about U2, they just done a deal with Warners through Island and we're going to be putting their album out.” That's how I met Paul McGuinness.

He's been an important figure in the industry.
He's got a great brain.

What did you make on his outspoken views on piracy a few year back?
What I don't understand is why more people weren't outspoken. It's ridiculous they were so silent about it. A hundred years before all that here was a bigger change from sheet music and pianos over to Gramophones and Victrolas and 78 RPMs or even cylinders. When radio started, records fought radio. Labels started to put on the records "Not To Be Played on Radio Without Permission." I have 78s with that. They thought radio would kill the record business that people would hear it for nothing. We've been through crisis after crisis but everyone needs a soundtrack for their lives whether it's streaming or whatever.

Martin Mills
Chairman, Beggars Group

Billboard: Congrats on making the International Power Players list, what kind of subterfuge did you use to get on there?
Martin Mills: None of that. As I said to [Billboard writer] Reggie Ugwu who interviewed me that actually the last thing in the world I care about is power. The only power I care about is the power of the music that we make. To me that's the only thing that matters. You need zero power of a person at a corporation if you have the power of to reach people.

What's your take on Paul McGuinness' Icon honor?.
It's an amazing story as he said what band has had the same manager for 35 years. I was trying to think of another one and I can't. It's amazing what they've received. I started out at the business at the same time.

What did you think about the kind words he had for Universal Music? He said that if you're an independent entity who can "infiltrate" a major label, you kind of have the keys to the care and can use their services and expertise to your own  benefit.
I think,—and don't take this quote out of context—but Universal is a great company and they are really good at what they do. They are clearly the best at what they do. It's not what we do. And sometimes independents and majors work well together and sometimes they work better separately. And there's no such thing as indies good, majors bad -- it's all different companies.

What’s your take on this year’s Midem?
It’s obviously changing with the times. Obviously, there are fewer people exhibiting than there used to be, but I think that's a function of how people communicate these days. I've bumped into loads of people down here, one always does, they're always interesting conversations to have. And certainly for the independent world it's a chance to come together and talk in a way which actually nowhere else really provides.

When you come to Midem do you actually get business done or is it more for networking and meeting people?
For me it's more the networking but it's more the independent industry stuff for me that's happening. Because in the old days we used to come and meet our licensees around the world, we don't have licensees around generally we do it ourselves so we got our own people in most countries now. They don't come because they're back home marketing the records.

When was your first Midem?
1977 we came here with four punk singles and one punk compilation album and knocked on every door that there was when it was over at Mamaison We did a deal then with a German company that if we hadn't done we probably would have gone bust.

Wasn't there a Merlin Board meeting that happened this week?
We had a Merlin Board retreat at Collum d'or for two days -- Friday and Saturday.

Also, congratulations on Vampire Weekend winning Best Alternative Album Grammy, how many is that for you?
Well, obviously Adele got bucket loads, but it's the first one of a record we've released entirely on our own. I was trying to remember whether if back in the day if albums by the Cult, Love & Rockets or the Pixies got Grammys when they were licensed to other labels -- there may be one or two along there. The Vampire Weekend is the first entirely on our own steam.

Did you go?
No I don't do industry events

But you're here.
I don't do black-tie ceremonies, they're against my religion.

Frances Moore
CEO, IFPI Congrats on making Billboard's International Power Players List
Frances Moore: I think it's really important that the IFPI was recognized as making a real contribution to the industry -- we thank the lord for that. We work day in and day out making sure that the environment is right for the companies to do business. And I think that's what this list recognizes.

Over the last few years the global market has seemingly taken on more importance than ever.
We're very optimistic for the future

But how solid is that future?
It's been a digital success, but it's still a fragile recovery and a bumpy road, but there's so much determination to make it work. It's that optimism that carries us forward.

I look at your global data regularly, are you finding more interest as the global market grows?
Oh definitely, whether it's the platforms they are very interesting or our data because we really an authority in that area.

What makes IFPI an authority?
IFPI has a real team of experts and a real team of professional that is recognized by both companies and the platforms who want our data.

Alison Wenham
Chairman/CEO, Assn of Independent Music

Billboard: Congratulations on being one of the most Powerful international music execs in the world. How did it feel to make the list?
Alison Wenham: I'm very flattered, I'm in amazing company.

It's interesting you made the list representing the independent comment on a list with so many majors.
The increasing importance of independent companies across the world is quite extraordinary because they are working with artists and musicians who would probably never attract the interest of a major label. They're in a genre or a country that wouldn't necessarily be commercially attractive. And I'm not saying that independents aren't commercial--they're very commercial, they're very focused on the business of music--but it's the passion of the music and the artists first and foremost and that's what I think is very distinctive about the independent sector.

It's incredible how much power the independent sector has gained. A2IM in the U.S. just put out a release saying they had 50% of the Grammy wins as defined by the majority of master recordings ownership.
That tells you a lot.  I heard that the majors hadn't released anything in these categories. The story of the independents is the diversity, there's so many cultures and so much local music around the world, they simply wouldn't exist on records without the independents.

What do you make of Paul McGuinness being named this year's Industry Icon?
Oh i think it's well-deserved. I think he's a gentleman of such apparent modesty but very near the surface is a real business guru and genuinely nice gentleman.

Willard Ahdritz:
Founder/CEO, Kobalt

Billboard: Congrats on making the International Power Players list, how does it feel?
Willard Ahdritz: Thank you very much. I'm very pleased, we are today directly in 38 countries in the world. We control 35% of the top 100 globally with clients like Paul McCartney, Max Martin or Dr. Luke. Having Kobalt as a global company, that was the vision from the beginning -- a centrist organization, global technology platform is the way to run music.

How many years have you been coming to Midem?
Kobalt has been here since day one in 2001.

And before that?
I started a dance wave label from Sweden in 1986. In the mid-80s, no one was traveling to Sweden to listen to music. So Abba and Roxette came out of different roads and me and my partner thought Swedish music should come out in the world. So we went to London and New York and in the end Clive Davis came to Stockholm to find out all our stuff and we started a dance wave with all our stuff from Sweden.

How do you think Midem has changed?
Enormously. When I was here in 1986 I had all my albums. I still remember there was a Japanese distributor. I couldn't speak Japanese, he couldn't speak English -- so we just looked at each other he pointed at the albums and said thumbs up and that was the deal.

Kobalt's growing roster is extraordinary--Miles Davis, Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Max Martin -- how many employees do you have and how much of that is A&R?
Today we have 210 employees and 20 are A&R for writers—but we are always employing more people.