Global Focus Rocks Canadian Music Week

Music retailers may be falling off the face of planet, the major record label count in Canada is now down to three (Universal, Warner Music & Sony) and downloading is now making the CD redundant yet Neill Dixon is still confident about the future of the global music industry.

About to launch his 31st annual Canadian Music Week conference, March 19th to March 24th, now headquartered at Toronto’s Marriott Hotel, Dixon, the president of CMW, chatted prior to heading out to MIDEM France, another stop on his globetrotting calendar in which he evaluates various other international music conferences in order to keep his own festival fresh and current.

“Any conference that focused on physical products like record retail are having the toughest times but those which focus on digital and social media are doing okay,” reported Dixon. “There is no reason to go to MIDEM if you are focused on the recording industry because that business in trouble.”

Neill Dixon, President CMW
Neill Dixon, President CMW
Dixon could see that the music industry was going digital twenty years ago and his conference has provided a leading edge in featuring guest speakers who cultivated that direction. “As Wayne Gretzky used to say “I follow wherever the puck is going,” explained the former co-founder of successful independent record label, Solid Gold Records and former manager of hard rock band Triumph.

“We bring in some soothsayers and crystal-ball gazers and other visionaries, but at the same time we try to focus on practical issues that the industry is dealing with day to day,” Dixon explained. “The thing that has changed for us in the past 10 years was the realization that we had to be global. You can’t just talk about domestic issues anymore. The digital age has taken things global. There are more artists touring and selling their product globally than before.

“So we started doing these international spotlights to put a focus on both developing markets and established markets,” he continued. “We produced reports and established intelligence information and then we brought in some of those country’s top buyers and people who can make things happen in those markets. It’s a successful formula that has resulted in millions of bucks worth of contracts being negotiated.”

Dixon announced that South Korea, Japan and the five Scandinavian countries are all being featured at this year’s conference which has now moved from the Royal York Hotel to the Marriott where all the seminars will be staged.

Heart to speak at Social Media conference on March 19. Photo:  Norman Seeff
Heart to speak at Social Media conference on March 19. Photo: Norman Seeff
Another big change is the scheduling of a two-day Social Media conference on March 19th and 20th which has been scheduled not to conflict with the main music industry conference. Music and Radio continue to be two key focus areas with a guest speaker line-up which features Seattle recording group, and future Hall Of Fame inductees Heart, top recording producers Steve Lilleywhite and Bob Ezrin and top concert promoter Michael Cohl.

“We don’t necessarily want to live in a retro world but we believe a lot of up and coming bands can learn from the Wilson sisters,” explained Dixon. “They have a new album out, they are currently touring and they are being inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. It will be an up close and personal thing. They will talk about their career, how they write songs and will probably play some acoustic tracks and explain how they created that particular piece. And then they will execute a Q&A with the audience. Its very fan oriented.

This year’s CMW will also feature a Film Fest, a Comedy Fest (spotlighting Sarah Bernhard, March 22nd at the Elgin Theatre) plus a monster talent showcase which will feature over 1,000 acts performing over six days at more than 60 local venues.

“There’s a lot more bands out there these days,” noted Dixon. “The bottom of the pyramid has definitely increased; the top of the pyramid has suffered a bit but overall, there are a lot more bands trying to break into the business and get discovered. They all seem to have their own agendas. They are not necessarily looking for a record deal, most are doing those themselves. But they are looking for management, an agent or for a festival buyer.”

Dixon noted that although the festival still attracts its share of industry delegates, the CMW is altering its’ admission structure to encourage members of the general public to attend the festival. “We have a $499 three-day pass for the public to attend all three days of the music industry festival but we also have $250 a day admissions in case someone just wants to attend one particular day’s event. Wristbands for the six-night music festival are $50 each with a special $100 priority pass for all the music, film and comedy events.

Another big format change is the relocation of the four industry event functions to the Koolhaus where the January 20th Radio Industry awards function also doubles as the event opening launch party.

In summarizing the current state of the music industry, Dixon observed that the biggest problem is that digital has not yet replaced physical. “Physical (product hardware) went down faster than digital went up,” noted Dixon. I trust everyone will want digital eventually because digital is that much simpler. Now that retail has virtually gone, and major record companies, the gatekeepers of recorded product are virtually redundant, we are looking at a much leveler playing field.

“Yes things are changing but it all bodes well for the business,” concluded Dixon. “The industry is a lot more democratic, things are constantly changing but the consumer is still king.”

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