MUSIC - RUSSIA

Russia's music industry sets sights high

On its way to becoming a major player in the international music industry, Russia is in the spotlight at this year's MIDEM. Some of the country's hottest music talents, including Russian superstars Valeriya and Sergey, joined the global music show.

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AFP - Russia is in the spotlight at this year's premier global music industry show, MIDEM, as the country's huge music industry sets its sights on the international stage.

"Russia is in a phase of rapid expansion and on its way to becoming a major player and an essential partner for the rest of the industry," said MIDEM director Dominique Leguern at the four-day event, which began Sunday.

Some of the country's hottest music talents, including superstars Valeriya and Sergey, joined the country's largest industry delegation yet in a bid to impress the thousands of music, Internet, video and mobile phone bigwigs who descended on this Riviera seaside resort for the trade fair.

Plagued by plummeting sales of music CDs and the upward march of illegal free music downloads, the world's music industry continues to search for fresh ways and new markets to make money in today's digital world.

So interest ran high about possible opportunities thrown up by some of Russia's leading music market experts.

Russia moreover is experiencing an explosion in its Internet population, expected to become Europe's second largest after Germany, with over 40 million subscribers. And it is the world's fourth largest market for mobile telephones, behind China, the United States and India, with almost 180 million subscribers.

"For several years, Russia has been considered as one of the major emerging markets for the music industry. Recent changes in legislation, which have led to new regulations on the market, have helped to fight piracy and foster growth," said Ilya Buts, senior executive of the Russian edition of influential music magazine Billboard.

"(Digital) paid-for services are developing rapidly as leading telecom companies are creating their own legitimate music services," added Alexei Ugrinovich, who heads up Russia's trade association for the recording industry, the NFPP.

Digital music represents between five and seven percent of Russia's music sales while physical sales bucked the global trend to rise 10 percent in 2007. Similar growth is expected this year.

Russian music dominates the home market and musicians make most of their income through live concerts around the huge territory.

"It's strange to be the new person here (in Cannes) as if we were just beginning," said Valeriya, a regular stadium sell-out who is as big a star in her homeland as Madonna, having recorded 10 top-selling albums.

"But it's a great chance to expand our audience," she said in excellent English.

Her most recent albums feature collaborations with European and US songwriters and producers, including Robin Gibb (formerly of the hugely successful Bee Gees) and David Richards (Queen and David Bowie).

Both Valeriya and Russian pop sensation Sergey sing in English, with Sergey's biggest hit "Don't Be Fake" produced by a well-known British producer.

But piracy is rampant in the country and has badly hit Valeriya who pointed out that last year she only sold 300,000 albums compared with over one-and-a-half million five years ago.

The Russian government is trying to stem the flood of music piracy, currently running at between 40 percent outside cities and 80 percent in big urban centres.

Other Russian stars who jetted in to perform at the Russian showcase included leading electronic acts, Muisha, Moscow Grooves Institute and Mujuice, plus one of Russia's top DJs, Vadim Solovyev.

"Music has no barriers," said Valeriya. "It bring us closer together."

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