Midem, an international music conference, is held each year in Cannes, France. This year, the Midem organizers moved the date from January to June, and attendees hailed it as the first Midem without rain (or snow) in years. 

Kristen Agee, CEO and Founder of 411 Music Group, was one of many entrepreneurs pressing the pavement with back to-back meetings to grow their networks and artist rosters. Her company works to find opportunities for artists and writers to place their music in TV shows, films and advertising -- known as "sync licensing."

We sat down with Kristen to hear about life as a music startup.  

How did you become interested in the music industry? 

As a kid, I grew up listening to all kinds of music. We had a piano that took a lot of abuse between playing chopsticks with hammers and my dad playing "Fur Elise". After a lot of chipped piano keys, my parents bought my brother and me a drum set and, later, an electric guitar. Music really took over when I started playing violin at age 11. It was all-consuming and really difficult, but I was immediately hooked. My first teacher didn’t want to take me as a student because she thought I was too old to learn violin, but in the end, she agreed. Nothing was ever forced, so I think I was motivated to learn quickly and catch up to the kids who started playing at three years old. I remember being at friends’ houses and just wanting to go home to practice. It was isolating and rewarding at the same time, but also taught me how to collaborate, listen and stay persistent when things got tough. 

As I started fine-tuning my ears, I expanded my listening interests into many genres... rock, punk, classical, jazz, bluegrass... and I studied every aspect of each song. I would actively listen to the bass, then play the song again and listen to the guitars, then the vocal or melody line until I heard every nuance of the production. As I grew as a musician, I became interested in learning other instruments and writing. In order to write I needed to learn how to record, so I went to The Los Angeles Recording School and got certified in sound engineering. After school, I bought some gear, built a recording studio from scratch and started recording bands along with my own songs and projects, which eventually led me to write for publishers in film and television.

Why start a company versus working for an already established record or publishing company?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so having my own business was a natural progression. Initially, my focus was on performance, and at 25, I started learning about publishing and the importance of copyrights. I wrote for other publishers in sync and was able to focus solely on making music while seeing positive results through established companies. As I grew as an artist, I also wanted to become more involved with other creators. 411 Music Group developed as I started evaluating forward-thinking models for the publishing and sync world. One of the most rewarding parts of music is connecting people and collaborating with different writers, artists, music supervisors and creatives within the industry. Those connections and collaborations motivate me. My hope is to take an active role in shaping the future of the music business and concentrate on maintaining integrity on both the creative and developmental sides.

What has changed for indie artists from when you started to today?

Money in general for music is diminishing, streaming has taken over and we’re staring at a different market than what it was 10 years ago. Old models are dying, and new ones are emerging all the time. The way in which past models carry over into the future biz is going to dictate the shape of the market. I think sync licensing is the new way in. It’s still a tough and competitive market, but the old models of A&R, touring and signing to a major are long gone for most artists. Record sales are down, even sync rates are lower, but it’s still possible to earn money in music, just in different ways. The value in music today is through sponsorships, ads, sync, touring, and potentially in streaming. If we can get streaming services to move in the right direction, maybe artists can start replacing lost record sales with performance income. 

That said, I think indie artists have more tools now than ever to get their music heard and amass a following.  Consumers have the ability to find any type of music or band imaginable and from all over the world.  For example, there is a genre called Lowercase that is pretty much defined as “the sound of silence mixed with sounds of bacteria being flash-frozen in a Petri dish”, or Scottish Pirate Metal that mixes metal, folk and sea shanties- the list goes on.  Social media and the age of viral-everything play a huge role in how artists create a buzz and can potentially become known.  We’re sort of galloping through the Wild West with this stuff.  What I try to look at is the prospect of inevitable change and its sustainability.

What are some of the ways you leverage brand partnerships for your artists?

Our specialty lies in sync. We’re an exclusive, one-stop catalog, but our focus is in quality over quantity. We maintain a high standard for our music, and we put our artists and composers in the forefront. Brands, commercials, TV and sync, in general, are great ways for communities to discover new music. 

We recently licensed the song “No More Waiting” by Pop/Alternative artist, Onyay Pheori, for an international BeanPole commercial. It was very cinematic and the song was featured throughout the entirety of the ad campaign, including behind-the-scenes and the making-of videos. The South Korean actor Kim Soo-hyun was the face of the campaign, and the video reached 2 million views on YouTube within a few weeks. The brand received a lot of attention for the commercial and so did the music.  A lot of people started searching for the song so, in conjunction with the commercial, we did a digital release of the album. We also have music in new video games, which are set to release later this year, as well as Netflix promos and several on-screen featured placements on MTV. By strategically planning the timing of a release to coincide with a placement, tour, artist appearance, etc., it is possible to leverage the brands and artists involved. Our intention is to always stay ahead of the curve and find composers and artists who are progressive, unique and creating great music. Working with new and engaging writers is essential for us to maintain consistency, stay relevant and continue to advance.

What advice do you give to your artists?

Keep writing and keep recording! Take the time to master your craft, creativity and songwriting. Instead of trying to write every genre, focus on finding and developing your own individual sound. It’s better to be great at one thing than just okay at many things. Then, you can brand yourself, your songs and develop partnerships accordingly. Make sure your production is solid- and you don’t have to spend a ton of money in the process. Instead of going broke trying to record the greatest album on earth in the most expensive studios with the very best engineers, develop partnerships with people who believe in your work. A lot of artists are recording hits in their basements and on laptops in hotel rooms. Having an amazing studio with a first-class team is great, but you’d be surprised what you can create with limited resources and some originality.  Experiment with your sound until you achieve what you want. Also, consider partnering with companies like ours who can license your music and get it heard. A lot of artists hang on to songs for too long because they’re waiting for the perfect deal to turn their songs into hits. That might very well happen, but 99% of the time, those songs will sit and collect dust. Allow your music to be taken off the shelf and utilized. Then, write another. The more songs you have in the pipeline, the more potential you’ll have for sustainability in the business.

Joe Belliotti is head of global music marketing at The Coca-Cola Company. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBelliotti.