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The New Bosses 2023: Kerem Turgut, Dubai Opera

Continuing a series of interviews with the 2023 New Bosses, IQ speaks to Kerem Turgut, senior event programmer and live music booker at Dubai Opera (TU)

By Lisa Henderson on 14 Sep 2023

Kerem Turgut, Dubai Opera

Kerem Turgut, Dubai Opera

The 16th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 121 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.

To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2023’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.

Catch up on the previous interview with Katherina Thalerová, an artist/production manager for LaLa Slovak Music Export in Slovakia here. The series continues with Kerem Turgut, senior event programmer and live music booker at Dubai Opera (TU).

In February 2022, Kerem moved to Dubai to join the Dubai Opera as a Senior Programmer and Music Booker. There, he introduced artists like Bonobo, Jay Shetty, M83, Tom Odell, Gilberto Gil, Ali Sethi, Jethro Tull, Kenny Garrett, Tinariwen, Travis, Ghostly Kisses, and Ludovico Einaudi to Dubai audiences for the first time.

Kerem’s wide-ranging experience and unwavering dedication have helped him establish strong relationships with artists, labels, brands, managers, and agencies, including CAA, WME, Wasserman, UTA, ATC, ITB, Free Trade, X-Ray, and Primary Talent. He has proven his versatility by working at venues of varied capacities, such as the Dubai Opera (2,000 seats), Zorlu Performing Arts Center (4,000 seats), Volkswagen Arena (6,000 seats), Babylon (700 seats), and Harbiye Open Air Theatre (4,500 seats).

You began your career in the finance department. How does that background in economics help you with your day-to-day work now?
My background in economics and finance has been a real powerhouse in my current role in the live music industry. It helps me navigate the financial side of things with ease, from managing budgets and revenue analysis to negotiating contracts with artists and venues. Plus, it’s a great asset when it comes to assessing and mitigating risks, especially during these uncertain times. It allows me to strike a perfect balance between making events profitable and ensuring they’re accessible to fans. It’s like a backstage pass to making awesome concerts happen!

Is anyone else in your family involved in the entertainment business? If not, why did you choose this career path and how did you find out about jobs like promoters and agents?
Music has always been my heartbeat, and my sister actually played a huge role in shaping my music taste. She’s a DJ at Radio Eksen, a cool alternative music station in Turkey. She took me to concerts like Little Dragon, The Walkmen, Toro Y Moi at amazing venues like Babylon when I was just a kid! Those experiences sparked a fire in me, and I knew I wanted to be part of the magical world of entertainment. During my time at Pozitif, one of Turkey’s leading entertainment companies, I discovered the mesmerising roles of promoters and agents. It was like finding the missing piece to my puzzle, and from that point on, there was no turning back. Live music became my true calling, and I haven’t looked back since.

Your switch from finance to booking is intriguing. Did you have a mentor to help guide you – and is there anyone these days you can turn to when it comes to bouncing ideas around?
Switching from finance to booking was like diving into a whole new adventure, and I was fortunate to have some fantastic mentors along the way. Elif Cemal, a senior booker at Pozitif, was a guiding light during that transformation. She believed in me, saw my potential, and encouraged me to pursue my passion for live music. Later, as a live music booker at Zorlu Performing Arts Center when I was 24, I found another mentor in Murat Abbas, the General Manager at the time. Murat provided invaluable guidance and encouraged me to attend industry events like ESNS and IFF. His mentorship empowered me to build new relationships and secure contracts, opening doors to new opportunities in the industry.

The ‘Istanbul is a Stage’ project sounds like it was a crucial support for the creative community. Can you tell us more about why you started it, and its success?
The ‘Istanbul is a Stage’ project was born out of a desire to support local musicians and bring live music experiences to the people of Istanbul, particularly during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspired by Lincoln Center’s Restarts Stages project in New York City, we wanted to create an initiative that utilized unconventional venues to host free concerts across the city. Our goal was to make live music accessible to everyone and contribute to Istanbul’s vibrant cultural scene.

To make this vision a reality, we developed a website for an open call and curated a diverse program featuring talented local musicians from various genres. We sought unique locations such as ferry stations, islands, historical sites, new museums, and metro stations as unconventional venues to host the concerts. The project received widespread acclaim, strengthening the bond between the creative community and the city’s residents. Witnessing the joy on people’s faces and the positive impact it had on the community was truly heartwarming.

“Dubai’s business culture is like a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster, embracing innovation and new ideas with open arms”

And what about meeting new contacts in the business – are there any conferences, festivals or other events that you have attended that been useful for networking?
Networking is a vital aspect of the live music industry, and I actively participate in conferences and festivals to establish and maintain meaningful connections. Each year, I make it a priority to attend events like ESNS, The Great Escape, ILMC, and IFF. At The Great Escape and ESNS, discovering emerging artists is like finding hidden gems in a rock ‘n’ roll treasure hunt. And , ILMC is like an all-access pass to the heart of the industry, where we discuss trends, collaborate, and make epic plans for the future. Plus, IFF is like a superstar lineup of agents and connections for days! Networking is like a never-ending encore, and I love every moment of it!

You’ve been in Dubai for about 18 months now. What are the main cultural differences in business compared to Istanbul?
In Istanbul, the city’s established audience base and geographic advantage in being well-connected to Europe make it relatively easier to include the city in tour routing, especially with neighbouring Athens and Sofia. However, ticket prices have been a challenge, with the average being comparatively lower than in Europe due to ongoing exchange crises. To provide an example, in 2018, 1 USD was equivalent to 4.8 TL, whereas now it is 26 TL.

In contrast, Dubai’s live music scene is rapidly developing, with a strong economy and an emerging market attracting diverse expatriates from various backgrounds. Ticket prices in Dubai tend to be higher than in Europe, and logistics for touring may require more careful planning due to the city’s geographical distance from main markets. In navigating these differences, collaborations with colleagues from other cities like Istanbul, Cairo, or Tel Aviv have proven instrumental in creating viable and successful touring opportunities for artists in the region. One big difference is the diverse expatriate community, adding a unique blend of flavors to the audience. Dubai’s business culture is like a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster, embracing innovation and new ideas with open arms.

The tour circuit in the Middle East seems to be developing quickly. Is there a grassroots circuit where emerging talent can build local fanbases?
I think for international emerging talents, there should be more opportunities for them to play in different cities and venues in the region as part of a small tour. Bringing emerging talents all the way from Europe/UK for just one show can be financially challenging unless there is adequate support. However, we are always eager to find ways to showcase these talents, whether it’s by including them as support acts under headliners or taking calculated risks to organize one-off shows. Emerging talents play a crucial role in the live entertainment business, and it’s essential for the audience to experience new artists and discover fresh voices, enriching their knowledge and appreciation of the arts.

Are there any particular events or tours you are looking forward to this year or next?
Yes, There’s an electrifying lineup of events and tours on the horizon that’s got me pumped up like never before, which we will start to announce from September.

As a new boss, what one thing would you change to make the live entertainment industry a better place?
It would be to promote more transparency in the live entertainment industry Transparency builds trust, and trust is like the heartbeat of thriving partnerships with artists, agencies, and managers. When everyone involved is transparent, trust is built, communication is open, and partnerships thrive.

What would you like to see yourself doing in five years’ time?
In the next five years, I see myself embracing even more challenges and pushing the boundaries of my creativity. Despite global economic issues, my goal remains to promote shows that are accessible to fans while being profitable for the artists, and I hope to continue enriching the lives of our audiences and making a meaningful impact on the live music scene in Dubai and beyond.


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