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XP Music Futures 2022 to focus on innovation

The Middle East’s leading music industry gathering XP Music Futures is accelerating growth across the region’s already thriving creative scene.

The conference, a first of its kind, was recognised as a huge success by 87% of attendees of its debut edition. XP is home to groundbreaking discussions aimed at providing infinite opportunity for Saudi to become part of the global music scene.

The inaugural event – organised by the Saudi music entertainment company, MDLBeast – welcomed more than 4,000 music industry movers. Together, they learned from a diverse set of 150+ speakers from more than 25 different countries – of which half were female – ensuring a fair balance and representation in action, not just words.

The three-day conference also fulfilled its commitment to diversity through its day and night programming, where daytime workshops and sessions were shaped around four main pillars – Talent, Policy, Scene, and Impact – and each night came with a packed schedule of exciting live entertainment, headlined by local and regional artists.

This year’s edition from 28-30 November is also focusing on innovation. Discovering, developing, and empowering talent is key to XP Music Futures. An independent study following 2021’s maiden XP discovered that attendees found immense value in the conference’s use of local and regional talent for its daytime workshops and nighttime performances, with that relatability offering a significant degree of inspiration to the majority of attendees.

Two of the talents featured as part of XP last year were Marcela Rada and Banah Anabtawi, both of whom will be returning to Riyadh again this November. A skilled sound engineer and college professor specialised in immersive audio, Rada has years of experience working with independent artists and was one of the motivating speakers at XP 2021.

“The music business in Saudi and the region is still in its early stages, which in return, provides a huge opportunity”

“I had no clue what to anticipate as it was my first time speaking in the Middle East, but it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime and felt so natural,” said Rada. “The music business in Saudi and the region is still in its early stages, which in return, provides a huge opportunity. This is the moment we must establish a solid foundation based on important principles, education and learnings to ensure success for the local artists.”

Looking back on her experience, Bahraini singer songwriter Anabtawi said: “Having grown up in the Eastern province, it was surreal to finally be able to present my music to Saudi Arabia for the first time. I was blown away by how versatile and accepting the audience was and loved meeting other regional creatives and artists at XP.”

In support of XP’s efforts to grow Saudi and regional talents, Rada is developing master workshops for this year’s edition, titled “Music Production: From Zero to Hero,” which will cover basics from how to build your own home studio, to recording and mixing techniques, to immersive audio.

Commenting on the initiative, Rada said: “It’s important XP provides tangible support and I’m very excited to be hosting this initiative as part of that. Over the span of three-days, music production courses will be offered for an opportunity of in-depth learning which will no doubt upskill talent to the next level.”

Stressing the importance of accessible education, Anabtawi feels strongly about mentorships and talent managers to support talent in the music scene.

She added: “An important role which I believe we lack in the region are talent managers. A lot of the artists either depend on their experience or their network but there are very few, if any, official professionals in the sphere to support in building contracts, commercialising and marketing the talent and finding opportunities.

“XP provides a great platform for artists to put themselves out there, network and build relationships that could further foster their careers and fill those gaps.”

“I’m confident international interest will significantly rise if we were to truly paint an accurate picture of the scene here”

As the gateway to music in and from the MENA region, Rada has huge enthusiasm for talking about regional talent.

She said: “I’m confident international interest will significantly rise if we were to truly paint an accurate picture of the scene here. It’s incredible and XP drives this a step further. The exchanges being held benefit the music ecosystem as a lot of these important topics being discussed are not only relevant for the region.

“People tend to fear what they don’t know. However, music is a global connector and XP is leveraging this for the interest of the Saudi people, the region and the globe. There is an opportunity for a fusion of regional sounds with international artists.”

Sharing their views on what is vital to build a music career, Anabtawi stressed the importance of keeping it real when it comes to not only talent, but self-awareness.

She explained: “Don’t get lost in the process of commercialising your talent and always stay true to yourself. Also, as important as it is to have a unique voice, your network is also crucial so keep putting yourself out there. There is nothing called luck, only hard work.”

Similarly, Rada believes that relationship building is a key ingredient to career success.

“Never burn bridges, undersell yourself or play for free, and always stay focused and open to learning anything from anyone you meet,” she said.

 


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XP Music Futures conference gears up for sequel

XP Music Futures is set to return to Riyadh from 28-30 November as the most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region.

One of the most exciting developments taking place in Saudi Arabia has been the emergence of a vibrant music industry. There is immense opportunity and talent present today ready to hit stages and share their sounds worldwide. Studies show that the MEA music market is expected to grow by up to 16.5% by 2027, reaching $670.03 million – and MDLBeast, a Saudi music entertainment company, is playing a significant role in supporting this growth.

At the core of this musical and cultural transformation is XP Music Futures – MDLBeast’s music conference, set to take place for its second edition from 28-30 November 2022. As the warm-up to Saudi’s seismic weekend EDM festival, Soundstorm (taking place 1-3 December), XP will once again attract many of the most exciting young, up-and-coming talent from across the region and around the world, plus a packed guestlist of globally respected artists, producers, and music makers.

Last year’s breakout year in 2021, saw over 4,500 attendees, all of which had one key purpose, to grow and build the regional music infrastructure, with a focus across four central pillars: Talent, Scene, Impact and Innovation touchpoints considered vital to further establishing and building greater regional infrastructure around artists and the wider music ecosystem.

If we look at the “Impact” pillar a little closer, we can see a focus on the positive reach of music culture wider into communities and other areas such as wellbeing, equality, and sustainability. Energetic activations included fishbowl sessions and passionate panel discussions covering the means of hosting safe events in collaboration with public health institutions, several empowering stories of female musicians in emerging markets, and the building of an environmentally sustainable touring model within the Middle East music industry, and much more.

Today, we catch up with multi-media artist, actor and professor, Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman; entrepreneur Lindi Delight, founder of De Light Management; Lutz Leichsenring, co-founder of VibeLab; and Jane Slingo, director at VibeLab, to talk us through their experience at XP 2021, and the elements they believe were needed to create impact in the music industry and beyond…

“It was very inspiring to see the showcased artists and collectives perform in their own city, some for the very first time”

Talking about experiencing XP for the first time…

Lindi Delight: At certain times, it felt very emotional and humbling. I had no expectations traveling to Saudi to attend XP, however, I was truly blown away by the nationals. Their generosity and openness and welcoming nature was incredible to experience. Even better, it was amazing to see so many women at the music conference ready to begin the work needed to develop the music industry for themselves, and others, either as artists or music industry professionals. During the night program of the conference, I visited the different stages to discover the local talent performing. It was very inspiring to see the showcased artists and collectives perform in their own city, some for the very first time. I would never have thought that I would ever witness such a music scene in Saudi Arabia in my lifetime, let alone contribute to its growth and development. It was an honour and I’m excited of being part of this year’s programming team.”

The audience believed that they are the drivers of societal change…

Lutz Leichsenring: “The first thing I noticed is the participants’ appreciation and enthusiasm to learn and discuss different aspects of the Impact pillar during our fishbowl sessions.”

Lindi: “After each of the sessions I was involved in, many young women came over to speak with me about what they learned, and how exciting it was for them to see international industry professionals travel to Saudi to share their experiences and insights in efforts to advance the music scene. They were very pleased to know there was room for them in the industry as well – highlighting the importance of equality and empowering stories of female artists.”

“We need to pass down the codes to the youth now, not later”

Education and mentorship are key aspects to have the aspired Impact…

Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman: “We need to pass down the codes to the youth now, not later. This will activate the cultural space in a unique and non-conformist way. Most of the time, in the region, there seems to be a transactional relationship around gatekeeping the industry. We need to break that down and just mentor youth, empower through confidence all while building new, fresh infrastructure and representation outside of the region.”

Jane Slingo: “The developed music world is going through a process of ‘unlearning’ practices and systems that don‘t support a thriving, and sustainable music ecosystem. Impact through XP has a significant opportunity to build this new music ecosystem with diverse representation and support for the mental well-being of creators and workers at the forefront. When the industry has diverse representation and well-supported mental health, the more exciting and respected, the more profitable it is. To achieve this, the focus should be on authentic international exchange, willingness for change, and a commitment to applying the learnings from other countries’ failures to the development of the local industry.”

“XP is evolving and adapting to the topics that are relevant to today’s industry ecosystem”

On the promotion of impact in MENA…

Narcy: “I believe that it could be achieved through regional grant systems like models in parts of Europe and Canada. The youth would benefit from artistic funding, a way to sustain themselves outside of general systems of funding art projects. This would be groundbreaking for the youth in the MENA region.”

Lutz: “I believe that it needs efforts from the top-down and bottom-up to promote Impact.”

Wrapping up the talk with a sneak peek into the XP 2022…

Lindi: “We have created a forward-thinking and diverse program for the next edition of XP that we’re all excited about. This includes a wide range of topics such as sustainability, Web3, the Metaverse, immersive technology, music policies, professionalisation, music production, data collection, and analytics to name a few. XP is evolving and adapting to the topics that are relevant to today’s industry ecosystem – this is what we need for the music scene in Saudi and around the world. We will also be introducing sessions in Arabic to increase the engagement of the local community. We aim to captivate the minds of the audience with thought-provoking insights, and future-proof careers through robust knowledge transfer from regional and international industry experts to existing and aspiring music industry professionals.”

 


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The unstoppable rise of the Gulf States

Exactly two years ago, at the very moment IQ was producing its last market report on the live market of the Gulf, not to mention gathering the live music community in London for ILMC, the pandemic closed in, and the world shuddered to a halt.

We all know what happened next: lockdowns, calendars in the bin, plenty of pain and an ever-extending timescale for the return of concerts. Every market suffered, and the Gulf was no exception. In the final analysis, the UAE was only fully locked down for around four months and Saudi Arabia for a little over a year, but the hit was a hard one and some restrictions linger on.

Nonetheless, due to a unique set of circumstances, this may also be one regional market that has emerged from the whole mess looking sharper and shinier than when it went in. In 2022, the Gulf boasts new live venues, new touring connections and, in Saudi Arabia, a booming new territory that has shifted the centre of the region and – albeit not without controversy – greatly boosted the appeal of the region to international acts.

The second edition of MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival in Riyadh, a four-day “rave in the desert” last December, where Tiësto, Martin Garrix, and David Guetta played and a reported 180,000 attended the opening night, represents the new face of live music in the Gulf.

That same month, the kingdom also hosted the Formula One Grand Prix, with music from Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, and A$AP Rocky. Chris Brown, Black Eyed Peas, James Blunt, Wyclef Jean and Craig David are also recent visitors, courtesy of MDLBEAST’s MDLBEAST Presents arm, which has rapidly built a reputation as the market’s leading provider of musical talent.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now”

“I don’t play for politicians, I play for people,” Guetta told a Soundstorm press conference, side-stepping the criticisms of the regime that remains the main stumbling block to the international performing community’s guilt-free acceptance of the Saudi riyal.

That stumbling block is seemingly getting smaller these days, partly due to the billions at the disposal of a Saudi regime that is investing in entertainment, not only to conjure tourism, but to keep its free-spending domestic audience from travelling abroad in search of fun.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now,” says veteran Middle East promoter Thomas Ovesen, outgoing entertainment director at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Saudi. “For me, what is happening with live entertainment in Saudi Arabia is what people used to say was going to happen in China. And while it hasn’t materialised there, we are seeing it here now: Western artists coming in for premium fees and a potential touring market in the region. It’s phenomenal.”

For all its wealth, its tourism, and its appetite for growth, the Gulf as a live music region has never been in a position like this before. Efforts to develop Abu Dhabi and Dubai as destination markets have yielded wily, pragmatic local industries and plenty of impressive events – including the recent delayed Expo 2020, which brought Coldplay to Dubai’s Al Wasl Plaza in February, among many other highlights. But the emirates’ modest expat-dominated populations and geo-graphical isolation have impeded their efforts to elevate their status on the broader touring map.

The addition of Saudi Arabia to the mix – the 35m-population kingdom having opened its doors in recent years as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy and develop its public sector – effectively changes everything.

“In Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it”

In addition to the artist fees, a particular appeal of the Saudi market, thinks Ovesen is the presence of a true local crowd. “People live an expat life in Dubai – they’re probably a bit privileged, sometimes it can be hard to get a reaction out of them,” he says. “But in Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it. And they are embracing the opportunity to attend live entertainment. We used to say that the only place in the region where you could get that experience was when we took the show to Beirut or Cairo. But that’s exactly the situation in Saudi.”

The other markets in the region may not be quite as pent-up, but they are certainly ready for the shift. Nine months before the pandemic, Dubai took delivery of its first indoor arena in the Coca-Cola Arena, while Abu Dhabi put the finishing touches to its own Etihad Arena during the lull. Kuwait and Bahrain likewise have impressive new facilities, and talk has inevitably turned to the development of a genuine touring circuit, involving the Gulf States and all manner of roughly proximate markets, from South Africa and India to Turkey and Egypt.

At the time of writing, the Gulf region is preparing for a milestone in this regard: a bona fide three-date tour by an A-list international act, as Live Nation’s Maroon 5 shape up for the Pyramids in Egypt, the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, and Park HaYarkon in Tel Aviv, Israel. “This is the first time an A-list Western act has been able to do a regional tour, and it sets a great precedent for the future,” says James Craven, president Live Nation Middle East. “Ticket sales have really exceeded even our most bullish forecast, which again really underlines the enduring demand for shows.”

A necessary piece of this particular puzzle has been the recent thawing of relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Israel, which in turn has made it
possible for tours to fly directly between the two markets for the first time.

“Having regionally routed runs ensures that bands are able to play for even more fans, rather than playing a one-off show that takes them out of the market for years,” says Craven. “Previously artists would simply fly in for one show in the UAE. But we are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour.” In a world still navigating its way out of the pandemic, these are significant and unprecedented moments, and, geopolitics permitting, they suggest the future of live music in the Gulf is likely to assume a very different shape to its past.

“We are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour”

Promoters
The promoting landscape in the Gulf is a mixed one, combining heavyweight state-owned promoters (Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment), familiar corporates (notably Live Nation, operating out of Dubai), fast-growing Saudi entities such as MDLBEAST, and a variety of Dubai-based independents, ranging from specialist operators to beach club DJ promoters to wealthy dabblers.

Out of all of them, the meteoric rise of MDLBEAST arguably makes it the promoter to watch, and its ambitions are unlimited by the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, or even those of the Gulf itself.

“We want to be present in the entire region,” says Talal Albahiti, MDLBEAST chief operating officer and head of talent booking and events. “The Middle Eastern music market is expected to grow up to 16.5% by 2027, reaching $670m [€605m]. MDLBEAST will play a significant role in supporting that growth. We also want to go beyond the region, as we are not only looking to host festivals and concerts in the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain but also in Greece, Spain, and the US.”

MDLBEAST has also been invited to take on live events for circling Western promoters, says Albahiti. “We have been approached by a few European companies to produce their festivals, which was a pleasant surprise and much-deserved recognition to all the team. It shows that our commitment and dedication are being recognised by the international market.”

Clearly, the live market in Saudi Arabia is poised at an exciting but delicate moment, and MDLBEAST is acutely aware of the need to nurture the industry in the proper way if it is to thrive sustainably in the long-term. At its inaugural XP Music Conference in December 2021, it gathered 150 delegates from the Middle Eastern music industry in Riyadh with a view to accelerating the market’s growth.

“I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia”

“For me personally, XP is our most important work because it aims to help build real infrastructure for the music industry in a region where it is currently missing,” says Albahiti. “We need that if we’re going to support local and regional talent and for our organisation to grow.

“We don’t want to be just another music touring company picking global acts and bringing them to Saudi Arabia – our vision is much grander than that. We want to empower, develop, and educate local and regional talents across different genres. I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia. If not, then definitely from the Middle Eastern region.”

In its own way, Live Nation has also spent the pandemic nurturing talent in the region – specifically promoting talent it needs on the ground to broaden the range of playable markets.
“Because of the restrictions in place for a lot of the last two years, we focused on future planning and opening up newer markets like Jordan, Egypt, India, and Kuwait,” says Zaed Maqbool, Live Nation VP talent, Middle East, who has spent years building the foundations for a viable circuit to rival those elsewhere in the world. In this context, the significance of the impending Maroon 5 tour is worth restating.

“Maroon 5 was truly a labour of love,” says Maqbool. “The first-ever regionally routed run, an A-list band, and an undying willingness to create a new regional route for Western artists. It all came together. That one really represents a paradigm shift for touring in the region. We now have offers out for more regional tours – and they’re all big names.”

While it may have taken the roaring engine of Saudi Arabia to jolt the region into a higher gear, the UAE promises to become a significant central strategic point as a Middle Eastern/ Asian/African circuit coalesces – at least according to Live Nation’s thinking.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008″

“India will become a part of the equation,” says Maqbool. “Israel and UAE are already mainstays because of their proximity and the fact that they are mature markets in their own right. South Africa is also a market we connect to, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have direct flights. So basically, the UAE becomes the connecting transport hub for the region and beyond.”

With not only a new arena but the well-established 40,000-cap Etihad Park stadium at its disposal – which over the years has witnessed Coldplay, Rihanna, The Stones and others – Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment is, like all promoters in the region, highly prepared for an influx of talent.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “One of the strategies we thought we were going to implement, or was going to happen organically, was a regional touring circuit.

“We thought it would be Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, ourselves, maybe Bahrain. In fact, we are dealing with content pushed through Israel, Sau- di, Qatar, Bahrain… hopefully India – we will see how that develops. Yeah, it’s a great thing. Obviously, having more content available takes us out of the position of feeling like everything that comes is something we have to deliver ourselves.”

Not every Gulf promoter emerged from the pandemic intact. Arab Media Group-owned Done Events, with its roster of Dubai-based festivals including RedFestDXB, Blended, and Dubai Jazz Festival, has ceased trading. Others, meanwhile, have emerged. Former Done Events live events manager Peter Green had already gone out on his own by the time of Done’s demise and now operates as GME Events. He sold 15,000 tickets in his first year of operation, promoting Russell Peters and Michael McIntyre at the Etihad Arena and The Kooks at the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as several more comedy shows at the Dubai Opera and the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter”

“All of those shows were obviously socially distanced,” says Green. “The venues can obviously take more, but we achieved far more than I thought we would, as a new promoter, with Covid restrictions in place. Shows are coming back now and restrictions are less, but it is still challenging with the ever-changing Covid landscape. I think the attitude now, though, is let’s get on with it, and let’s do what we can.”

Other promoters in Dubai include the jazz-focused Chillout Productions, founder of the Dubai Jazz Festival, and The Artist Network, whose events include Desert Groove – formerly Groove on the Grass – at the Dunes Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

Meanwhile, after three years with the state-backed DGDA project, which is developing the historic town of Ad Diriyah into a national, cultural and tourist centre on the edge of Riyad, Ovesen is poised to return to his promoting roots with new venture T.O.P. Entertainment and will operate as an independent with offices in Saudi and the UAE, but also looking to organise events across Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

Ticketing
The leading ticketing company in the Gulf remains Platinumlist, which operates right across the region. “We sell 80% of UAE entertainment tickets and have been in KSA for six years,” says managing director Vassiliy Anatoli. “Our turnover in Saudi is larger than in UAE, although it’s hard to say what our market share is exactly.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter. It is hard to get independent event permits for organisers, and the majority of events are funded by the General Event Authority, which imposes the use of state-owned ticketing platforms.”

“We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year”

Anatoli’s perspective on the pandemic is a widescreen one that neatly charts the ups and downs of the entire Gulf market. “We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year. Despite the pandemic, many attractions kept operating and that is what we focused on whilst there were no events.

“2021 started well but was swiftly cut off by another spike in cases locally, which halted the industry for another four months. However, by March 2021, Saudi started making plans, and we won the tender for the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2021 and many other major projects, such as Rotana Concerts, the Evolution Exhibition, the Museum of Happiness, and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale.

“Finally, the UAE resumed events in full swing by September 2021, which catapulted our revenues. Another major win was the 2021 Indian Premier League and ICC World Cup, which has sold over 350,000 tickets.”

In the coming years, Anatoli expects the biggest growth to come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, though he also points to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait as markets seeing comfortable growth. Other ticketing outlets in Dubai include bricks-and-mortar retailer Virgin Megastore, as well as Ticketmaster and Indian giant BookMyShow.

Venues
Dubai’s 17,000-cap arena Coca-Cola Arena, the first permanent, multi-purpose arena in an emirate that had been staging shows on laboriously converted brownfield sites on the edge of the city for years, opened in June 2019. It managed just nine months in operation before Covid closed its doors.

“On Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors”

Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar describes the moment at ILMC 2020 when it became clear what the immediate impact of the encroaching pandemic would be (“I’ve never seen an insurance panel more engaged,” he says) and with precise recall of dates, fills in the story up to the present day.

“Everything came to a complete halt, but we had Iron Maiden in May, and we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll close for a month…’” he says, recalling the initial optimism of the times. “That obviously didn’t happen, but we undertook some behind-closed-doors activities for some government entities. Then we were an Ikea catalogue venue, and we were a venue for a movie set. We were very close to becoming a vaccine centre.”

Over the next year or so, the UAE flexed its restrictions, “and slowly but surely, we went from 1,500 capacity, heavily socially distanced, to 2,500, to 5,000, then 60%, 70%, 80% of capacity, and thankfully, on Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors.”

In the same period, after an inevitable delay, Abu Dhabi finally inaugurated its own arena, the 18,000-cap Etihad, part of the AED12bn (€3bn) Yas Bay development project. “We would have liked to have it earlier; but it’s a really beautiful facility. It’s easy to operate, it’s cost-effective, scalable,” says Lickrish. “We have a host of good commercial partners that have come on board, Etihad being the big one. It’s next to impossible to make the industry work here without corporate partners, and that’s been a fact for quite some time now. So that’s exciting. Our corporate boxes are sold out, and now we are just planning content.”

On the schedule at the Etihad Arena for the coming months are Arab pop stars Amr Diab, Sherine Abdel Wahab, and Kadim Al Sahir; Maroon 5; UFC; and the International Indian Film Academy Awards 2022.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition”

The almost simultaneous arrival of two world-class arenas in a previously arena-free zone – to add to the Dubai Opera, the Media City amphitheatre and the World Trade Centre, all in Dubai – might be viewed as an embarrassment of riches. But if the competition is unwelcome, no one is saying.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition,” says Kar. “Both serve a domestic market, and they also allow us to create tours for artists.”
Those tours, of course, don’t necessarily have to come from the Western content machine. A feature of the Middle Eastern market that is occasionally lost on Western eyes is the sheer diversity of its offering.

“For us, Western acts would probably make up 25% to 30% of the content,” says Kar. “The balance is very much Asian content, and that includes Bollywood but also Pakistani and Bangladeshi music. And then you have got Arabic, where you have the Khaliji music that is popular across the Gulf, but also Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian, all with completely different dialects and demographics that would attend. Comparing anyone with another is like comparing Bruno Mars with Metallica.”

It is also inevitable that more venues are to come, particularly in the region’s most newly vibrant market. Most of the Saudi events still take place on outdoor sites or in temporary structures such as the 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena near Riyadh, but further building is taking place. ASM Global will manage the 20,000-cap Jeddah Arena at Airport City, promised for late-2025, while the 25,000-cap Victory Arena in Riyadh is currently undergoing a major facelift.

With Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup at the end of this year, there has been a massive construction programme, which could ultimately benefit the local live entertainment scene. And in Bahrain, three million man hours of work has created the spectacular 10,000-seat Al Dana Amphitheatre, which has literally been carved from the rock of the Sahkir desert (more about that project in IQ’s June issue).

“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons”

Another territory ready to take its place in a regional circuit is Kuwait, which welcomed a 5,000-cap multi-purpose all-seater arena in March. The Live Nation-managed Arena Kuwait, in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall, targets live entertainment, sports, corporate projects, exhibitions and conferences, and in its first few weeks of operation hosted six sold-out Arabic music concerts and two regional business-to-consumer expos.

“Kuwait is a new market for international and regional promoters and event organisers, as un- til the opening of The Arena Kuwait, venues and event spaces were limited,” says general manager Ken Jamieson. “Kuwait has an event-hungry population and the response to our first plethora of events has been very satisfying for all concerned. We have a packed calendar for the rest of the year as the demand has been outstanding..”

As the infrastructure expands, of course, so do the challenges of a region with a range of extreme weather conditions and great disparities in both its seasonal habits and venue provision.
“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons,” says Maqbool, wrestling with a circuit that potentially spans thousands of miles across Africa and Asia. “If an artist wants to do a tour in what is called the winter here in the Middle East, we need to take into consideration the different ‘winter’ conditions at each stop of the tour and the implications that has on venue type and timings.

“In the UAE, we have not one but two arenas to play around with, so we’re good the year round. But it’s not the same in Egypt, it’s not the same in India and some of the other markets as well. When it’s our winter, it’s their summer, and vice versa, and that’s a little nuance that sometimes plays into the equation. There’s a fair amount of playing Tetris with the routing, figuring out what works for everybody.”

And, give or take some teething troubles, a bit of geopolitical discord, and some Western liberal reservations, there’s the new regional circuit for you. It may well very come to offer dazzling new horizons for live music – but don’t expect it to be an easy ride.


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MDLBeast’s XP Music Conference moves to next level

The Power of Policy: How MDLBeast’s XP Music Conference is driving innovation in the Middle East’s music industry…

The opportunity for the Middle Eastern music industry has never been greater. As Saudi Arabia continues its transformation and welcomes the world, new doors continue to open for the talent in the region. At the core of this music culture growth is MDLBeast’s XP Music Conference which, following a breakout year in 2021, has been confirmed for a second edition at the end of November 2022 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

XP is a three-day event with a conference and nightlife aspect, created to amplify music futures across the region, through workshops and panel discussions giving the chance for music industry experts and upcoming industry talents to have roundtable and networking opportunities. The conference welcomes uniquely diverse audiences including labels, publishers, talents, NGOs, GOVs, event companies, entrepreneurs, and music media.

The foundations of XP are built on four pillars; talent aims to establish careers in music for local and regional talent while providing new audiences for established artists; scene will map out opportunities to nourish the region’s emerging music industry; impact & social purpose creates dialogue around music, mental health, wellbeing, and diversity in the industry; policy is about making sure the right legislation exists to help build a strong and sustainable music ecosystem.

In the first edition, and true to the purpose of XP, the policy pillar was brought to life beyond just the on-stage activations with tangible action delivered to drive forward the regional music industry. At the event, MDLBeast confirmed an agreement with ESMAA, the Gulf-based music rights management organisation, to support regional and international music artists and composers by ensuring they receive payment for the use of their work played at all MDLBeast events; a regional first. Prior to ESMAA, there was no regional entity available to ensure music creators and rights holders were paid when their music was played in venues or in facilities in the Gulf region.

“Saudi Arabia has a creative vibrant community waiting for opportunities to express their creativity and this is where the importance of XP lies”

It’s this kind of policy action which can really support the growing music economy in the region and will be a major focus in the upcoming 2022 edition of XP. To elaborate further, we spoke to Vibelab partner and former Amsterdam Night Mayor, Mirik Milan, about his experiences at XP and where he thinks policy can have the biggest impact.

“Saudi Arabia has a creative vibrant community waiting for opportunities to express their creativity and this is where the importance of XP lies,” he says. “Through XP we can maximise the potential of local and regional talents in the Middle Eastern region. There is an evident need for creatives to come together to connect and collaborate. Due to the fact that the creative transformation is young in Saudi, policy development is required to give talent access to and ease to create events.

“Creating events is very important for promoters, talent, and creatives to have a space to express themselves. If we see policies in the right place and alleviated in some others, we will witness rapid growth in the music industry. This is a very special and unique moment where a heavily resourced country with a huge number of creatives opens to the progression of the music industry, I personally haven’t experienced anything like that before. There are benchmarks around the world that we are learning from and want to implement in Saudi.”

XP 2022 will look to build on the first edition which welcomed 150 local/regional/international industry experts from 26 countries. This included EDM giants Afrojack and Steve Aoki who led the discussion around paths to success, guiding principles for young talent and what it means to support aspiring DJ’s, producers and creators. 5,000 thousand people attended across three days and 52 sessions in 2021 with leaders in regional policy such as the Saudi Music Commission, Poparabia, ESMAA, the International Music Council, the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property, and the French society of authors, composers and publishers of music, SACEM, playing significant roles.

Moving forward, XP’s programming will extend across 2022 with pillar activations in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dubai allowing conversations and developments to build over longer periods of time and bigger geographies ahead of the main conference event which will have differing night and daytime activities. This will include talking through the big policy conversations for the region, especially those around copyright, nightlife governance, intellectual property, and non-fungible tokens.

 


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Soundstorm fest attracts massive crowds

Saudi Arabia’s Soundstorm festival pulled in huge crowds from around the world, according to promoter MDLBeast.

Held in Riyadh from 16-19 December, the four-day event hosted more than 200 acts, including international stars such as David Guetta, Jeff Mills, Major Lazer Soundsystem, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Armin Van Buuren and Carl Cox. Ticket prices started at 339 SAR (€80).

Organisers say daily attendance averaged 183,000, while the Saudi Gazette reports the festival attracted 200,000 fans for its second day alone.

It has been a success on every level

“It exceeded the expectations of everyone, including us as organisers,” says MDLBeast CEO, Ramadan Alharatani. “It has been a success on every level, having attracted a huge number of music lovers and provided them with a safe space to enjoy the highest standards of music entertainment. We are very proud.”

Soundstorm featured four main areas including the main stage Big Beast, reputedly the world’s tallest and largest stage.

First staged in 2019, this year’s edition came on the heels of MDLBeast’s inaugural XP Music Conference.

Speaking at XP, Saudi Arabia’s assistant minister for tourism, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud, said the number of concerts held in the kingdom each year is set to rise by up to 600% on pre-pandemic levels.

Global superstars including Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, A$AP Rocky and David Guetta performed in Jeddah for the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix post-race concerts earlier this month, while a series of events are also taking place as part of Riyadh Season, which runs from October to March.

 


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Saudia Arabia to host 600% more concerts from 2022

The number of concerts held in Saudi Arabia each year is set to rise by up to 600% on pre-pandemic levels, according to the kingdom’s assistant minister for tourism.

International superstars including Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, A$AP Rocky and David Guetta performed in Jeddah for the post-race concerts after the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix earlier this month. A series of events are also taking place as part of Riyadh Season, which runs from October to March, and features the likes of Pitbull.

Speaking at MDLBeast’s inaugural XP Music Conference, which concludes today in the capital city of Riyadh, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud discussed the region’s potential as a live events destination.

Where we had 101 concerts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, we are looking at increasing that number by 500 or 600% from 2022 on

“People used to travel for nature, and then they started to travel for culture and now it’s about lifestyle,” she said, as reported by the National News. “It’s about meeting other like-minded people from across the globe and sharing what they are passionate about. The creative industries, such as music, is at the very heart of that.

“You are talking about 25% of the UK and US population, pre-Covid-19, of course, travelling to attend at least one music festival a year. This tells you where the world is shifting and where it is growing. So where we had 101 concerts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, before the pandemic, we are looking at increasing that number by 500 or 600% from 2022 on.”

Princess Haifa recalled her time working on the Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in 2018, which included a three-day, 60,000-cap. music event featuring acts such as Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, David Guetta, OneRepublic and The Black Eyed Peas.

“That event made us realise that there is an appetite both locally and internationally to experience Saudi Arabia and for Saudis to experience their own country,” she said.

While acknowledging the music scene was currently being “supercharged” by government bodies such as the General Entertainment Authority, she shared her hopes that in time, most events will be initiated by the private sector and Saudi creative communities.

“Because we are kick-starting and opening something that is an absolutely green field, there are a lot of regulatory reforms that need to accompany all these developing industries,” she said. “So this is why the government is playing a more proactive role at present while [understanding] there is a need for organic growth.”

 


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VibeLab co-founder on Saudi Arabia’s music push

One of the speakers at Saudi Arabia’s first music conference, XP, has shared his thoughts on how the region can further grow its creative economy.

Lutz Leichsenring, co-founder of Amsterdam-based consultancy VibeLab, will appear at the inaugural three-day event in Riyadh from 13-15 December, which is aimed at accelerating and amplifying the music business in the Middle East.

A leading authority on protecting night time economy, community and culture, Leichsenring advises the territory to take note of the best practices and tools employed around the globe.

“It is important to understand that the music scene is not going to be built the same way you build a tower,” he says. “There is not an actual blueprint to building a music scene, but I don’t see this as something very hard as it is rooted in the Saudi culture.

“The Saudi people are creative, the Saudi people have craftwork, the Saudi people enjoy music. It is basically rooted in their DNA. The important question is how to rekindle this?

“You need to make sure that people are willing now to a different route from their parents or grandparents, or even from the musicians they listen to that are from another country. You need to make sure that people are willing to build their own identity and own culture. And all of this takes a lot of time – there’s no shortcut.”

Huge transformations are happening in the country and they’re creating the opportunity for what was previously underground to enter the mainstream

Billed as the “most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region”, XP is being organised by MDLBeast in partnership with the Saudi Music Commission and will feature leading cultural representatives and music industry experts from around the world.

Through workshops, panel discussions and roundtables, networking opportunities, and music activations, XP plans to expand opportunities for music industry professionals of all backgrounds including artists, entrepreneurs, creatives and policymakers.

Organisers say the conference is built on four key pillars – talent, policy, scene and impact – that will help to amplify the region’s music industry. The full programme will be released in due course.

Asked how a country like Saudi Arabia goes about building a music scene, Leichsenring says: “Most cities, most countries will have had a scene of some sort. Perhaps it wasn’t visible, perhaps because it wasn’t allowed, but there would been something there and that was certainly the case in Saudi, with a genuine underground vibe.

“Now, these huge transformations are happening in the country and they’re creating the opportunity for what was previously underground to enter the mainstream. That’s being supported by government, so from the top down, but then there’s also the grassroots ‘bottom up’, organic scene which is now able to grow much much more.

“Further, there are now Saudi creatives returning home to be a part of these changes and they’re bringing experience they’ve gained all around the world back to their hometowns. This is amplifying the movement.”

Regional artists TamTam and Jeme have also been announced for the conference.

“I’m inspired by a lot of cities and Los Angeles is top, although it’s not the perfect role model for our region,” says TamTam. “I think the best angle would be to take away what’s best from different music cities, not just look at one city.”

“Creating public venues for artists to showcase their art and work will play a big part in supporting the music ecosystem as a whole,” adds Jeme. “Having more venues will create demand for artists, a huge market for promoters, booking agencies, production companies and so many other possibilities.”

Meanwhile, MDLBeast’s Soundstorm festival, which debuted in 2019, will return to Riyadh between 16-19 December, this time with a fourth day.

Armin van Buuren, deadmau5, The Chainsmokers, Charlotte de Witte, Cirez-D, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki and Tiësto are among the 150 acts scheduled.

 


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MDLBeast plans S.Arabia’s first music conference

MDLBeast has announced Saudi Arabia’s first music conference, set to become the “most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region”.

The inaugural conference, XP, will take place in the capital city of Riyadh between 13 and 15 December, drawing leading international and regional music industry executives.

Through workshops, panel discussions and roundtables, networking opportunities, and music activations, XP plans to expand opportunities for music industry professionals of all backgrounds including artists, entrepreneurs, creatives and policymakers.

The conference, which is in partnership with the Saudi Music Commission, comes days after MDLBeast’s Soundstorm 2021 festival, which debuted in 2019.

“XP is a first for the region and will serve as the foundation for a thriving music industry across the Middle East”

Ramadan Alharatani, CEO of MDLBeast, says: “XP is a first for the region and will serve as the foundation for a thriving music industry across the Middle East. Providing a platform to authenticate and further build the music industry in the region, local and international guests will be embraced by the wealth of possibility offered by this exciting new market over the three days. Through XP, we aim to join the global conversation, and by hosting such an event we will continue to build & accelerate the music infrastructure across the region.”

Nada Alhelabi, XP programme director, added: “Through these conversations, we want it to inspire future generations to consider a career in the industry and promote music as a vehicle for job creation and innovation, making it a sustainable industry from which they can profit. A big focus for us is promoting diversity, wellbeing, and fair working conditions to empower females and give a voice to minority groups within the industry.”

The organisers say the conference is built on four key pillars – talent, policy, scene and impact – that will help to amplify the region’s music industry. Full programming will be released in due course.

Soundstorm will return to Riyadh between 16 and 19 December, this time with a fourth day.

Armin van Buuren, deadmau5, The Chainsmokers, Charlotte de Witte, Cirez-D, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Tiësto are among the 150 acts slated for this year’s bumper edition.

 


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