MDLBEAST echoes beyond music industry with a socioeconomic ripple effect
MDLBEAST, the premier Saudi-based music entertainment company, is making waves well beyond the realm of music, as a groundbreaking study reveals the profound socio-economic impact of the brand on the Saudi economy and society. In 2022, MDLBEAST’s flagship events, including Soundstorm 22, XP Music Futures, and Balad Beast, attracted a staggering 750,000 visitors, marking a 6% increase over the previous year.
The comprehensive study, which explores the transformative effect of MDLBEAST’s initiatives, highlights economic and societal impact as key areas.
MDLBEAST’s positive social impact encompasses various aspects of Saudi society, including enhancing the job market appeal within the music industry, increasing women’s participation in the economy, fostering community cohesion and pride, promoting creativity, inspiring entrepreneurship, and aligning with the Saudi Vision 2030.
MDLBEAST events help shed light on the progressive and revolutionary ideals of youth culture – giving Saudi Arabian culture equal footing in the international community. More than 10,000 visitors from other countries traveled to Saudi Arabia for MDLBEAST events, with more than 35% of the visitors coming from Europe and 30% from the Americas.
“What I just witnessed was truly special. It felt like a cultural shift. A change. Like Woodstock in the 1960s”
Nationally, Saudi youth found SOUNDSTORM to be “life-changing”. 95% of Soundstorm ’22 visitors feel it was a life-changing experience.
“What I just witnessed was truly special. It felt like a cultural shift. A change. Like Woodstock in the 1960s,” says American actor Armie Hammer.
Notable statistics from the study include:
- 63% of MDLBEAST’s expenditure supported local Saudi businesses, artists, and staff.
- MDLBEAST events generated 18,000 – direct and indirect – job opportunities in Saudi Arabia in 2022.
- 82% of participating Saudi residents agree that MDLBEAST is motivating greater women’s participation in the workforce.
- MDLBEAST featured 20 female artists at its events out of more than 100 local artists.
- 81% of participating Saudi residents take pride in MDLBEAST’s contribution to their country.
- 100% of XP Music Futures participants believe that MDLBEAST plays a pivotal role in the growth of the cultural and creative economy.
- Over 10,000 visitors travelled to Saudi Arabia for MDLBEAST events – outside neighbouring countries.
MDLBEAST’s commitment to supporting the local economy is evident, with a remarkable 63% of its spending remaining within Saudi Arabia. In 2022, the events benefited 245 local vendors and reduced reliance on international suppliers. Additionally, visitor onsite spending surged by 131% from the previous year.
The indirect impact on the economy is equally significant, with a total of 450 million SAR stemming from visitor offsite spending, reflecting a 38% increase from the previous year. Three main sectors benefited the most from this spending: travel (36%), accommodation (19%), and entertainment (18%).
MDLBEAST is not just an entertainment company; it’s a transformative force led by a diverse range of Saudi and non-Saudi women and men united in their passion for music and events
The induced impact added a remarkable 840 million SAR to the Saudi economy in 2022, creating revenue opportunities for local businesses and generating 660 million SAR while retaining 184 million SAR that would have otherwise been spent abroad by those travelling to similar music festivals.
The Return on Investment (ROI) for MDLBEAST events in 2022 reached an impressive 221%, demonstrating the increasing efficiency of the organization’s economic endeavours.
MDLBEAST Leadership and Vision
MDLBEAST is not just an entertainment company; it’s a transformative force led by a diverse range of Saudi and non-Saudi women and men united in their passion for music and events. The brand offers a variety of experiences through events, music, and venues, striving to become the leading Live Events player in the MENA region.
MDLBEAST’s sustainability efforts are underpinned by diverse revenue streams, including ticket sales, sponsorships, and private investments, supporting MDLBEAST Records, Gaboo, MDLBEAST Presents, XP Music Futures, and more. MDLBEAST’s ultimate goal is to become sustainable and continue its organic expansion, believing that the power of music transcends borders and has the profound ability to bring people together on ‘the global dancefloor.’
KSA and the wider region are undergoing a profound social and cultural transformation, and MDLBEAST is at the forefront, forging a true connection between the region and the world through the unifying language of music.
MDLBEAST is a leading music entertainment company based in Saudi Arabia, dedicated to showcasing both established and emerging local, regional, and global talent. Through innovative live entertainment experiences, the company aims to connect regional audiences with top artists from around the world. With a focus on events, music, and venues, MDLBEAST is poised to revolutionize the music scene not only in KSA, but throughout the MENA region.
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XP Music Futures unveils first phase of ’23 lineup
XP Music Futures, the leading music conference in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), has revealed the first phase of speakers for its highly anticipated 2023 lineup.
Taking place between 7-9 December, this year’s XP sets the stage for the next generation of musical minds, welcoming visitors of all ages for the very first time. 2023’s programming promises an experience that’s as eye-opening as it is star-studded, led by none other than Emirati superstar Balqees Fathi, multi-platform hip-hop sensation Abyusif and Canadian-Iranian businesswoman Golnar Khosrowshahi.
This year’s event builds on its already unparalleled platform, spotlighting MENA’s thriving nightlife industry, fostering collaboration, and boasting the talents of artists and professionals from the region to eyes and ears worldwide.
Diversity has always been at the heart of XP Music Futures, with the previous edition boasting an impressive 44% representation of women speakers. The upcoming conference is no exception, featuring an array of prominent voices from a range of backgrounds– both personal and professional.
XP Music Futures has also pulled back the curtain on its acclaimed NITE Program lineup
The prominent and influential speakers gracing XP Music Futures’ 2023 agenda include the versatile and talented Emirati sensation Balqees Fathi, who will share insights from her journey to stardom, as well as HH Mashael AlShalan, Co-founder of AEON COLLECTIVE, joining to shed light on the intersection of music and climate action. Abyusif, a global rap influencer, explores the evolution of Arabic hip-hop alongside pioneer of the genre Malikah. Golnar Khosrowshahi, CEO of Reservoir, will discuss her journey in shaping the first female-led independent music company in the US and the importance of empowering creativity.
The lineup continues with renowned light artist Christopher Bauder, who will test the boundaries of immersive musical experiences. Wassim Bou Malham, Co-Founder of Factory People, shares insights on creating sustainable venues, and bilingual Jordanian singer Reina Khoury will host a session to shed light on the importance of cross-cultural collaborations in today’s borderless industry.
XP Music Futures has also pulled back the curtain on its acclaimed NITE Program lineup, teasing a range of showcase events through a hand-selected first phase announcement. Japanese DJ and producer Satoshi Tomiie will be making his way to Riyadh to showcase his exceptional jazz-infused House sounds as part of the collaboration between the French record label Yoyaku and Saudi collective Noctuary.
The Saudi-based label Wall of Sound will be showcasing an array of artists, including Egyptian producer El Waili. The Amman-based Vortex crew will also be present at XP, with artists such as Kosh, who will be delivering a one-of-a-kind live performance. Syrian funky and disco infused duo TootArd are also set to perform at JAX District for XP’s NITE program as part of Keife Records’ showcase, alongside the electric Malinese Tuareg band Tinariwen, and Saudi collective Untamed, who will be showcasing the Berlin-based DJ Paramida.
Having already built its reputation on captivating attendees with engaging sessions, skill-enriching workshops, and genuine networking opportunities, this year’s XP Music futures guarantees to up the ante. The conference invites music enthusiasts, professionals, and innovators to join in Riyadh from 7-9 December and play an active role in shaping the future of the global music industry.
Tickets for XP Music Futures 2023 are available here.
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Iggy Azalea’s Saudi gig cut after wardrobe malfunction
Iggy Azalea’s Friday night concert in Saudi Arabia was cut short after she suffered a wardrobe malfunction.
The Australian rapper was delivering a headline set at the Gamers8 esports event in Boulevard Riyadh City when her latex trousers split, as seen in a video posted by a fan.
“Saudi Arabia please know to everyone at the show tonight… I LOVE YOU,” the 33-year-old wrote on X. “And I’m soooooo sorry I wasn’t allowed to finish my show. It’s not the promoter who put on the show’s fault so show them kindness because they are amazing people and we all wanted to continue but were not allowed by authorities because of my pants splitting.”
“I also said ‘Ladies make some noise, it’s a woman’s world!’ and apparently that sent the authorities over the edge”
In response to a fan’s question about why she wasn’t allowed to change her trousers, Azalea said: “I did but I also said ‘Ladies make some noise, it’s a woman’s world!’ and apparently that sent the authorities over the edge. I’m cool I just didn’t want the fans to be sad or angry at the show organizers cause it wasn’t their control or mine it was the police at the side of stage.”
Saudi Arabia’s immigration website states that the official dress code for women in the predominantly Muslim country calls for them to “cover as much flesh as possible to avoid drawing unwelcome attention”.
The Visit Saudi Arabia site adds that tourists are not expected to wear the same attire as locals, or to cover up to the same extent, “but it’s highly recommended that you dress modestly.”
XP Music Futures announces return to Riyadh
XP Music Futures – the Middle East and North Africa’s prominent conference dedicated to amplifying the region’s music and creative scene, has officially announced dates for this year’s event.
Taking place from 7-9 December in Riyadh, this year’s XP will not only hone the surging and ongoing success of the region’s nightlife industry – the fastest growing in the world, but will create a vibrant playground of collaboration and creativity for artists and professionals in the region. Widely considered the most forward-thinking gathering of music leaders in the region, XP Music Futures aims to stimulate the new generation of music professionals in the wider MENA region, while sparking collaborations with the global music community.
XP Music Futures will offer new formats to its visitors including Arabic sessions and workshops, as well as mixers to bring international and regional talent together. The conference will also offer networking forums and demo labs, showcasing the latest technologies in the music industry to participants, and will be building its programme on four pillars: talent, scene, impact, and innovation.
2023 will also see XP focus on its commitment to mentor and build communities
2023 will also see XP focus on its commitment to mentor and build communities, announcing the introduction of a new addition to XP’s efforts in developing the scene in the region: Hunna. Composed of two integral parts, the Hunna initiative is a groundbreaking initiative designed as a platform and safe space for women in the music industry to gain the necessary mentorship to develop their skills and careers, while also collectively disrupting the outdated and non-equitable systems in the music industry at large.
The first part of the Hunna programme will pair rising female talent with experts in their field for a three-month mentorship programme, kicking off in June. By creating meaningful connections, the Hunna programme aims to connect women in the music industry, to foster a stronger, more equitable, music ecosystem. The second part of the Hunna programme will organise a gathering of minds at this year’s XP Music Futures, focusing on difficult yet necessary conversations at this year’s conference, such as female representation and equity in music spaces. Between initiatives like this, and a 2022 speaker lineup that was 44% women, it’s easy to see why many are considering XP Music Futures a true testament to diversity.
This year’s conference will also see the return of XPerform, a competition for vocalists giving vocal talent in the region the chance to show what they’ve got on the stages of XP Music Futures while also growing their career with the eponymous MDLBeast Records. We are excited to announce that YouTube is officially sponsoring the initiative, aimed at discovering and nurturing emerging musical talent in the Middle East.
As part of the partnership, Liliana Abudalo – head of YouTube Music, Mena, will join the panel of judges to help select the top talent, alongside Matthew Dicks, Banah Anabtawi, Karima Damir and LilEazy. Last year saw hundreds of singers submit applications, with the Top 5 entries being flown to Riyadh for a live performance in front of a panel of expert judges. After the dust had settled, Saudi vocalist Asayel has crowned the winner, acting as the catalyst for the thrilling next chapter of her career. Now ready to bring the next great vocal talent to the limelight.
XP Music Futures 2023 promises to be an eye-opening experience that brings together the brightest minds and talents from music, tech, and business
Another new innovation the conference will be showcasing this year is XP Presents. XP Presents will be focusing on a specific region every year to showcase its diversity and to highlight its culture to the XP audience. This initiative will encourage cultural exchange and the celebration of cultural diversity. This year, the spotlight will be on South Korea, known for its thriving pop culture, including K-pop music, Korean dramas, and Korean films. With cutting-edge technology, the country is also driving the innovation in the musical and cultural fields, contributing to the South Korea’s rich and vibrant culture.
Next to a busy programme for this year’s conference, the XP team has been organising smaller scale focus group workshops around the region called XChange. With this workshop, they are curating a panel, workshop, showcasing performances and a networking mixer in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Amman, and Riyadh, leading up to the conference in December. XChange doesn’t just increase XP’s impact on the entire MENA region, it also allows the team to get an even better insight into each local scene and to tailor XP Music Future’s programme to the wishes and needs of the whole region to offer the best quality of sessions and workshops during the annual three-day conference in Riyadh.
Speakers for this year’s event will be announced shortly, but the conference has unveiled that it will be opening its doors to aspiring professionals and enthusiasts of all ages for the very first time, offering workshops and activities for children and families as well.
Continuing to chase its goal of expanding opportunities for music industry professionals of all backgrounds, inspiring future generations, and laying the groundwork for establishing equitable industry policies for growth within the MENA region, XP Music Futures 2023 promises to be an eye-opening experience that brings together the brightest minds and talents from music, tech, and business. Join as XP uncovers the unseen from 7-9 December and personally take part in shaping the future of the global music industry.
S.Korea’s SM Entertainment eyes expansion
South Korean entertainment giant SM Entertainment is planning to launch a headquarters in Singapore, in order to strengthen its presence in Southeast Asia.
The Seoul-based operation, which is home to K-pop acts such as Red Velvet, Girls’ Generation, EXO, SHINee, NCT and Aespa, says that the new HQ will be tasked with “managing joint ventures in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as communicating with [its South Korea office] for other related ventures and plans.”
SM Entertainment founder Soo-Man Lee told CNBC that the company is already “in the midst of hiring more local talents, which will hopefully increase the full-time staff count.” The company is also “looking at hiring local undergraduates or fresh graduates for internships.”
On top of that, the company plans to launch retail businesses in Singapore, including cafes, merchandise stores and pop-up exhibitions.
The Singapore HQ will be tasked with “managing joint ventures in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand
The SM boss also revealed ambitions to slowly expand not just to other parts of Southeast Asia, but also to the wider continent, including the Middle East.
The company made its first foray into the region earlier this year after partnering with the Saudi Arabian investment department.
The deal will see SM discover, nurture and produce local S-pop (Saudi pop) artists with the active support of the Saudi Ministry of Investment, with plans to establish a venue “that can hold music festivals year-round”.
SM also plans to build a metaverse platform to “share Korean and Saudi culture” and “actively promote local business… production of various contents, and production and sales of products using IP”.
Exploring the future of music in the Middle East
Exploring the future of music in the Middle East through the lens of innovation…
The world is seeing exciting change on all fronts and the music industry is no different. To mirror these developments and build on them, MDLBeast, a Saudi music entertainment company, launched the XP Music Futures conference in 2021, with a mission to become the key accelerator of music in the Middle East and, in turn, help increase the region’s GDP. Last year’s event was a huge success, attracting 4,700 attendees, 150 local, regional and international speakers, and industry experts representing 25 countries.
XP Music Futures has already managed to cement its position as one of the Middle East music industry’s most influential events. The conference returns to Saudi Arabia for a second edition this year, and is set to kickstart Riyadh’s loudest week, taking place 28-30 November ahead of the region’s biggest music festival, Soundstorm, which runs 1-3 December. Already much anticipated, XP Music Futures 2022 will showcase ongoing initiatives and lead conversations around the conditions and infrastructures needed for a thriving music ecosystem by assembling the world’s brightest minds to create an industry-leading blueprint for innovation, self-expression and commercial success for music.
At the heart of that will be focused on four key building blocks: Talent, Scene, Impact and Innovation. The pillars will be discussed in multiple session formats, including workshops, keynotes, panel discussions and fishbowl sessions. This feature looks ahead to XP Music Futures’ Innovation pillar, the newest addition to the conference’s discussion blocks and certainly one of its most exciting.
Dedicated to being an inclusive and representative platform for the region’s music industry, XP is working with a Board of Advocates and Advisors as one way to achieve such diversity. This board includes LA-based artist, musician and technologist Arabian Prince, who is obsessed with innovation, digital technology, and music production and who shared his thoughts around innovation in the Middle Eastern music scene ahead of this year’s event.
“You can create music from anywhere now and it allows the new generation of creators to be free to express themselves much quicker”
Arabian Prince, Kim Renard Nazel said: “The fact that everyone has a computer in their pocket in the form of a smartphone is amazing. You can create music from anywhere now and it allows the new generation of creators to be free to express themselves much quicker than back in the day when we needed big synths and sequencers as well as recording studios to create music.
“I will be at XP once again this year to help expand the thinking and possibilities of new ideas in music and innovation, bringing technics, workshops and creative ideas that will help the region flourish in the music industry. Music is the language of the world, the one thing we all have in common is our love for music. New technology can help with the learning curve and knowledge. I can’t wait to see what this journey will bring, I am excited.”
Nada Alhelabi is strategy director of MDLBeast and the programme director for XP Music Futures. She shared her excitement about bringing the subject of innovation to the fore at this year’s conference edition.
She said: “Developments in digital technologies have resulted in monumental changes in most aspects of the music industry. XP is aiming to be the forerunner in the country when it comes to innovation in music and creative industries; therefore, adding innovation as one of our main pillars this year was a no-brainer.”
“Amongst the many sessions we’ve got at this year’s XP Music Futures, we will discuss Immersive Technology, Web3, Metaverse and Digital Disruption”
Innovation has always played a huge role in building and shaping the music industry, not only in the region but also on a global scale. It has changed the way people create music & evolve in the music scene. As a fact digital distribution is now accessible for any artist without even having to be signed to any labels. Our innovation pillar was introduced so that our region can gain expert insights and advice from leading music stars, tech icons, startups, investors and industry-relevant leaders. As the world is evolving around innovations, so is XP Music Conference.
“Through the innovation pillar and technology, music creators have the opportunity to present their business ideas to professionals within their industry to get their advice, discuss potential challenges, suggestions for improvement and precise guidance on how to spark the attention of potential investors.”
Looking ahead to XP 2022, Alhelabi revealed a selection of the must-attend sessions that will lead on innovation this November.
“Amongst the many sessions we’ve got at this year’s XP Music Futures, we will discuss Immersive Technology, Web3, Metaverse and Digital Disruption,” said Alhelabi.
These will be presentations, panel discussions and AMAs. We have an Immersive Technology workshop which will be a destination offering virtual, mixed and augmented reality to showcase the transformation of the music industry as it enters a new dimension. Web3, the new iteration of blockchain technology, incorporating concepts such as cryptocurrency, DAOs and NFTs, will be addressed through panels, keynote and networking sessions. As for the Metaverse segment, activities like Fishbowl, Roundtable and Think Tank will focus on understanding the metaverse through the eyes of the pioneers in this field.
“Lastly, Digital Disruption sessions will be in the form of panel discussions, presentations and AMAs (ask me anything). They will showcase innovations that highlight the nuances of live concerts in gaming environments.”
Korea’s SM Entertainment expands to Saudi Arabia
K-pop juggernaut SM Entertainment is expanding into the Middle East after partnering with the Saudi Arabian investment department.
The deal will see SM discover, nurture and produce local S-pop (Saudi pop) artists with the active support of the Saudi Ministry of Investment, with plans to establish a venue “that can hold music festivals year-round”.
SM also plans to build a metaverse platform to “share Korean and Saudi culture” and “actively promote local business… production of various contents, and production and sales of products using IP”.
“I am delighted to have signed a business agreement with the Saudi ministry of investment,” says SM executive producer Lee Soo-man. “I hope that through this agreement, me, SM, and Saudi Arabia can bear good results.
“I will discover local talents, produce S-pop, and build a music ecosystem that young people in Saudi Arabia can enjoy”
“With the CT (Culture Technology) system I built, I will discover talented local talents, produce S-pop, and build a music ecosystem that young people in Saudi Arabia can enjoy. Furthermore, I hope that it will contribute to the development of the future cultural industry in Saudi Arabia.”
K-pop artists on SM’s roster include NCT, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, Shinee, Exo, Red Velvet, SuperM, TVXQ, Aespa and BoA.
Soo-man met with officials from the local Ministry of Culture during a visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia back in March, with further discussions taking place at SM’s Seoul headquarters in June.
“I am very much looking forward to working with Lee Soo-man and SM Entertainment, and we will actively cooperate,” adds Saudi deputy minister of investment Fahad Al Naim.
Last month, SM teamed with Los Angeles-based virtual reality concert platform AmazeVR to form joint venture Studio A. The JV will pool AmazeVR’s technology with SM’s extensive artist network.
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.
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”
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, Saudi, 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.
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.
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.
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.