‘The MENA region will become a pioneer in the music industry.’

Growth in the MENA region has been a major highlight for the global music industry in recent years.

According to global recorded music body IFPI, recorded music market revenues in the Middle East and North Africa grew by 35% in 2021, making it the fastest-growing music region in the world.

Furthermore, some 95.3% of those revenues in the wider region in 2021 were generated from music streaming.

Saudi Arabia, one of the key music markets in the MENA region, boasts a population size of an estimated 35.95 million and an internet penetration rate of a whopping 98% of that total population size.

The country is also home to prominent Arabic music company Rotana, which is claimed to be the largest record label in the Middle East, and has recently struck licensing deals with TikTok and Spotify.

Saudi Arabia’s mature digital footprint and active domestic music market arguably make it an ideal location for a MENA-focused music industry conference, hosted in the form of the XP Music Futures event, the second edition of which was held in November 2022.

“Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing an incredible transformation,” says Nada Alhelabi, Strategy Director at MDLBEAST & XP Music Futures Program Director.

Alhelabi explains further that Saudi Arabia’s music business previously operated under the radar of the global music industry, but that Saudi-based music and entertainment company MDLBEAST aims to change that by turning XP, and its other operated events, into key fixtures on the global music event calendar.

“Previously, our music community could only thrive underground, but now we are hosting major international and regional artists and festivals with thousands of attendees,” explains Alhelabi.

“XP Music Futures is our effort to bring together music industry [professionals] to network and collaborate.”

“Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing an incredible transformation.”

Nada Alhelabi, MDLBEAST & XP Music Futures 

MDLBEAST, the company behind XP, originally launched in 2019 as a music festival called ‘MDLBEAST Soundstorm’, which it claims on its website “was a cultural catalyst for Saudi youth”.

The company has since expanded to comprise a record label, as well as the XP Music Futures conference, which officially launched in 2021.

MDLBEAST’s SoundStorm Music Festival, meanwhile, held in the capital city Riyadh, was headlined in 2022 by superstars like Bruno Mars, DJ Khaled and Post Malone.

Looking to the future, Alhelabi explains that MDLBEAST aspires to become known, not just as an entertainment company, “but for developing the region’s music economy and defining the next generation of music and entertainment”.

“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 grow and build a strong profitable work experience,” explains Alhelabi.

Here, Nada Alhelabi, Strategy Director at MDLBEAST & XP Music Futures Program Director, gives us an insight into the company’s origins, its plans for the future, and challenges and opportunities for the music business in Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region…

Tell us about the response you’ve had from the global music business to the XP Music Futures initiative over the past two editions?

The feedback has been extremely positive. From the first year and now the second, all speakers, artists, and guests expressed their interest in participating again. Everyone saw the potential in our youth and the endless possibilities in our country. We are a blank canvas and the beauty is that you can create and innovate a new industry and not catch up on what we have missed. We focus on being action oriented by developing and implementing initiatives to support the talent and scene, for example, Xperform (aimed to discover talent across MENA), Xchange (workshops across the region that aims to connect the communities and solve problems), and others. We also focus on collaborations with key music industries and we succeeded this year by doing so.

The 2022 edition featured various high-profile speakers including David Guetta, DJ Khaled, Hardwell, Amy Thomson, and Mathew Knowles. Tell us about the significance of attracting such prominent music industry figures to the speaker lineup?

Each year the feedback from international artists is fruitful and we’re seeing more and more artists from abroad keen to collaborate and speak at XP, which we love to hear. Through XP we are able to promote the region and accelerate positive change in diversity and gender equality through advocacy groups, research, and knowledge-led insights. The fact that so many international artists and talent are looking to get involved only cements our vision to grow the music industry and economy.

What were the biggest highlights from the 2022 edition?

We had endless amounts of success and great highlights this year. From the initial planning stages of XP with the team to see the second edition of the event featuring the greatest minds from the international and regional music industry come to life has been the most rewarding experience. We had 200+ speakers, 80+ sessions, 9 networking sessions,  9 initiatives, 120+ music performances and 9 partner activations with endless immersive experiences.

What were some of the key topics explored during the panel discussions and keynotes?

We have invited leaders and creatives from all over the world. The event was designed for the musically-curious and musical masters to connect, and join in conversations, workshops, and experiences on how to develop a thriving music scene. In a session called Pro Xperience: Elyanna – Palestinian singer Elyanna spoke candidly about her professional journey engaging with the audience in a more intimate manner as the session was in the format of a one-on-one conversation in Arabic, reinforcing authenticity and an unfiltered knowledge exchange discussion between speaker and audience. Mathew Knowles, the architect of Destiny’s Child and his daughters Beyoncé and Solange Knowles’ early solo careers did a session titled The Fundamentals of the Music Industry In A Digital Age, where he offered tips to regional talent on how to breathe life into their music and entertainment career, and ensure a strong foundation is built for long-term success. Globally recognized former manager of the Swedish House Mafia, Amy Thomson also hosted a session titled Fair Pay & Fair Play: Understanding Music Royalties, in which she educated up-and-coming musicians about their rights regarding streaming royalties.

How has the event evolved since its inaugural outing in 2021?

What made this year different,  we have expanded our Day and Nite programs and included new session formats: networking, demo sessions, Arabic sessions and more interactive experiences, allowing unfiltered discussion between the speaker and audience. We want to constantly grow and develop our offerings to amplify the music culture in the region.

What can we expect from the 2023 event, in terms of scale, line-up, format, etc?

This year we are focusing on growth and partnerships. Our aim is to constantly evolve. We have a great opportunity to continue growing our community and turn it into something which drives cultural and economic change. We are aiming to take Xchange (our mobile workshops to new cities), build new initiatives related to talent management and women empowerment.

According to the IFPI, recorded music market revenues in the MENA region grew by 35% in 2021 – the fastest-growing region in the world. What are your predictions for the region over the coming years?

We are hoping that after these enormous achievements, the general Arab public feels even more confident in putting their trust in us to control the continued growth of the music scene in the region. We are hoping that they believe in MDLBEAST’s goals and that they help us move towards that goal.

Together with the youth we intend to continue to build the music scene. I predict that the region will become the pioneer in the music industry, by exporting talents, expanding on live events, innovating in teach and become one of the top in music consumption.

What are the biggest music industry challenges in Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region currently?

Representation in the industry can be a challenge. I see the need for equal opportunities and it is a priority for us. The music industry is going through unprecedented change in the Middle East and globally – women need to be a part of it. Across the world female producers, artists and creatives are underrepresented and the number of women in executive roles in the industry is also not substantial.

While there’s definitely more awareness of this now, and focus to ensure fair representation between men and women by different industry players, we need to put our efforts to continue to facilitate, encourage and push the agenda. It’s a strategic priority for us to grow the industry in the region in a balanced and fair way. During this year’s XP, women in music was one of our key topics within which our expert speakers discussed the advantages of female representation and having a diverse music industry.

While there’s a lot of work to be done, there has never been a better time for us to move the music infrastructure forward with a firm focus on female growth in the industry.

What are your ambitions for the XP Music Conference over the coming years?

We aim to amplify the music culture in the region. There has always been a bustling creative scene in Saudi, so for many people, the passion for music has always been present. Our vision at MDLBEAST is to grow the music industry and economy both in the Kingdom and outside the region. I envision XP to become the platform of discovering the next talent, connecting the music world, pushing the regulations, building the scene, and innovating in all aspects of the music ecosystem.  I’m excited about what’s to come!

Music Business Worldwide