The music industry sets its eyes on the Middle East

Comprising the Middle East and North Africa, the MENA area is attracting mass attention from major players within the music industry. While the music business used to focus traditionally on wealthy countries to sell physical units, the streaming boom flipped the table to make way for emerging markets. Population size suddenly became a decisive factor. And previously untapped markets like the Middle East started playing a more sizable role in the sector.

A global powerhouse in the making

Released in 2022 by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the Global Music Report named the Middle East the world’s fastest-growing territory for the music industry. The study showed that the region witnessed a 35% growth in music revenues, ahead of massive markets like North America, Europe, and Asia. And the area’s streaming habits, which accounted for over 90% of all revenue share for 2021, ushered in a new era.

Major industry players were diligent in picking up the cues, such as music marketing company Research Warrant. Working on marketing projects with A-listers like Dua Lipa and Alicia Keys, the Miami-based firm looks forward to channeling the region’s growth to expand its business market share.

Leading global company Warner Music Group also acquired the Dubai-based entertainment firm Qanawat Music in a bid to amplify the reach of Arabic music worldwide. CEO Adnan Al Obthani said the merger would allow Qanawat to enhance its position as a “pioneer of creativity in the MENA region.” And the chairman of the Dubai Media Council praised an entrepreneurial success demonstrating the vibrancy of the emirate’s ecosystem.

A hotbed of innovation

From Dubai to Saudi Arabia, MENA countries have long joined the digital transformation conversation. And so did the local music sector. Monitoring music development for Asia and the Middle East, Sony Music Entertainment’s Shridhar Subramaniam breaks down the region’s growth to local labels embracing new opportunities brought about by social media and gaming. With social change fully underway, and a young population hungry for entertainment to boot, he says the timing is just right “for a new creative wave.”

Egyptian superstar Mohamed Hamaki made history in 2021 by kicking off the first musical show of the Fortnite Soundwave Series. Alongside his most famous hits, the pop singer also unveiled an exclusive song. This innovative project exemplified the new creative venues gaming could offer local artists, spearheading a series of successful collaborations between developers and Arabic musicians.

In 2022, Singapore-based developer Garena teamed up with local stars Anas Elshayib and Bessan Ismail to work on an Arabic soundtrack celebrating the crossover between Assassin’s Creed and Free Fire. Called The Creed of Fire, the theme song was a direct nod to the flourishing esports community within the MENA area.

Indeed, the Middle East’s enthusiasm toward competitive gaming has grown stronger in recent years. Cultural restrictions have come in the way of the iGaming industry, though, despite platforms such as online casinos in Qatar proving a popular alternative for local gamblers. Top websites boast thousands of free-to-play slots and table games. Bonuses like high roller offers and free spins come reward all players. And a range of security and anonymity measures ensure a safe experience. Still, iGaming remains the exception as the Middle East embraces new creative fields for artists to explore, from the Metaverse to NFTs.

A time for Arab artists to shine

Well-established international stars like Adele and The Weeknd may have driven the Middle Eastern streaming market. But the local music scene is rising to prominence all the same. Increased social media consumption has given artists new ways to spread their music, with apps like TikTok and Snapchat enabling local musicians to reach fans across borders.

Such digital platforms have also helped rejuvenate genres like Mahraganat. Relying on synth beats, this musical style has heavily influenced Egyptian hip-hop. And in this conservative region, the digitalization of music has proven an effective means of circumventing censorship and local authorities crack down.

As it stands, indeed, the local music scene is facing challenges. But these hurdles are steadily being cleared as investments from key actors in the industry pour in, while governments and artists embrace creative endeavors. And with a prospective audience of nearly 400 million people, the Middle Eastern music scene is definitely looking at a bright future.