MENA spans approximately 22 countries (the definitive list differs according to sources) across the Middle East and North Africa. From Algeria to Yemen, this is not one homogenous population, but a varied area, enriched by multiple languages, cultures, music genres and tastes. With an estimated population of 450 million, the MENA music market is on the radar of the world’s music industry for good reason – it hasn’t yet reached saturation, so there’s still plenty of growth opportunity.
A pre-COVID Researchnester report valued the MENA music market at $171.30m in 2018, and forecast growth at a maximum CAGR of 16.5% 2019-2027, reaching $670.03m, a 38% market share, in 2027. MENA governments are investing more focus and cash into music, developing new initiatives to nurture their own music ecosystems. In September 2017, the Saudi government announced a planned $2.7 billion investment in entertainment. There are also some important locally developed industry events and artist showcase platforms, including Lebanon’s Beirut and Beyond, Morocco’s Visa For Music initiative and the Palestine Music Expo.
A natural partner to the European music industry and, as reported widely across music industry news outlets, the region has seen the arrival of some big international players from DSPs to labels, especially over the last few years, boosting MENA music market growth. Predictions on future expansion suggest ad-supported streams will lead growth, closely followed by downloads from digital platforms and performance rights – a contentious topic with huge potential for revenue and something that European organisations like Sacem are fighting tirelessly to secure.
MENA Music Consumption
So, how is music being consumed by MENA audiences? According to the 2020 Ipsos report, Music Streaming in MENA – Why It Matters to Be Local, commissioned by Choueiri Group and Anghami:
- 50% of MENA users stream music daily via DSPs
- 50% of music streamers discover new music & new artists browsing DSPs
- 30% of streamers listen to music on DSPs for at least 3 – 5 hrs/day
How MENA Audiences Consume Music…
- 92% Smartphones
- 45% Computers/ Tablets
- 29% Smart TV
- 18% Smart Speaker
Streaming & Digital in MENA
Just as worldwide, digital is key to global export for MENA artists. Locally established services like Tunisian El Distro Network and Lebanese Watary support talent through distribution and helping artists to monetise via YouTube. The streaming market leader is Anghami, HQ’d in Lebanon and UAE, with a catalogue of 50m+ songs for 70m+ users, including 1m+ paid subscribers. The above Ipsos report attributes Anghami’s success to, “Ease of accessibility, the availability of preferred music, and the large variety of Arabic and local music.” Apple Music, Deezer and Spotify are also present, the latter 2 arriving in 2018.
Streaming Penetration Among the MENA Population (across any platform – according to Ipsos)
- Egypt 83%
- UAE 70%
- Saudi Arabia 59%
The above figures show the importance of the UAE to streaming in MENA, just as it is significant in the live scene. As Liliana Abudalo, Manager of music Content Partnerships for the MENA, YouTube, commented in an interview with Music Ally, UAE streamers are listening to, “music from India, EDM and K-pop in addition to Arabic pop…It’s very different compared to other markets in the Arab world.” Claudius Boller, MD, MENA, Spotify, said in the same piece that K-Pop is also huge in the UAE and is also exploding in Morocco and Saudi. He added that, numbers streaming Khaliji, a style popular across the Arab world, had, “picked up strongly when we launched our PlayStation partnership”. Music in gaming is shaping listening habits in MENA just as elsewhere.
Saudi growth is also very important to MENA music market growth overall, according to the Researchnester report, due to its “high consumption rate of international music, one of the highest global smartphone ownership rates”.
It also has the highest per capita daily YouTube viewing rates on the planet. The importance of YouTube is MENA-wide. The company has been directly funding MENA-based channels for the past 7 years. Think Google reports that 77% of millennials in Egypt watch YouTube every day, it is ranked the third most popular brand in Saudi and the UAE, and sixth in Egypt, according to the YouGovBrandIndex.
Many local indie labels contribute to the MENA ecosystem, such as 100Copies (alternative, Egypt), Casa Voyager (electro, breakbeat, Morocco), Shahr Farang (ambient, electronic, Iran), BMIDIR Records (deep house, jazz, Saudi), Fantôme De Nuit Records (electro, Lebanon) and 264 records (hip-hop, trap, UAE). The largest regional label is Rotana, whose interests include a $266.7 million investment in Deezer, but all the majors are there. In February 2018, Warner Music Middle East launched, a label subsidiary based in Lebanon covering 17 MENA markets.
Expert Viewpoint: Moe Hamzeh, MD, Warner Music Middle East (Lebanon)
“Just like everywhere in the world the live sector is at a standstill so we must be nimble and think of innovative ways to work around this so that we can carry on marketing and promoting our artists – while also supporting our partners in the live world. Our teams at WMG and Songkick are working hard to develop fresh livestream ideas that really capture an audience through a screen – we’ve got some very exciting plans lined up.
There is…incredible music being made in the region. We have just signed an amazing artist called Chyno with a Why?… one of the pioneers of hip-hop in the Middle East and was part of the legendary Beirut-based hip-hop crew Fareeq El Atrash..There is a lot to be optimistic about despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.”
The latest major label announcement in the region as this article is published is the launch of Universal Arabic Music, a partnership between Universal Music Group (UMG) and Republic Records, revealed by Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO, UMG, Monte Lipman, Founder and CEO, Republic Records, and Wassim “SAL” Slaiby, Founder and CEO, SALXCO and XO RECORDS.
This is still a huge area of concern for the regional and global industry, making it a considerable opportunity for potential revenue.
Expert Viewpoint: Habib Achour, Head of Africa & the Middle East International Development Department, Sacem (France)
The rights situation is improving right now. Online rights are strongly increasing and very promising for the years to come…Regional governments are taking artists’ rights seriously more and more. Our message is well received today and no government doubts the importance of CCis and their impact…; the rights paid to their artists and all content creators are the barometer of the value and vitality of creation. For artists to monetise on the digital market (they should) register their works properly, understand that publishing rights come before master rights and register to collective management…accurate data and administration is vital not to lose any precious value… the synch market..is strong…and still active.
In addition to a blossoming, homegrown indie scene, EDM, hip-hop and chart acts are all popular on the MENA live landscape, especially in the Gulf. The debut MDL Beast festival in December 2019 was not without criticism, but its A-list DJ lineup featuring David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, R3hab, Black Coffee and Tiesto, drew more than 400,000 fans, according to organisers. The large expat populations across the Gulf love nostalgia and anything that reminds them of home, so heritage acts are also high on the roster bookings list.
Live Nation is one of the biggest regional promoters, but there are also many large local players, including 117 Live and Flash Entertainment in the UAE. Significant festivals across the MENA market, from Cairo Jazz Festival to Jerash Festival in Jordan, Les Dunes Electroniques in Tunisia, to Mawazine in Morocco, and MDLBeast, the latest arrival in Saudi, to Redfest and Dubai Jazz Festival in the UAE, attract hundreds of thousands of local and international music fans annually.
With tourism opening up and public entertainment events for mixed audiences becoming legal in Saudia in the last few years, the Kingdom has been pushing hard on its live agenda. The Public Investment Fund acquired a $500m stake in Live Nation, a 5.7% stake, in 2020.
Regional artists still face issues including censorship, such as the 2020 Egyptian ban on Mahraganat musicians. However, there is much to be optimistic about, with an increasing number of live and digital platforms, and global players investing in artist development. Spotify launched RADARرادار, its first artist programme dedicated to the Middle East, in March 2020.
The Indie Artist’s Viewpoint: Rasha Nahas, Palestine
“The main challenge is that the content of my music is personal yet also influenced by the social/political situation in MENA….Singing in English has made my music a lot more accessible…I have toured and performed international shows like Glastonbury Festival, Canadian Music Week, Midem, Sziget Festival, and venues like Queen Elizabeth Hall…
… it’s really hard to stay optimistic and keep the fire going, but I deeply believe that music & culture in general are so essential and integral parts of our lives as humans and will survive this pandemic. Somehow. Also we artists are still here, in lockdown or not, we’re creating and thinking and renewing. So I’m sure the art will survive. But I’m not so sure of how it will affect and change the industry.
Although the MENA music market has grown hugely and, in some areas of the industry, reached maturity over the last decade, it is not yet saturated. With audiences growing and young populations across parts of the region some of the most active digital natives in the world, there is still so much potential for growth and global partnerships.