‘The Dawn Of A New Era’ – The Middle East Is Open For Business

Fans At Soundstorm 2021: The second edition counted more than 730,000 visitors
entering through the gates across four days. (Picture by: Darren Arthur / Getty Images/ Mdlbeast Soundstorm)

Since 2018, Saudi Arabia has been in a process of transformation, reforming its business landscape to encourage entrepreneurship and opening to international tourists. All to shake the country’s conservative image, create jobs, and put Saudi Arabia on the map as an entertainment destination.

At press time, Saudis reportedly spent some $20 billion on entertainment each year overseas for want of domestic offerings, and Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority would like to see some of that money being spent at home.

David Guetta
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – DECEMBER 18: David Guetta performs on stage during MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM 2021 on December 18, 2021 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM )

What better way to make sure that happens than by putting on amazing events that’ll mesmerize local and foreign audiences alike? The kingdom granted its first public performance license in the beginning of 2019, and one of the companies that’s been making the ost of it since is MDLBEAST. In December 2019, it promoted the first edition of Soundstorm, inviting the world’s biggest DJ’s to the country capital Riyadh, including Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Afrojack, Steve Aoki.

In Soundstorm’s first year, promoters counted some 400,000 guests across all three days, and the event set a Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest stage. The second edition, which got delayed by one year due to coronavirus restrictions, expanded by one day and counted more than 730,000 entering through the gates. The festival’s promoters have been making sure to book a strong female lineup from the get-go. Peggy Gou, Cassy, and Saudi’s very own Cosmicat, Hatoon, Walaa, Nourah, Loulou Alshareef and Nas G, were all part of the first Soundstorm lineup.

Building A Circuit: How The Middle East Is Becoming a Full-Fledged Touring Region

Veteran promoter Thomas Ovesen, currently serving as Entertainment Director with the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Riyadh, told Pollstar, “The big events that are
put on in Saudi Arabia are part of an amazing initiative to overhaul the kingdom, to build new projects, new precincts, even new cities, and, indeed, all the construction has been ongoing throughout the pandemic.”

Live entertainment may have taken the backseat for a while, as promoters in the Middle East were facing the same restrictions as the rest of the world, but, according to Ovesen, all construction projects have been progressing, some even at an accelerated pace. Projects include venues like opera houses and arenas. Ovesen reckons they’ll be ready within the next two to four years.

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – DECEMBER 19: In this handout image provided by MD Beast, MDL Beast Festival – the Saudi Soundstorm has arrived, wowing over 130,000 fans on its first day on December 19, 2019 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Mdl Beast is the first festival of its kind within Saudi Arabia and showcases international artists and local talents in music, art and culture. (Photo by Matt Crossik/MD Beast via Getty Images )

The current benchmark for arenas in the region is set by both Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, and Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, a mere one-and-a-half-hour drive apart. If the kingdom of Saudi Arabia follows through, it could become “the locomotive, the powerhouse of entertainment,” in Ovesen’s estimation. He said, “They will be by far the biggest buyer of content, live entertainment and sports in the region, perhaps even globally. UAE will still be a fantastic place for shows. Egypt will no doubt be hosting events on the Mediterranean north coast and in Cairo, where there is some construction happening, too.”

‘Hey, We’re Here’: Saudi Arabia’s Women Are Taking The Stage With MDLBEAST

Smaller markets like Bahrain and Kuwait also have purpose-built venues, including theaters and amphitheaters in need of programming. And then, of course, there’s Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup in November and December, which will come with a lot of live entertainment, not just in the host country.

And while some of the stadiums have only been built for the tournament, and will be taken down again after, plenty of venues will remain. “It’s a region that has more potential than it has ever had before,” Ovesen said.

For most international artists, a visit to the Middle East is a one-stop occasion. That is about to change. Three-time Grammy Award winning band Maroon 5 just announced their first-ever Middle East tour, presented by Live Nation. The tour will stop at The Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt (May 3), Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, UAE (May 6), and Ganei Yehoshua Park, Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv, Israel (May 9).

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James Craven, president, Live Nation Middle East.

James Craven, president, Live Nation Middle East, said, “We are thrilled to organize the first regional tour for an iconic band like Maroon 5 and finally get back to full-capacity live shows. Maroon 5 will also be the first major international band to perform at the new Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. A really strong way to celebrate the return of live arena shows!”

Live Nation Israel CEO Guy Beser said, “This marks a powerful, shared moment across the region and is of great significance to both the Middle East and Live Nation. This landmark event marks the dawn of a new era, and will ensure an easier process for bringing bands, global artists and festivals to the region.”

Zaed Maqbool, vice president, touring & talent, Live Nation Middle East/South Asia, summed it up: “Having a routed run means bands are able to play for even more fans, rather than playing one-offs that take them out of the market for years. This is a great step to see for the industry, and more regional runs are being planned as we speak.”

Few artists can pull off a multi-stop tour in the region as things stand, domestically and abroad. This has multiple reasons: varying live infrastructure, small populations with varying musical tastes, as well as markets, where going to a concert just isn’t a thing. Yet. Promoters like MDLBEAST not only place an emphasis on local talent, but on culture in

The launch of the region’s first music conference XP, Dec. 13-15, which focuses on the evolution of the Saudi Arabian music industry, is testament to that. Music professionals from the whole world joined panels, workshops, Q&As and keynote discussions centered around four main pillars: talent, scene, policy, and impact. Some session examples include “Amplifying Music Futures – What does this new generation of creatives need to thrive,” “Supercharging Music Tourism – Creating a sustainable new economy in KSA,” or “Empowering Women in Music.”

XP: Saudi Arabia’s ‘First Music Conference’ Unveils Program

Thomas Ovesen.

As more people get accustomed to different types of content; as word spreads domestically, that you don’t have to leave the country to see the world’s best entertainment; as more tourists experience how welcoming and hospitable Saudi in particular, and the wider region in general, are – it will create a lot of potential to expand the programming.

“It’s not a bad time to be a new promoter in the market,” said Ovesen, adding, “In the past, most promoters, myself included, just focused on picking from the international tours what we thought worked best. We were not actively involved in developing new content, and especially localized content. We never really brought over residency shows, which would definitely work in some of the new venues, in particular in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and
some of the Saudi cities. It’s a very nuanced picture once you get more granular. If you’re an agent or manager sitting in London or LA, there couldn’t be a better time [to look to the Middle East], this area is just booming.”

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