After extending soft power in football and golf, Saudi Arabia is welcomed into global indie music sector

After extending soft power in football and golf, Saudi Arabia is welcomed into global indie music sector

Saudi Arabia stunned the sporting world this week when its Public Investment Fund financed a merger between its LIV series and the PGA.

It follows other examples of the country bankrolling sporting acquisitions to extend its soft power, including the takeover of Newcastle United.

The latest move by Saudi Arabia will significantly increase its presence in the global independent music sector. The country has been invited to the prestigious American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) Indie Week conference in New York City. The Saudi Music Commission is listed as a sponsor of the event.

While there’s no sign of its sovereign wealth fund being deployed to make music acquisitions as it has in sport (other than taking a stake in Live Nation in 2020), the country’s Ministry Of Culture has launched a Music Commission to oversee the development of its domestic sector.

MENA is a fast-growing region for music and that also opens up opportunities for exports. And there are increasing signs that Saudi Arabia – a country with a population of 36 million – wants to become a major music industry player. 

Saudi Arabia has an established local music company, Rotana, which had investment from Warner Music and a recent TikTok licensing deal.

Just over six months ago, the Saudi Music Commission appointed AIM CEO Paul Pacifico to head up the Riyadh-based state-run organisation. It aims to “increase the economic contribution of the music sector through job creation, sector regulation and by building world-class infrastructure”.

The appointment of Pacifico has clearly paid off as he has now secured a presence for the Saudi Ministry of Culture's Music Commission at the A2IM Indie Week conference in New York City (June 12-15). Pacifico has close connections through his previous role at sister organisation AIM in the UK. 

Artists at the showcase include Fulana, Klinsh, Elfuego, and Hannah, in addition to Tamtam who will be the first Saudi singer to perform at the Libera Awards, the event that concludes Indie Week to celebrate the independent music community. Wet Leg lead the nominations for the awards, alongside multiple nods for Sudan Archives, Allison Russell, Fontaines DC and Soul Glo.

On one level, the Indie Week conference is simply an opportunity to present the country’s artists to an audience of international representatives. But it’s also another step to normalising the role of Saudi Arabia and its state-run cultural organisation in the global music industry despite concerns about human rights in the country. 

It will provide us with a unique opportunity to build bridges of understanding with key music stakeholders from around the world

Paul Pacifico

Saudi-based music and entertainment company MDLBeast has organised the Soundstorm Festival, which has featured dance acts including David Guetta, Alesso and DJ Snake. Social media influencers have reportedly been paid to post about positive experiences at the festival and given PR guidance as part of a campaign to help rehabilitate the image of the Gulf state.

Last year, the XP Music Futures Conference in Riyadh, organised by MDLBeast, featured high-profile speakers including Guetta, DJ Khaled and Afrojack. It returns in December and Pacifico is among those “excited” by the event, according to a LinkedIn post.

Later this month, Pacifico will be helping Saudi Arabia’s music industry to reach an audience of artists, label execs, producers and journalists from all over the world. In previous years, Indie Week has attracted over 1,200 participants from more than 30 countries.

One of the sessions will feature an ensemble from the Saudi Music Hub in Riyadh, as well as Saudi musicians. 

“The discussion will centre on the Kingdom’s fast-developing music industry and the exciting opportunities it offers to key local and international industry stakeholders,” said a statement.

Fortunately, given Saudi Arabia’s track record on LGBT rights, there’s a couple of days between that session and the opening A2IM Indie Week panel: How to develop a more well-rounded, inclusive, and equitable music industry solution-oriented ways to be more inclusive of Black, Brown and Queer colleagues and those with disabilities.

Paul Pacifico, CEO of the Music Commission, said: “By participating in Indie Week 2023, the Music Commission is taking another huge step in providing a worldwide platform for emerging Saudi talent, amplifying the global presence and participation of Saudi music, and adding to the Commission’s annual participation in prestigious international cultural forums.”

He added: “Music, as a universal language, has the ability to bring people from different cultures and backgrounds together. We look forward to participating at the upcoming American Association of Independent Music Indie Week Conference, which will provide us with a unique opportunity to exchange knowledge and build bridges of understanding with key music stakeholders from around the world.”

The statement issued by strategic advisory firm Consulum did not include any accompanying comment from A2IM or independent labels.

The Saudi Music Commission – one of the Ministry of Culture’s 11 sector-specific commissions – was launched in 2020 to oversee the development of the Kingdom’s music sector.  


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