The Saudi panel at the 2023 All That Matters Conference: (r-l) Paul Pacifico, CEO of Saudi Music Commission, Haya Alhejailan, Musician from Saudi Arabia & Carlo Nohra, COO of Saudi Pro League (photo: Digital Music News)
CEO of the recently-formed Saudi Music Commission, Paul Pacifico, revealed that the organization ‘seeks to unleash the creative and commercial potential of music in Saudi Arabia.’
During a discussion panel at the 2023 All That Matters (ATM) conference in Singapore, Pacifico highlighted his opinions on how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) aims to become a powerful player in the music industry. The discussion centered around music progress in the Kingdom after Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman officially established the Saudi Music Commission in February of 2020.
Controversy has shrouded similar non-oil expansions by the country. KSA has been criticized for using sports and culture to deflect from more critical events occurring in the Kingdom.
Pacifico admitted that the ongoing controversy and criticism was a serious concern when he was asked to run the commission. He added that he sees the initiative as an opportunity to redefine the Kingdom’s global music presence.
The presence of a Commission focused on expanding Saudi music represents a major shift by the country. Until five years ago, KSA prohibited music. Now, according to Pacifico, public performances are encouraged and promoted. “Things are changing in KSA, which is why the Kingdom wants to build an entire music segment,” Pacifico relayed.
Haya Alhejailan, a female Saudi musician, also shared her first-hand experience witnessing performance arts reform within the Kingdom. Alhejailan explained how, in the past, she could only play her guitar in the privacy and secrecy of her home. Now, she performs on festival stages alongside her band.
To provide avenues for the promotion of musicians in the region and build an ecosystem that helps them grow, the Kingdom has made hefty investments in music.
KSA is one of the key players in the dynamic MENA region, where recorded music revenue grew by 23.8% in 2022. Naturally, the music industry’s fastest-growing region has become a significant focal point for the global music industry. This progression is a beacon of light for artists who have struggled with the challenges and lack of opportunities presented by the KSA’s former policies.
After a desert site outside Riyadh hosted one of the world’s largest raves in November 2022, the city now sees more than $64 billion in entertainment investment. Much of that investment fund will go towards promotion of the live music industry.
Not long ago, musical opportunities were altogether inaccessible for young Saudi musicians. Surfing this wave of new investments, the Kingdom’s youth now foresee a future in establishing their musical careers. They may also be in a position to demand more performance venues and musical resources.
KSA’s surprising new inclination and the Saudi Music Commission’s apparent commitment to it spell possible opportunities for Saudi artists. But this burgeoning industry also represent opportunities for the global music industry.
If KSA continues its leap toward music growth, it requires experienced music professionals and technology — instructors, labels, and music instrument manufacturers — to help it succeed.
On that note, Pacifico revealed that the Kingdom’s plans to train and hire thousands of new music teachers and introduce music to children as early as kindergarten. Pacifico added that KSA’s sincere commitment is what compelled him to become part of the ‘massive change.’
Prince Salman’s aim to create a thriving music industry is part of the ruler’s larger ambition to diversify the Kingdom’s economy beyond oil — which currently accounts for more than half of the country’s revenue.
In 2016, Prince Salman unveiled the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan, which sought to transform the country from a nation heavily relying on oil exports to one nurturing an ecosystem where talent thrives. The Kingdom has since launched efforts to place creativity, youth, and women at the hub of all its initiatives.
In tandem with Vision 2030, KSA also established the General Entertainment Authority to highlight KSA’s goals for its economic future. One of its many objectives was to increase household spending on entertainment activities within the Kingdom. With a focus on that aspect, the ruler launched widespread policy changes, beginning with removing restrictions on public entertainment events. Since then, the country, with a population of 34.8 million, has reported substantial economic and social growth.
The 2023 ATM conference took place from September 11th to September 13th.
Since its inception in 2006, the ATM conference has taken place a week before the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix every year. Industry professionals gather on the island to discuss ‘matters’ of sports, gaming, marketing, Web3 — and among others — music.
This year, ATM conference attendees included CEO of Primary Wave Larry Mestel, cofounder and co-CEO of Beatdapp Andrew Batey, CEO of Chartmetric Sung Cho, and representatives of other major companies like TikTok, Venice Music, Bandwagon, WMG, UMG, SME, Believe, YouTube, Spotify, Meta, Google, Luminate, Netflix, and many others.