Saudi Arabian artists need to find their own identity for the kingdom’s music industry to flourish.
This was the key take away from Mathew Knowles's keynote address at the three-day XP Music Futures conference in Riyadh this week.
The US record label executive, who is also Beyonce's father, cautioned artists against cashing in on latest musical fads.
"I used to travel to Africa where artists would tell me they wanted to sound like the music coming out of the US and it is the same thing when I was in South Korea. But now these two regions are exploding with Afropop and K-pop," he says.
"Look, it's important to know what other countries are doing and genres are doing. But it is also important that in Saudi Arabia, artists find their own identity when it comes to music. You need to give it a name and then market it."
While praising the rapid evolution of Saudi Arabia’s music industry, he says there is still work to be done to build an efficient music infrastructure.
These are insights born out of Knowles's four-decade career, during which he managed Destiny's Child and launched Beyonce's solo career.
The ‘secret sauce’ of a great song
Knowles recalled entering the music business as a concerned father. It was 1993 and he was backstage watching Beyonce, then aged 9, make her television debut with the band Girl Tyme on the talent show Star Search.
They came in second place; a sobering experience Knowles said revealed some hard truths about the industry.
“They lost because their managers picked the wrong song. Instead of choosing their best one, they chose the one they felt was more inclusive,” he reveals.
"Also 18 other A-list artists — people like Aliyah, Christina Aguilera, Alanis Morsette and Boyz II Men — also went on the show and lost. This just shows you that failure in this space is an opportunity to grow and not a reason to quit.
“It is going to happen for you. It just takes time and a lot of hard work."
According to Knowles, the timeframe to fully develop an artist can range between five to 10 years.
He cites Beyonce, who began her career at the age of eight before finding sustained success as a member of Destiny’s Child at 17, as an example.
It was a belief Knowles imbued in the group when ditching his career in sales to take on the role of their manager. He went on to executive produce all five of the group's albums, including 1999's blockbuster The Writing's on the Wall, which sold 13 million copies internationally.
Knowles also takes credit for encouraging members to launch their solo careers.
He recalls Beyonce’s debut album, 2003's Dangerously in Love, initially receiving a cool reception from label Columbia Records, but it went on to win a Grammy at the awards in 2004.
"The record executive said there is not one hit on this album and we should go back and re-record it," he says.
"It got to the point where we had to get our attorneys involved. The record label was right: there was not one hit on the album, there were five."’
The reason why the album’s anthems Crazy in Love and Me, Myself and I became global hits, Knowles says, is because they are composed for immediate gratification.
"The secret sauce for a successful career is that you need to have a great song. A whack song in a Beyonce album is still a whack song," he said.
"I have never really been concerned about the verses. I just want to hit you with the hooks because that's what people will sing along to and always remember."
The Mathew Knowles story
Knowles also explains that the advent of streaming platforms only increased the pressure on artists to make an immediate impact, both in the studio and on stage.
"Labels would rather invest in three singles than an album because of streaming, so artists have to work extremely hard to make sure the songs are the best they can be," he says.
"And with streaming royalties being as low as they are, most of the money an artist can make now is performing live, so there is that aspect as well."
He also confirms reports that a biopic, The Mathew Knowles Story, is in the works.
"We are definitely having conversations and we just want to make sure that there is a worldwide audience for it," he says.