40,000 new songs are uploaded to streaming services every day – how do you stand out from the pack?

The On.DXB entertainment festival hosted an industry session that discussed the opportunities and challenges for artists of music streaming

The Business Behind The Music panel featuring (L-R): Laudius Boller, Spotify's managing director for Middle East and Africa; Mike Fairburn, the general manager of Sony Music Entertainment Middle East; Qanawat's Ahmed Nureni and DJ Bliss. Courtesy: On.DXB
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Technology has forced the music industry to evolve. The arrival of online streaming services not only challenged the former physical music distribution model, but also shook up the once dominant roles of certain industry players.

Is streaming an effective source of revenue? Is getting your song on the radio important? And what's the point of joining a record label when you can upload the songs yourself? These were some of the question a panel of regional industry executives wrestled with on Thursday, as part of the opening day of the On.DXB.

Running until Saturday, November 24 at Dubai Studio City, the three-day festival is a gathering of regional and international figures from music, film and media, all here to discuss the various issues surrounding their respective industries.

It is all about streaming

When it comes to the music world, streaming offers countless opportunities. “I am going to throw a bold claim out here and say that we have only reached 5 percent of the market,” said Claudius Boller, Spotify's managing director for Middle East and Africa. “And I am not only just talking about Spotify, this is across the whole industry.”

With Spotify arriving in the Middle East and North Africa just over a year ago, Boller said the company continues to reach out to regional artists, particularly in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt, in order to raise awareness on how the streaming model works.

One question that continually comes up from such discussions, Boller states, is how artists are paid from streaming. He broke down the Spotify process: firstly, the independent artist must have an arrangement with a music distributor. They will be authorised to track and deliver royalties based on the artist’s respective streaming numbers. Depending on the artist's arrangement, some distributors may charge a fee for their various services.

While Boller didn't state the payment rates, here have been various news reports that Spotify's streaming rates range from to US$0.006 (2 fils) to $0.0084 per stream.

“Roughly we pay out 70 per cent of the money that we are collecting from the free tier we have at Spotify, that comes from the advertising, and the payed subscriptions,” he said. “These pay outs go to the creative community, meaning the music labels who have their own individual agreement with the artists which we don’t interfere with.”

It’s not just about the money

But with an average of 40,000 new songs uploaded to Spotify every day, how can an artist emerge from the deluge of new tunes?

Emirati hip-hop producer and popular regional club performer DJ Bliss, real name Marwan Parham, urged artist to look beyond finance. The money will come, he states, if an artist harnesses the business opportunities their music presents.

“It’s not just about making money from streaming,” he says. “There is so much more to it. If your main focus is the small cheques from Spotify, then it is the wrong mentality to have. You have to think as a brand and with that comes social media influencing and various ways of live shows, as a band or DJ. People don’t know that there is a lot of money to be made from live shows.”

If that seems like a lot of work, then this is where being part of an established music label can help an artist, according to Mike Fairburn, the general manager of Sony Music Entertainment Middle East.

While artists now have an unprecedented amount of autonomy when it comes to creating and releasing music, he says that it doesn’t replace the creative nurturing and the global awareness that a music label can provide.

“With 43 million songs out there now and 40,000 more uploaded a day, it is not as simple as putting a song online and sending a few tweets about it. You will still need to cut through,” he says. “Our value comes from guiding the artist, helping them with the production and creation of the content and being able to bring a global network to that song. That makes a huge difference. Increasingly in the future, that will be where our strength as a company will come into play and that is happening every day.”

Forget the radio

And with everything geared towards streaming, what role does the radio format offer today’s artist? Former radio broadcaster, DJ Bliss offers blunt advice: forget about it.

“It is close to impossible to get your song played on the radio. When it comes to radio, it is all driven by research. They tell the presenters how long to talk for and the music is already scheduled. This is a system that has come from the UK and the US and it has done for years,” he says.

“The focus of an artist should not be to be played on the radio. For me, it is to create a hit song, get picked up by a label and then increase your streaming numbers.”

What’s happening today at On.DXB

On.DXB continues today with two key guests making an appearance.

At 5.15pm, an in conversation session will be held with Kano on the Circle Stage. The grime rapper and Top Boy actor is expected to talk about the power of music and entertainment as a tool for positive change. He is also performing on the Main Stage at 10pm on Saturday, November 23, to close the weekend.

At 6pm on the Circle Stage, vlogger, writer, actress and social media phenomenon Liza Koshy will be speaking about her rise to stardom in the digital content age.

On.DXB at Dubai Studio City runs until Saturday, November 23; prices are Dh100 (one day pass for today and tomorrow), Dh150 (one day pass for Saturday) and Dh275 (three-day pass). More information is available at ondxbfest.com