From exclusive hits to original podcasts: How Deezer is trying to turn up the volume for regional talent

The streaming platform, which recently launched original Arabic podcasts, aims to showcase fresh and dynamic content on a global stage

Deezer Mena has launched a string of Arabic podcasts. Courtesy Deezer Mena
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A new Arabic podcast invites listeners inside the region’s most evil minds.

Available to stream on Deezer, Al Jareema examines some of the Arab world's most horrific crimes and the killers behind them.

From Jordanian couple Bilal Musa and Susan Ibrahim, who murdered 12 people between 1994 and 1998, to the deadly trail left by Egypt's infamous siblings Raya and Sakina in the early 1900s, the scripted series blends chilling reportage with interviews with psychologists' takes.

The bold true crime programme is the latest to be produced by Deezer's Mena team, who have their headquarters in Dubai Internet City. And Al Jareema is just the opening salvo of original content relating to the region, says chief executive Tarek Mounir.

"It is a big part of our content strategy," he tells The National. "But a lot of what we do and how we behave depends on what we read from the data we receive. What we are doing is testing and the feedback we are getting from the podcasts allows us to know how the content is perceived."

On the front line of that push is Deezer Mena’s head of content, Mark Abou Jaoude.

In addition to launching an Arabic podcast section, which includes non-original content such as music series Dum Dum Tak and the literary show One Thousand and One Nights, he says commissioned productions aim to fill the gaps missing in the Arabic podcast sphere.

An example of which, he says, is Saudi Today, launched last October and hosted by Saudi Arabian actress and rapper Amy Roko.

"There is not a lot of audio content that is really reflecting and talking about youth culture in Saudi Arabia," Jaoude says. "So we wanted to offer that. We wanted to show the innovation of Saudi and what's really happening there. And Amy Roko really embodies that young spirit and creativity found in the kingdom."

Amy Roko. Redefining the stereotype of Saudi women, Amy was chosen as one of our cover models for her boldness  and unique character that mirrors the new generation of Saudis. She has amassed a large social media  following through her humorous videos and approachable personality. Photo by Lina Mo

The home of Rotana

It is these kind of strategic moves that are defining Deezer Mena's entry into the region.

Celebrating its second anniversary last October, the French company launched in Mena after Anghami and Apple Music made their respective services available in 2012 and 2015. Spotify followed Deezer a month later.

To stand out among the pack, the platform focused on mixing exclusivity with regional engagement.

In a first-of-its-kind move, Deezer Mena shocked the Arab music industry in 2018 by signing an exclusive digital distribution deal with the Middle East's biggest record company Rotana Music, home to Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi, Iraqi crooner Kadim Al Sahir and Lebanese singer Elissa.

That move continues to bear fruit. In February, Deezer was the only place where you could hear Fedwat Oyounak, the hotly anticipated new album by Emirati pop star Ahlam.

However, not everyone was pleased by the deal.

Elissa reportedly decried the move after the label removed her catalogue from rival streaming platform Anghami (where she had racked up more than 500 million plays) in favour of Deezer.

Mounir, while not directly addressing Elissa’s case, says he doesn’t view the platform’s exclusive rights as inhibiting any artist's career.

He points out that listeners can access any Rotana artist's song through the platform's free tier, with some of the songs eventually becoming available on YouTube.

“While there is an advantage for Deezer having that content, our intention is not to ring-fence anything,” he says. “That is not really the spirit of the deal. We came to the region to be a local hero for artists.”

How can an artist stay afloat online

This is Abou Jaoude’s mandate.

Part of his role is not only to strike partnership deals with artists and brands, but to work with emerging artists to help them understand the digital music ecosystem.

As a DJ and recording artist himself, Abou Jaoude says streaming platforms offer plenty of opportunities to learn if you know how to use them.

“You can access a lot of great information about your work [as an artist] from a platform like ours, from where your songs are being heard to which parts of the track they like and when they skip. That information is really helpful when it comes to creating your sound,” he says.

“The challenge, however, is that there is a lot of competition. So to maintain your profile you need to produce new content. But with the right information, artists can produce better content because they get a better idea of what listeners want.”

As the company continues to make further inroads across the region, Abou Jaoude expects even more dynamic content, from music to podcasts, to emerge.

“It is really exciting,” he says.

“The amount of talent that is already in this region is really substantial. Our job is to not show it only for us who live here, but to those outside as well."