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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

It is finally here: Spotify has launched in the Middle East and North Africa

We sit down with the Dubai-based management team of the music-streaming giant to find out what is in store for listeners and artists

Canadian rapper Drake is the most-streamed artist in Spotify's 10-year history. Getty
Canadian rapper Drake is the most-streamed artist in Spotify's 10-year history. Getty

Spotify’s arrival to the UAE wasn’t exactly a big secret.

Rumours swirled of the Swedish music streaming giant coming to Dubai as long as a year ago. This was followed by a rash of jobs vacancies posted online, ranging from editorial (online editors) to technical (whatever "content ingestion officer" means). Finally came the service’s low key arrivals in certain markets – the Spotify hashtag on social-media platforms erupted with celebratory posts yesterday afternoon from users in Oman and Kuwait proclaiming the service is accessible in their countries.

But it was at the stroke of midnight today that Spotify was officially launched in a range of countries across the Middle East and North Africa. Users in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Palestine can now access the service free of charge; or through premium membership of Dh19.99 per month, which allows music streaming to be uninterrupted by commercials, in addition to downloading songs that can be heard offline.

In an exclusive interview with the Spotify Mena team in Dubai Media City, there was a palpable sense of excitement and urgency. There was also the growing satisfaction of a well-laid plan nearing its completion – even if it means Spotify arriving to the region well after Apple Music Mena and Anghami, which both have offices in the Emirate.

“When it comes to launches, we do things step by step,” says Claudius Boller, the Dubai-based managing director for the Mena region. “So it is not a question about us coming late, because a lot of things need to be done. Once we enter a market, we are absolutely serious about our moves, from all the music and licensing deals to the strong playlist creation by our strong team of editors which is all done to fulfil the local expectations and ours too – which are both very high.”

So what do we get?

Nearly the full Spotify experience: more than 40 million songs are now available through millions of albums and playlists uploaded by Spotify community members (almost 191 million of monthly active users), artists and professional curators.

Spotify’s signature mood playlists – of which former Formula One champion Nico Rosberg is an avid user – are also available with temperaments ranging from Focus, Party and Chill to Work Out and Jazzy Dinner.

The only thing missing is Spotify’s growing array of exciting podcasts because of rights issues. However, Spotify Mena is looking forward to launching regionally based podcasts in the future.

An Arabian flavour

When it comes to its regional character, Spotify Mena can be accessed in the Arabic language – complete with right to left script – if your mobile device (whether iPhone or Android) is set up in Arabic. Alternatively, you can access albums using the Arabic language on the Spotify’s English interface by simply converting your phone keyboard.

When it comes to the Arabic language used by Spotify curators for its artist and playlist bios, the style adopted is simple and conversational. There is also a generous amount of content created specifically for the region. Through its select curators based Dubai and abroad, more 40 new region-specific playlists have been added.

“With these playlists, we are trying to cover as many geographies as we can,” said Tamim Fares from the marketing strategy team. “So you will find playlists about Moroccan rap, Egyptian shaabi songs, Khaleeji songs and even Saudi Arabian reggae. It is not just about being mainstream – there is a lot of great music out today that we want to raise awareness of.”

That said, for those seeking more commercial sounds of the likes of Najwa Karam and Amr Diab, they can refer to Top Arabic Hits, Oriental Chill Vibes and Arabic EDM song collections. All playlists are updated regularly.

What about independent artists?

While Spotify’s regional playlists will also highlight the region’s thriving independent scene, Boller says that artists themselves need to step up and make the most of the service.

As part of the preparations for the Mena launch, Boller and his team held various low-key consultations across the region with musicians and influential music personalities to explain the relationship dynamic between the service and the artist. More high-profile public-information sessions for artists are also in the works.

Until then, a Spotify for Artists page is available for free for all members, explaining the service’s content guidelines and how artists can upload original music on the service.

When it comes to the latter, Boller stresses it can only be done through a third party, which could be a label or distributor.

“It is not like a video platform where you can upload it yourself,” he says. “If you are an independent artist, you can go through a distributor because they can ensure that you get your royalty for your streams.”

How do artists get paid?

The way the Spotify system works for independent artists depends on the arrangement you have with your distributor. Some may charge a fee to release your track and deliver your royalties, while others may waive their distribution fee and take a small cut of your song's earnings.

“The game is based on consumption,” said Michael Krause, Spotify’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “The way it works is that all the money we make all go to one central pot and we pay it out depending on the rate of consumption for each artist each given month. The important thing to note is that we pay for each stream played in either our free or paid service.”

While the payment rates are varied, there has been various news reports that Spotify's streaming rates range from to US$0.006 (2 fils) to $0.0084 per stream, which is paid to the song’s rights holder.

For those not versed with the ins and outs of the music industry, Spotify recommends half a dozen distributors on its artist page whom they deem deliver a quality service.

As well as ensuring orderly payment, Boller says that having a distributor is also worth the investment because they will ensure the artist’s music is heard far and wide.

“Sometimes you see DIY artists, who are very excited about their music, upload their song on a video platform and after a couple of days they upload it to a music service,” he says. “It is quite important that artists should make their music available at the same to all platforms, and that’s where a third party distributor can do that. If your music creates interest on the video platform and listeners cannot find it on the music streaming service, then you would push them to piracy.”

Real information in real-time for artists

However, when it comes to a profile page, the artist is in complete control. In addition to creating playlists of originals or personal favourites that they can distribute to fans, the page provides the artists with valuable data about their listeners.

“It is powerful because the artist page can do different things with their music. For example, they work with another artist on a collaboration, the data will give the artist immediate feedback on how it was received,” Boller says. “It is a real feedback channel, not one that comes from a DJ or radio station or moderator. It is from the users themselves.”

Will a Spotify music festival come to Dubai?

The general principle of Spotify, and arguably most streaming services, is that it gets better over time. When it comes to consumers, the more you use it, the Spotify algorithms will look at your musical choices and recommend complimentary playlists and artists.

Krause says the same approach applies when it comes to Spotify-driven events. For example, he points to the US success of the Spotify’s hip-hop playlist Rap Caviar, which has 10 million followers. As a result, Rap Caviar has also become a travelling US festival organised by Spotify that featured live performances from playlist favourites such as Chance the Rapper, Migos, Cardi B and Lil Uzi Vert.

While Krause wouldn’t rule out the UAE hosting a Spotify-organised music festival or concert, Krause says it all depends on what the regional market wants. “We are very customer-driven, so if they express interest in the playlist and the lifestyle surrounding it, then we will definitely look into it.”

For more information or to join Spotify, visit www.spotify.com

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