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The Future of Independent Music in the UAE

They say "to understand the future, we must look to the past." Allow me to take this advice as we look to the future of music in the UAE. Having been around Dubai for almost 15 years, I've witnessed some of the ups and downs of the local original music scene. The scene has followed the transit life this city offers. Here now, gone tomorrow.

If you're a solo act, you can go a long way, of course depending on your employment visa. It's a simple equation. No visa, no stay, no gig. I've come across bands that have great potential only to be disbanded because member/s lost their jobs and took the next flight available to chase a job offer from another country.

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Event companies were not exempted

from this transient trend. Case in point: Dubai Lime. Dubai Lime was an outfit that held open mics in coffee shops across Dubai for up-and-coming aspiring artists. It was an amazing platform. The concept was strengthened by teaming up with Central Perk, a local coffee shop that followed the ambiance of the famous TV series FRIENDS. The company blew up since its inception in early 2007 primarily because of the support it received from different sectors especially radio presenter Zahra Soar of Dubai 103.8, who, if I'm not mistaken, was one of the co-founders. Zahra hosted a radio show catering to artists that have performed in Dubai Lime Open Mics. Dubai Lime was on the map. Until the 2009 credit crunch happened. The company took a great hit as the global financial crisis escalated. The owner called it quits and headed back home to the UK.

Other events companies stood the test of time though. Rock Nation, spearheaded by Nikhil Uzgare, was and still is the longest-running homegrown initiative for live events in Dubai that supports local acts. Metality UAE was a promising outfit but I guess it succumbed to the 2009 crisis as well.

Here we are, a decade later and the local music scene is thriving yet again. Outfits such as Last Seen Live (LSL) (check them out! I'm a huge fan of their work), Maa'na Music and Home Concerts are some of the platforms I salute for keeping the fire alive - thank you. I am fortunate enough to have met some of the industry's prominent players making sure the small ripples they create will someday become tidal waves that will blow the music industry away. One firm has caught my utmost attention though - Emirates Music Summit. They recently launched successfully, against all odds.

Unlike Dubai Lime,
Emirates Music Summit
persisted against adversity

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A brief intro. Emirates Music Summit is an educational, inspirational and motivational thought-leadership event that's dedicated to creating awareness and appreciation for music. The Summit aims to celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution to art and culture in the UAE. The goal is to make UAE number 1 in music tourism and also to be a leader in setting global trends for the music industry by focusing on 5 key strategies:

1. Music and musician-friendly policies
2. Music offices / Music advisory boards
3. Engaging the broader community / Audience development
4. Access to spaces and places
5. Music tourism

These five key strategies got me excited. Specially number 1. Musicians have struggled to cope due to rigorous government requirements which are essential for regulations purposes. EMS co-founder Berto explains, "Ultimately, the goal is to create a more sustainable music community where artists and professionals can enjoy successful careers on all levels from local to international.

We want to develop spaces for education, rehearsal, recording and performance while fostering a live scene with an engaged and passionate audience.

We also want to educate UAE-based creatives

on creating a realistic, sustainable and healthy ecosystem within music through panels, presentations, workshops and discussions." The inquisitive side of me kicked in. How is this going to be different from the rest?

"EMS is different because we are targeting all areas and all genres of music. We don't just focus on the musicians or any of the apparent or immediate impacted stakeholders, we focus on the ecosystem at large. Everything from the thought process of song creation to the engineering, to the cover art, to the DSP's, branding, audience development and everything in between.

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We believe that music is such an integral part of the lives of just about everyone but people aren't focused on the impact that it has on us. We want to help with every part of the ecosystem. UAE's forward-thinking leadership can help set global music standards and trends worldwide," said Berto.

One word from this statement resonated in my musical spirit — ecosystem

We are all part of a mutually beneficial ethos. I am all-in with the idea of everyone taking part in making our dreams a reality. I am excited to see how EMS will create a paradigm shift in our set-to-boom indie music. Thanks to Elia for connecting me to Berto.

Hold on. Did I mention Elia? Elia Mssawir the multi-awarded artist management guru? Yes! And I am grateful to have connected with him. He continues to champion the cause of original music in the region. His vision for the music industry in the UAE gives me something to look forward to.

I asked him how it was like to be one of the panelists in the launch of Emirates Music Summit. "I'm always interested in talks, panels and seminars, especially that I get to meet like-minded people from the industry. Having the opportunity to be on a panel at EMS had me thinking about how important such conferences are! But also, not to forget that sharing this panel meant a lot to me; I got to know better the other panelists."

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Record labels are "out in this new era, and digital/online distributors like CDBaby are dominating this industry now" according to Elia. Artists don't need a label to get their music on streaming platforms; nor do they need labels to market their products. The internet and social media following are readily available at the tap — or tips — of our fingers. "Use them, these are the best tools and definitely an alternative to record labels," he added.

Read more about Elia here.

Looking at the future, Elia affirms that the UAE music market is unpredictable. "As I mentioned before, the country is on rotation every year, so are the trends, the people and the head of cultures (the ones that get you the money and opportunities). I'm certain that it will be bigger and better...

but there is no guarantee."

When asked if there would be significant changes in performance fees that will help ease events companies Elia said, "Yes, and this is something we are not discussing yet with the public, but we (my colleagues, friends an I) are working with ILEA on introducing a new system that would cut costs on promoters & event companies so they can inject more into artists. Stay tuned for this one!

The game is about to change!

I believe that as vibrant as the country is, so is the future for local talents. We are at the threshold of something extraordinary. Fasten your seatbelts. We're in for a ride.