Spotify succeeds to concert Arab culture globally, with more plans for the region: managing director

Sarah El-Sheikh
16 Min Read

Spotify in November has completed its first year here in the Middle East and North Africa. In that year, the platform has attracted millions of active users within the Arab world, broadening the music market with free Arabic and international music, which has limited piracy and has introduced the entire world to Arab music and artists.

Last year, Spotify launched a full Arabic language user experience, offering 13 new markets in the Middle East and North Africa. The music streaming platform has now brought its global footprint to 79 markets in total including India.

Spotify’s also launched its Arab Hub, a new music platform as part of its Global Cultures initiative. The initiative is a series of platforms hosting curated playlists to help introduce people of other cultures to another’s latest hits and classics.  Arab Hub follows the recently launched Latin hub and Afro Hub. With the Arabic Hub, people from all over the world now may easily find Arabic music and artists.

Spotify received a highly positive response from the Middle East. Over 3bn playlists are now available on the platform. Last month, Spotify celebrated Amr Diab’s legacy and global impact with a billboard in Times Square. This year, the pop icon is officially Spotify’s “Wrapped” 2019  list most streamed artist in Egypt. 

Through its unique feature of personalising playlists, such as Discover Weekly and Daily Mix, Spotify has become a very important and strategic partner for the region’s artists and music industry.


Celebrating one year of success, Daily News Egypt interviewed Spotify’s Managing Director in the Middle East and Africa Claudius Boller, who spoke about the achievement of the platform during its first year, and expansion plans in Middle East.

After completing one year in the region, how do you see Spotify’s expansion in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt?

We are really happy with the results so far. We can see that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has totally raised Spotify. It was very wonderful for us to see Arab users all of over the world praising our platform. They showed a very high engagement on the platform, not looking for Arabic music only, but international music as well. We see them growing their playlists when discovering more music on the platform.

The artists are praising Spotify as well. We are working with them very closely and they are actively working with the platform. We see that growth is exceeding our expectation and we are also happy with the response we’re receiving from the media.

Spotify has long worked with European and American users, how were you able to overcome challenges in communicating with Arabic users?

We looked for powerful global expansion plans and we launched Spotify in 13 countries in MENA, which was a very huge undertaking.  We translated Spotify into Arabic and used the Arabic language in marketing campaigns to enhance communication with users.

We launched Arab Hub as part of our global cultures initiative, to connect all types Middle Eastern music and culture with listeners everywhere. This was our way of spreading Arabic culture in terms of music service for the world and reach many users. Even artists were able to see how their songs have spread outside of the MENA region.  They are now able reach their fans and even build new fans outside the region and across the world through Spotify. 

Which musical genre is most played in the Middle East and Egypt?

Pop music is very trendy in the Middle East, whether Arab or international pop. Mahrganat [electro shaabi music] is also growing very fast. Hip Hop and rap are also trending quickly in the region.

How do you view the success of Spotify’s latest campaign which projected a billboard of Arab singer Amr Diab in New York City’s Times Square?

We are impressed by the feedback we are getting from this campaign. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with Egyptian singer Amr Diab. He is an absolute legend. Egypt on Spotify as per our latest “Wrapped” campaign data , but he is also a global icon where most of his streams on Spotify come from the U.S.

The idea was decided to honor him. He is the number one most streamed artist in Egypt on Spotify as per our latest “Wrapped” campaign data , but he is also a global icon where most of his streams on Spotify come from the US. He has huge fans all over the world and we wanted to spread Arab music everywhere.

Today, we have 248 active users on the platform. It’s worth mentioning that Spotify believes that it is important to present local music services to global audiences. The main idea of Spotify is that we are working with all artists and labels. We try to be as unbiased as possible.  We are also open to working with all artists and labels and we can not wait to continue spreading this region’s culture beyond borders.

To what extent do you believe such campaigns contribute to different cultures connecting?

We truly do believe this. We always wanted other cultures to discover Arabic music and we are already witnessing that.  This past weekend, a Swedish rapper released a cover of Amr Diab’s 1996 hit Habibi Ya Nour El Ein (My Love! The light of the eye) as part of Spotify Single’s initiative.

The rapper said the song inspired her, it has a feel good vibe and that she is in love with Arabic beats , which basically shows how music can travel and how Spotify can be play a role here.

How does Spotify help emerging artists and MENA’s underground scene?

We have developed a platform called Spotify Artist, which is used only by artists. It’s a mobile-application and website for artists to access their data. Hundreds of thousands of artists are using it already. Through it, artists can see how their music is doing on the platform, how many followers, listeners, and from which country and city the music is being played.

Our mission is to help  artists make a living out of their careers.

For example, one Arab artist discovered that his songs are played in Germany more than Egypt or any Arab country and also found that he has a big audience in France.

I think this application helps artist to change their mind regarding marketing and promoting their music more in countries outside the Arab region.

We also have guidelines for them to protect their rights, release music on platforms, protect themselves from piracy, and pitch music to our editorial team.

We have organised over 70 sessions for artist, labels, music distributors, music managers, sound engineers, and sound producers to explain to them how they can enhance their business, increase their revenue, and understand how digital streams work.

Can you tell us about Spotify’s partnerships?

Since our launch, we are already on several devices and platforms – including Google Maps, Xbox, PlayStation, Google Assistant, among others. Globally, we are available on over 500 products across 200 hardware brands. These partnerships are available throughout the world and activated in the Middle East.

One year ago, Rotana has signed a deal with Deezer, giving it the right only to have albums of artists who are produced by Rotana, which made content of those artists, blocked in other platforms. How do you deal with this situation and will it encourage Spotify to produce albums one day?

Fair to say that we have extreme comprehensive Arabic music offering and we are very pleased with our performance since launch, it exceeded our expectations. We are a fully licensed service, and have over 50m tracks from both local and international artists. We have many artists that come from Rotana but we don’t currently have the Rotana catalogue in all countries but we are working on it. Important to note, that the population in Arab region is extremely high, roughly sixty percent of the population are under the age of 30 who love new types of music being releaseed every day and we are here to continue driving the growth of local music and artists day in and day out.

Can you tell us more about the newly launched Spotify kid application? And how people are reacting to it so far?

 Spotify Kids has rolled out first in Ireland in Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand.  Spotify is committed to bringing audio content such as music and stories to more people in more ways–including the next generation of listeners. That’s why we decided to launch a fun standalone app designed with safety in mind specifically for kids and families.

We’re thrilled to beta launch in Ireland and look forward to introducing Spotify Kids in all markets.  As we evolve the app experience, we’ll roll out enhanced parental settings and controls for even more customization in an effort to give parents peace of mind. Spotify Kids is not available in the MENA region but we are working on it, so stay tuned.

How does Spotify control a song’s copyrights from being leaked?

We have a lot of mechanisms of internal technology. First of all, before we launched, we needed to make sure that we have all the licences that we require, not only for recorded music but also publishing music rights.

It is difficult in the MENA region, as there isn’t a collective body to get the rights of a song, but several entities around the world that we must cooperate with if we want to get a licence for the MENA region.

We had some body uploading a song by Amr Diab, claiming that it belongs to him. We have technology that can identify whether if it’s a copy or not and immediately stop it from being published in the platform.

However, piracy is still big since the market doesn’t have as many offers to easily access music, but with Spotify is it different because all songs available by free services. You literally have all music, 50 million songs and more, accessible to you.

There is on-going competition among international music platforms, so how do you work to step ahead of this and attract more users?

We prefer not to comment on other music services, but instead remain laser focused on continuing to offer the best possible service for music fans. We believe that the market is wide open and those who provide a superior user experience will have room to grow. Over the last decade, while there has been promising development on the supply side of the music streaming ecosystem, we believe there is still ample opportunity for growth primarily through conversion of users away from piracy towards free, legal music, and from thereon, evolving consumer mindset towards paid subscriptions. We are in for the long term and are excited to build the industry and create the market as an invested partner in MENA. We are excited to be a part of this thriving market and believe there is always an opportunity for brands to stand out as long as they engage consumers through constant innovation and captivating content, and drive the local industry ecosystem as an invested and responsible player.

From the Middle East, which country has the highest number of subscribers with your platform?

We don’t disclose this, I can say two countries in the Gulf currently host the biggest number of subscribers.  Spotify is the most popular global audio streaming subscription service with 248 million users, including 113 million subscribers across 79 markets. 

Can you tell us about your future expansion plans for 2020?

Going forward, our focus is to progressively build our platform based on innovation inspired by our users. Spotify is the world’s most popular music streaming service and our goal is to continue leading the audio revolution through the best in-app and offline experiences

For in-app experiences, we remain committed in making the user experience even more intuitive through best in audio content and features, attuned to local preferences. Our efforts align in building the user’s experience through progression across audio formats that begin with curation, discovery, and monetization, all found within one seamless experience that is deeply personalized for each user

On the industry front, as invested partners, we are focused on growing the market by creating a healthy industry value chain, driving value for our partners, including labels, creators and brands. There is immense opportunity for growth in transitioning users from mindset of piracy towards streaming music and we are focused towards it. I’d like to point our latest acquisition of SoundBetter. SoundBetter is the world’s leading music talent marketplace, helping musicians and labels worldwide connect and collaborate with top music professionals. Since SoundBetter launched in 2012, the member community has grown to over 180,000, spanning 176 countries and 14,000 cities worldwide. This acquisition will help develop MENA’s creator talent pool by connecting them to the global artist community to engage, learn and thrive in their business

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