If you are going to evolve in the music industry, it helps to learn from the best.
That doesn’t mean solely focusing on the heady highs, but also on the less reported lows and rookie mistakes. These insights will inform many of the discussions taking place in Riyadh next week as part of XP Music Futures.
Starting on Monday, the three-day conference, organised by Saudi Arabian music company MDL Beast, is the largest regional event of its kind, with more than 100 speakers, including leading DJs David Guetta and Hardwell, as well as US record executive Mathew Knowles (father of pop superstar Beyonce Knowles), who will share their experiences in a series of panel sessions and workshops.
Masterminding some of the programming is veteran hip-hop artist, producer and record label founder Arabian Prince, full name Kim Nazel, as an official advisor to the event.
As co-founder and former member of seminal hip-hop group NWA, Nazel, 57, has seen the genre evolve from its fiercely independent roots in New York to the commercial juggernaut it is today.
Saudi Arabia’s music industry can grow in a similarly explosive fashion with the right measures in place, he tells The National. "I am a self-proclaimed futurist and I remember when I first came to Saudi Arabia last year, I was amazed how I was in a culture that is growing its music scene from its infancy," he says.
"And there is so much potential for it to grow because there are obviously many talented people with musical chops, but it is important to help teach them the right way and not to get ripped off in this business.
“I have found that you need to give artists the knowledge of the business first because the music, most of the time, comes naturally to them anyway."
Words of wisdom
XP Music Futures is packed with sessions bound to give aspiring and seasoned artists food for thought.
Key sessions include the tenants of creative entrepreneurship within a rapidly digitising ecosystem, in addition to how to start a record label and the misunderstood role of a booking agent.
"There is a reason why they call it the music or the entertainment business," Nazel says. "Sometimes a lot of artists focus on the music and forget the other aspect."
It is an insight born from bitter experience. Born in Los Angeles, Nazel began performing and selling mixtapes while still in high school. By the time he co-founded NWA in 1986 with producer Dr Dre and the late rapper Eazy-E, he was a seasoned artist, well acquainted with some of the nuances of the music business.
Nazel left the group over royalty and contract disputes before the release of 1988's debut album Straight Out of Compton, although his production and minor vocals are heard in the final track Something 2 Dance.
Another flash point arrived when Nazel’s role in the group was not featured in the 2015 NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton.
However, Nazel says he has decided to move on, albeit while gently correcting some things on the record. "A lot of parts of the movie, where I was in the room in real life, were taken out because I had some technical difficulties with some of the producers of the film," he says. "But other than that, it is a good movie and pretty accurate."
Any bitterness Nazel may have initially felt at leaving NWA has been offset by other creative successes, such as launching a special effects company that worked on video games for industry leaders Fox Interactive and the children’s television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Nazel continues to tour as a solo DJ and hints at a surprise set at XP Music Futures during the week.
While the futurist is already thinking about coming events related to the conference, he says Saudi Arabia’s music industry will only grow if those invested put in the effort today.
"This is a pivotal time and we all need to get together to not evolve the culture but preserve it as well," he says. "What is happening right now in Saudi Arabia is exciting and we all have a responsibility to let the scene open up and really flourish."
XP Music Futures will run from Monday to Wednesday at Jax District, Diriyah, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. More information is available on mdlbeast.com