The Sultan Business Pitch
Increasing interest in Arabic/Eastern-Western fusion music has been observed in European clubs and dance scenes and attributed to historical sampling of Arabic music by emerging and popular western artists, as well as from the development of several platforms specifically featuring artists that produce and perform this type of music. In light of this trend, this report details the strengths and weaknesses of The Sultan Project, as well as industry opportunities and threats to keep in mind for the project's future steps. This analysis specifically focuses on how The Sultan's social media presence, branding, and digital content position the artist's business to capitalize on its potential share of the growing market for independently made music, which has an estimated global market value of over $2 billion in 2020. Additionally, this report explores the success of Natacha Atlas and Noel Kharman, musicians whose discographies have a similar style and energy to that of The Sultan, to indicate potential strategies for growth within the Arabic/Eastern-Western fusion music niche.
Insights into the Popularity of Arabic/Eastern-Western Music Fusion
- Among European club-goers, songs sampling Arabic music and/or beats have recently begun to increase mainstream exposure for artists from the Middle East.
- According to DJ Oceanvs Orientalis (Şafak Ozkutle), the appeal to both Eastern and Western audiences is the mix of the old and the new.
- Ozkutle describes that for Western audiences, "the rhythms that are being used are like a fresh breath for many listeners, who are tired of either jazz-based, repetitive, chill out vibes or 160-bpm strong EDM crap," while Eastern listeners "are mesmerized by hearing the familiar rhythms they grew up within a new form, peppered with electronic beats."
- The roots of the recent trend of Arabic music/beat sampling and fusion in Westerns-style tracks has spanned the last decade, only growing stronger as time has passed, which has resulted in today's growing demand for Arabic/Eastern-Western fusion music.
- Mainstream examples of this trend like "Hit-Boy sampling Asala for A$AP Rocky’s '1 Train,' to Beyoncé using Oum Kalthoum in a live version of 'Naughty Girl' during last year’s On The Run tour" have laid the groundwork for the future success of artists like those managed by Levatine Music Group, a niche label focused on widening the audience of its primarily Middle Eastern and North African artists.
- Many emerging artists with Arabic or Middle Eastern background and influence have been building following through platforms that make their music accessible and discoverable to Western audiences.
- One such platform is the Shubbak festival, "a UK multi-arts festival of contemporary Arab culture," whose director has said, "I think there are more and more Arab musicians getting the recognition they deserve in the UK... People are more interested in discovering a new thing and are really interested in the new sounds coming out of the Arab region, including the electronic Arabic scene."
- Similarly, Habibi Funk, an organization headquartered in Berlin, Germany, programs shows "[bringing] buried Middle Eastern and North African sounds to European audiences and has reached UK audiences at Camden’s Jazz Café, Manchester’s Soup Kitchen and Shoreditch’s XOYO."
- Additionally, events company MARSM UK hosts shows and other events "promoting artists from the Arab world. They run London’s Hishek Biskek parties, which play 'sounds of the Middle East underground,' and the company will collaborating with Shubbak Festival to host a series of "Arabic music parties" in summer 2019 in the UK.
Sampling of Arabic Music by Western Artists
Platforms Where Arabic/Eastern-Western Fusion Artists to Gain Recognition
SWOT Analysis of The Sultan Project
- Currently, one of the biggest strengths of The Sultan from a marketing perspective is the distinctiveness and cohesiveness of the graphic design elements used on his social media accounts, streaming profiles, and official website.
- The main icon used throughout these profiles and websites, included below, has a modern, clean design that can potentially increase brand recognition while still retaining a color scheme and personality that reflects the Arabic and Middle Eastern influence that is embodied in The Sultan's music and social media content.
- The professional quality and consistency of use of the color scheme, logo, and icon The Sultan Project would make new viewers more likely to sustain interest in the artist's content in the future.
- Additionally, consistent, high production value graphic design quality also serves to make a brand more memorable and impactful among its viewers, which helps increase the brand's revenue overall.
- The Sultan's official website also has a responsive design that works well on a wide variety of mobile devices, as tested by the Responsive Design Checker from Media Genesis.
- The responsive design of the site increases the accessibility to potential new fans, who may want to find out more about the artist and what platforms his music is available on and/or what social media he uses once they discover him
- Another strength of The Sultan's online presence is the variety and quality of his digital content, specifically the production quality of the photography and videography displayed on his website, Instagram page, YouTube channel, and Facebook page, as well as the album covers of his current discography.
- As previously discussed, the high-quality aesthetics employed in these areas will make interested viewers more likely to stay engaged with The Sultan's content and music, which means the groundwork is laid to maintain a growing audience drawn in through future marketing and outreach.
- Overall, the search engine optimization (SEO) of the Sultan's brand appears to be relatively strong considering the number of competing search terms that exist, as when searching "The Sultan music" through Google, The Sultan's official website currently appears as the fourth web page result on the first page, and two of the three YouTube videos featured there the artist's official music videos.
- Additionally, The Sultan uses and/or owns social media handles that are relatively consistent throughout his various social media accounts, including @thesultanmusic on Instagram and Twitter, among others.
- As of May 30, 2020, The Sultan features 5 songs within his discography, among which the artist straddles the line between pop and dance music, which has consistently received exposure on social media through user-sharing, particularly on TikTok and Instagram.
- The vocals of The Sultan's music skews heavily toward Western-style pop singing while enlivened by Arabic/Eastern style beats.
- This combination positions The Sultan's music to market well to the growing demographic of music listeners following this trend, as similar music has been gaining popularity in the clubs/dance scene in Europe, particularly in the UK.
- According to Forbes, social media followings are currently one of the most profitable ways for musicians to develop a profitable revenue stream.
- Experts in social media marketing also argue that having a massive following is not necessarily a requirement for starting to work with advertisers either: "Digital marketers know micro-influencers can bring huge visibility to brands within targeted markets, and you can build your following while also being paid to use products you probably like yourself," particularly if the influencer has a strong connection with their followers.
- However, currently, The Sultan's follower count and engagement level, fall well below the engagement rates that advertisers typically like to see with potential influencer partners.
- The Sultan has by far his largest following on his Instagram account, but his posts, which tend to see less than 100 likes and under 10 comments do not currently deliver an engagement rate above the Instagram average of 3% that advertisers look for.
- As of May 30, 2020, musical artist The Sultan has social media follower counts and/or viewership on these platforms as listed:
- While potentially less profitable than the revenue streams (such influencer marketing and merchandising) that a large social media following can bring, The Sultan should direct attention and resources to grow his following on streaming sites, which are currently the dominant avenue that consumers listen to music, outside of YouTube.
- While gaining monthly listeners on platforms like Spotify, AppleMusic, and ReverbNation, The Sultan will increase the number of people who will seek him out on social media, which is the most common way the audiences engage with artists today.
- As of May 30, 2020, The Sultan has the performance statistics on the following music streaming platforms:
- The Sultan should apply resources to updating the copy used on his various online platforms to ensure that viewers feel a better sense of understanding and personal investment in the branding and personality of the artist.
- Social media has consistently been how music fans engage with their favorite artists, and a large part of that trend is owed to the sense of closeness that viewers perceive they access through the content they consume.
- Currently, a significant portion of the copy used on The Sultan's Spotify "About Me" section, his official website, and his Facebook page includes, among other writing, the following sentences: "The Sultan describes his music as “the sound of your soul” as it replicates the sensation of speaking out about what’s inside of oneself, the inner voice bursting out and radiating light. He flirts with an eclectic sound. His music melts eastern and western culture into words and melody to convey a soulful message full of heart."
- The issue with this marketing copy is the lack of personal detail and platform-specific tailoring that would provide a personable digital experience that would motivate viewers who are seeking more information about this artist to engage with (and potentially follow) The Sultan on these platforms.
- Similarly, the captions used on The Sultan's Instagram account would likely help improve his engagement rates if they no longer conformed to a standardized format and layout as they currently do, since the "branding" musical artists today should pursue should aim for "personal" over "corporate," as laid out by AWAL, a label that specializes in working with non-traditional, independent, and emerging artists.
- YouTube would likely be a feasible and profitable avenue for The Sultan to invest resources to grow his audience reach, as IFPI research indicates that 85% of the site's 1.9 billion global users use the platform to listen to music.
- The expansiveness of the site's user base means artists should prioritize growing their reach on YouTube, especially since, as the Rolling Stone reports, "Spotify, the oft-cited 'market leader' of music streaming, reaches 200 million people every month, 12.5% of the size of YouTube’s music audience; Apple Music, the second biggest audio subscription platform, reaches somewhere close to 60 million (50 million paid and around 10m on trials), 3.8% of the size of YouTube’s music audience."
- The IFPI report also states that "in 2017, 46% of all global music listening hours on streaming services belonged to YouTube alone — more than every single paid and free audio streaming service in the world combined."
- Additionally, with YouTube's global music charts showing historically unseen domination of non-English songs, the platform is potentially one of the best to leverage the appeal of Arabic-Western fusion pop/dance music, like that of The Sultan, since platforms like Spotify skew heavily towards users who favor traditionally popular Western-style music.
- The Sultan should also focus on growing his engagement with current followers, while growing his fan base, on Instagram, which has over 1 billion monthly users since June 2018.
- Among Instagram users, 44% of users indicate that they use Instagram to follow their music-related interests.
- Although Facebook rivals YouTube for global penetration rates, Instagram is still likely to be a valuable avenue for The Sultan to grow his audience.
- Instagram nearly doubles the penetration rate among the other popular social media sites (i.e Snapchat, Twitter), is highly popular among 18 to 24-year old listeners more likely to listen to pop/club music, has "users [that] are more prevalent (proportionally) in higher income brackets" and would be more likely to support their favorite artists monetarily through tickets, paid streaming subscriptions, and merchandise purchases.
- As The Sultan's social media following grows, both social media platforms can become a valuable way to diversity the artist's revenue streams, and Instagram, where The Sultan already has over 22,000 followers, is likely to be among the most profitable, as it has over 2 million monthly advertisers.
- Between these two platforms, advertising Cost Per Mille (CPM) payouts are an average of $5.06 for YouTube videos made by German creators and averages of $1.65 and $0.90 for Instagram feed posts and Stories posts, respectively.
- Another platform to consider is TikTok, through which previously unknown artists like Lil Nas X, Tones and I, and Arizona Zervas have found mainstream attention due to viral dance challenges, to which the style and sound of The Sultan's discography may work well.
- TikTok recently signed a deal with Merlin, a digital rights agency, to allow artists with Merlin membership to "[use] TikTok for their marketing campaigns... build new and incremental revenue streams."
- According to Forbes, "One of Merlin’s main roles is to license independent music to digital service providers like Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud."
- In summary, as shown in the following graphic, social media has consistently been an avenue for musical artists to reach and expand their fan bases, and investment into growing his following on his existing accounts is likely to reap profitable returns for The Sultan in the near future.
- According to the artist's official website, The Sultan currently has two upcoming live performances in Germany, scheduled for June and August 2020.
- However, ongoing COVID-19 infections may force these shows to be postponed or reduce consumer confidence in attending live performances. In early May 2020, German states began to ease national-level restrictions on quarantine, but immediately after, the country saw a subsequent increase in the number of confirmed infections.
- The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany, which "has the seventh-highest number of confirmed cases in the world," could mean that live performances are unlikely to be a profitable avenue for increasing revenue and audience reach for the foreseeable future.
- Additionally, even among the many people protesting the remaining restrictions in Germany, potential show attendees may be cutting back on non-essential spending, as "the German economy [shrunk] by 2.2% in the first quarter of 2020, pushing the country into recession."
- With the rapidly increasing number of independent artists focusing on social media and online streaming to grow their own brands and listener base, The Sultan potentially faces a critical time for growth as he competes for listeners' attention and financial support in the next few years.
- However, with the right strategy and funding, The Sultan can potentially engage a profitable share of users who are increasingly searching for new music content to follow online, as currently "ninety percent of social media users engage with music or musicians — by viewing videos or posts featuring musicians, liking or sharing a musician’s post, discovering music or sharing music."
- As financial experts believe that the current rapid growth among the independent artist sector of the global music sector is likely to slow in the future, The Sultan's chances of gaining significant ground and attention fare the best the earlier that efforts to market his music and brand start.
Graphic Design of The Sultan's Brand Images and Marketing
Digital Content and SEO
Social Media Following and Engagement
Streaming Service Following
Audience Expansion Through Social Media
Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Consumer Behavior
Competition with Other Independent Artists
Insights on the Chances/Risks of The Sultan Project
- As previously discussed in this report, the market for independent musical artists is expected to see significantly higher growth than the overall music industry, as consumers take advantage of the unprecedented access to unique, new sounds made accessible through streaming platforms and social media
- However, at the same time, many industry experts have discussed how traditional revenue streams for independent artists are "obsolete," making it increasingly important for artists to focus on using their music to leverage alternative revenue streams, rather than relying on income solely from platforms like Spotify.
- According to a piece from Vulture, independent artists like The Sultan would be served well by investing resources into social media development, influencer marketing, and merchandising, the latter of which The Sultan's polished icon and branding color scheme would support well once he increases his following and engagement rates.
- While streaming services like Spotify are not necessarily the best source of revenue for independent artists like The Sultan, they can work well alongside social media to increase exposure to listeners searching for music within the same niche genre as this artist's discography. According to research from LOOP, among U.S. users, "playlists account for 31% of listening time across all demographics, compared to albums which account for 22%."
- The high demand for "prepopulated curated playlists" means that "streaming platforms can propel lesser-known songs or artists to mass consciousness through their personalized and branded playlists," which means that the direct financial value of a presence of these sights is likely outweighed by its marketing value for smaller artists.
- As of now, one of The Sultan's highest priorities should be growing and sustaining a highly engaged and responsive audience to leverage for influencer advertising, merchandising purchases, and future business opportunities/collaboration, but smaller artists can often become lost and fail to stand out among the numerous competitors in the market.
- Using available resources wisely during this time of growth is critical for ensuring future success and wasted capital, and industry experts recommend working with Music Public Relations firms to gain attention and develop "a targeted audience."
- Having solid statistics in terms of streaming service lifetime plays and social media follower counts can help industry leaders consider independent artists for highly profitable deals in the future, but translating PR into followers and followers into industry collateral takes time and requires a realistic, consistent, and long-view marketing strategy that can take time to deliver returns.
- According to AWOL, one of the most critical aspects of developing an audience is identifying the appeal of the artist's branding and music to create a marketing "story" for fans to invest in, making sure that branding messaging is clear, specific, and relevant to the main demographics of an artist's audience.
- The length of time it can take to develop a financially profitable following means that independent artists like The Sultan may have to subsist primarily on income from streaming service plays, which, according to NPR, "disproportionately privileges top artists and labels, and leaves little chance for even midsize artists, such as a band like Khruangbin — whose most-listened-to songs have tens of millions of listens on Spotify — to get a fair shake."
The Value of Music Releases
Risk of Not Developing a Loyal Following
Market Size for Music by The Sultan
- According to a white paper published by merchant bank Raine Group, a company heavily invested in the international music industry, "independent artists generated $1.61 billion from recorded music in 2019 … and that, in 2020, this figure will climb 32 percent, to more than $2.1 billion," as depicted in the chart below.
- Based on this figure, revenue generated from independent artists would account for between 9% and 10% of the overall global music industry, which Goldman Sachs predicted will be worth $22 billion as of 2020.
- More specifically, Raine has predicated that artists self-releasing their own music "generated $960 million last year, a number that it predicts will jump by 27 percent, to $1.22 billion in 2020."
- This growth rate, equal to over 30% year-over-year growth, exceeds that of the overall market, which is forecasted to equal roughly 10%.
- Based on these figures, Fred Davis, who co-authored the Raine report and is a partner as the financial firm, has indicated that "nonlabel acts would claim 25 percent of the total global industry revenues by 2026."
- Further, Davis has stated that the main drivers of this growth are as follows: "The independent-artist sector did not exist a few years ago, so the rate of growth is strong because the base it is working from is small and is ever-growing. Most of this growth will come from three factors: more and more artists creating, uploading, and streaming their music; the rapid growth in international markets where both distribution and services are maturing; and more success stories (i.e., hits) for independent artists in the sector."
Case Studies of Successful Entertainers Similar to The Sultan
- Natacha Atlas, an artist whose music is described as a "bold fusion of Arabic and Western tunes [that] is a breath of fresh air for those who appreciate innovative and daring musical expressions," is among the most prominent music artists that use Arabic-style beats in their music.
- This European born artist is known for blending musical styles popular in Arabic nightclubs in England, and one of the early successful projects of her career was a "collaboration with Transglobal Underground, a British electronica group, in the late 1990s put her on a path to become a multicultural, multilingual world fusion singer and songwriter with a distinctive voice that deftly and sensuously blends melisma and micro-intervals."
- Although she also produces music in other languages (such as French, Arabic), like The Sultan's work, many of her released songs are English-language dance songs that infuse Arabic influences into the beats and instrumentation used.
- Much of her early popularity stemmed from her work with Transglobal Underground, "which served as a launching pad for iconic artists such as Natacha Atlas, Temple of Sound, Dub Colossus, sitar wizard Sheema Mukherjee and other fabulous acts," and she is currently working on new music with the group in a return to her professional roots.
- This potentially indicates that The Sultan would benefit from participating in collaborating and/or aligning his music with other artists that are part of the growing trend of Arabic-Western fusion music.
- This could be done through formal collaborations, joint performances, social media content, or even an approach as simple as creating playlists on Spotify that include his music (where he currently as no related artists list generated) alongside work from similar artists to increase exposure to new listeners and become recommended to those artists' listeners by the platform's algorithm.
- Noel Kharman, who gained notoriety due to her two viral Arabic/Western mashups, My Immortal/Ba'adak Ala Bali and Despacito/Akheran Qalha, posted on YouTube, is a singer-songwriter from Palestine whose remixes have gained over 85 million views on YouTube alone.
- While the artist does also sing in Arabic, her most popular songs on YouTube are those where she remixes vocals from popular English pop songs with Arabic tracks.
- Similarly, to The Sultan, Kharman marries relatively slow and ballad-like pop singing with driving rhythms and instrumentation that infuse the remixes with more energy compared to the original, mainstream Western songs, which, based on her viewership and trends in the industry, audiences seem to respond well to.
- Despite mainly gaining attention through her YouTube channel, Kharman currently has over 10,000 monthly listeners on her Spotify artist profile, and her audience appears to represent a wide global range, including mainly European cities.
Case Study #1: Natacha Atlas
Case Study #2: Noel Kharman
While researching the market value of the genre of The Sultan's music, we had difficulty identifying a specific value that would correspond best with his discography for several reasons. First, most publicly available data about market statistics primarily divide markets by national borders and broader musical genres, and with the online streaming component of The Sultan's business and the cross-genre fusion in his music, which is one of the main ways current and future listeners would access his content, cannot practicably be divided this way and accurately reflect the users the artist's music would most likely appeal to. Additionally, Arabic-Western fusion pop/dance music is a niche music category that, while showing signs of increasing interest among music listeners, is only a recently emerging on a more global scale which makes it difficult to find published market research on when we looked into investment marketing researched, market reports, and industry news pieces. Further, most publicly available data about this style of music primarily focus on Arabic-language music, which would have a much narrow scope of appeal that the English-language. As such, we provided available information about the growing market of independent artists under which The Sultan falls within.