One of the Middle East music industry’s best-known personalities, BKP Music founder and CEO Barry Kirsch is forging a path as an industry pioneer, steering an ambitious expansion strategy for the music production firm in the GCC region. Here, he tells Aaron Greenwood about the company’s new HQ in Dubai and his plans for the Saudi market.
You recently relocated the BKP HQ to new premises in Dubai Internet City. What prompted the move?
Barry Kirsch: We’d outgrown our previous HQ and considered the move an opportunity to establish a permanent base that would meet our needs moving forward. It’s the fourth time I’ve built studio production facilities in Dubai – each time in the past I’ve been moved on by landlords and the like.
We’re really happy with the new offices. We aimed to create an international standard audio post-production facility and I believe we’ve achieved that.
How’s business in light of the recession?
BK: It’s really good at the moment. Like other companies in this business, we’ve experienced the downturn, but it hasn’t been that significant for us.
Audio production opens so many doors, whether it be commercials or post work for film, television or soundtracks for events. Some sectors of the market have proven more lucrative than others.
For example, demand for radio spots has gone through the roof during the recession, because it’s a cost-effective advertising medium. By comparison, TVC work has fallen away significantly.
So, overall would you say 2009 wasn’t as challenging as it could have been?
BK: Well, we were fortunate to be involved in a couple of huge productions last year. We were responsible for scoring and posting the feature film City of Life, which was a three-month project, and we also did the full score for the King Abdullah University launch in Saudi Arabia. This carried us through the summer and we’ve been doing well ever since.
We haven’t had to lay-off any staff. On the contrary, we actually recruited an additional sound engineer in mid-2009 and we’re now looking to hire two new staff this year.
We accounted for the downturn when we were doing budgets for 2009 towards the end of 2008. We had just committed to an enormous expense setting up the new Dubai office, which made the situation a little stressful, but through careful planning and reining in our expenses we’ve managed to handle the situation very well.
We’ve got clients fairly far-flung across the region, which helps to absorb any impact locally.
To be honest, I thought 2009 was going to be mayhem, but in the end it all went fairly smoothly, which was a big relief given the circumstances.
How’s business shaping up for 2010?
BK: Initially at least we’re focusing on consolidating our operations in Dubai. We’re still refining our systems and there’s one studio still under construction. We’ve really gone for a sophisticated system here with the latest software-driven editing technologies, which should make scheduling and the like much easier.
We also have plans to further develop our operation in Abu Dhabi, as business is very much booming in the capital. We also have our music publishing division which we operate with Fairwood Music.
We represent a couple of really serious players in EMI and Universal in this part of the world, and we’re planning a string of announcements in terms of copyright developments this year.
We’re also currently assessing the potential of establishing a division in Saudi Arabia. It’s a very logical step, but the challenge lies in how we go about it and finding a strong local partner. Whether that will happen this year I can’t say. But it makes sense for us to have a base in Saudi in the long-term.
The market for audio production services in Saudi Arabia is still quite limited though, is it not?
BK: Well, it is at the moment, but there’s definite potential there. The government’s launching a bunch of FM radio stations, which will provide us with opportunities in terms of producing radio spots.
We have a growing number of Saudi clients as well as requests for Saudi accents in commercial work produced by us. We have limited access to Saudi talent here in the UAE.
Saudi’s a very parochial market.
BK: You can understand their logic. Saudis like to hear their own accents in television and radio commercials. But locating that talent outside the country is very challenging indeed.
Is it possible to successfully service countries like Saudi Arabia remotely?
BK: Well, even having access to a digital ISDN line connecting us with Riyadh, for example, would be advantageous.
We already have an ISDN link to a partner in Beirut. We did actually build a studio in Lebanon prior to the last Lebanese-Israeli war, but the conflict effectively put an end to the business before it even got started. You do have to be prepared for all eventualities operating in this part of the world.
Have you seen much of a shift in business from Dubai to Abu Dhabi?
BK: We already have a significant number of important Abu Dhabi-based clients including Etihad Airways and Etisalat, and our business in the capital is definitely growing. Abu Dhabi will continue to expand exponentially, which means we’ll be in the box seat in the long-run.
What’s your impression of twofour54?
BK: I’ve had quite a few discussions with the guys there and I respect what they’re trying to achieve.
We’ve actually signed an MoU with twofour54 to open an office in its new precinct once its completed. By that time, we expect the market in Abu Dhabi to be big enough to sustain a significant presence there.
You established a music publishing business in conjunction with Fairwood Music in 2008. How challenging has it been gaining ground in this market given the fact copyright and licensing issues are often neglected?
BK: It’s a very delicate subject. The UAE has been working hard to combat piracy. What’s sorely lacking in this region is an international music rights society, which is where our focus lies.
As publishers, we’re trying to educate the market. We’re not steaming in and taking everyone to court – we need to work with the key players to ensure a reasonable outcome for all stakeholders.
The point is, the big multinational advertisers will not allow anything go to air that hasn’t been licensed, and that’s where we come in. We can help these advertisers navigate their way through the licensing process.
Interestingly, the big players – the CNNs, the Orbit-Showtimes – understand the importance of what we’re trying to do and are very supportive, because they recognise licensing structures will ensure IPRs are respected while providing funding for grassroots artistic development in the Middle East.
Are you looking to promote this agenda in other markets across the region?
BK: Initially, our focus is the UAE, and then let’s see what happens after that. If you want to create a music industry, you need to protect artistic rights.
Barry Kirsch CV
Born in Belgium, Kirsch relocated to the UK and completed his studies before embarking on a career as a producer. Kirsch already had a healthy appetite for music from a young age, given that his father was a senior executive at the European arm of EMI Records.
In the 1970s, Kirsch took up a position as a songwriter working for Warners, where he remained for seven years. The position ultimately led to an Emmy Award nomination for his score for the Richard Dreyfus film Prisoner of Honour.
Kirsch has received 25 international awards for his work over the years. A long-term Dubai resident, he has composed music for a multitude of clients including Emirates, Etihad, DSF, Dubai Destination and Dubai eGovernment.
He is currently working on his first album of fusion tracks and is actively involved in promoting awareness of copyright issues and intellectual property rights in the Middle East.