Creative Kingdom architects have been involved in a host of prestigious construction projects ranging from the Palm Jebel Ali to Dubailand. Now, the company's media production unit, CK Studios, has revealed an ambitious plan to transform Dubai into the Middle East's number one creative production centre for local and international R 'n' B and hip-hop talent. John Parnell reports.
Architecture design firm Creative Kingdom (CK) is the unlikely parent company of one of the Middle East's leading recording studios. The company recognises that the music production industry is still very much under-developed in the region, but hopes to play a key role in improving this situation.
"We design buildings all over the world but with Dubai expanding so rapidly, the emirate is becoming an increasingly important base for our business. CK Studios originated from the visualisation and animation work created for the architects," explains Mauricio Tavares, general manager of CK Studios Dubai.
"Subcontracting became prohibitively expensive, so the company decided to build its own studios. The first of these were established in South Africa and Manila. Initially they were solely responsible for designing the facilities. But then they started expanding into outside production and music. Now we have our own label, Creative Kingdom Records.
This is all part of CK's grand plan to establish itself as a major force in the recording industry. An ambition the company takes very seriously, says Tavares.
"We want to be taken seriously as a recording facility and not just simply churn out radio jingles," he explains.
"There are already a large number of studios in Dubai involved in that area of the business. We believe that eventually there will be a legitimate music scene here and we want to be involved in it right from the start. When the music industry really takes off and artists are coming to Dubai specifically to record, we will be the established studio.
He also holds up the recent recruitment of LA-based sound engineer Joshua F. Williams as an example of this commitment. Williams joined CK in April last year and boasts a CV that includes previous experience working with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and boy band N-Sync.
Tavares estimates that independent musicians account for around 80% of CK's business nowadays, with the remainder being corporate clients. Local and international talent utilise the company's facilities.
"We recently worked with a musician from Australia who discovered us online," explains Tavares. "He liked the look of the studio, got some referrals and we sent him some tracks.
"We've also worked with singer/songwriter Karl Wolf, who is based in Canada. His label liked some of our previous work and we ended up producing four tracks on his new album. Other artists we've worked with include Simon Webbe and Scratch from The Roots, as well as a couple of hip-hop musicians from Nigeria.
"When I first came to Dubai one of my main ambitions was to work with as many local artists as possible. We work with a local producer who has fused R 'n' B and Arabic music to create a unique sound.
"Another very exciting project we recently worked on was the new album by hip-hop artist Kaz Money. He has sponsorship deals with Chevrolet and Puma and is supported by a very professional marketing team.
"Just 12 months ago, hip-hop wasn't even on the radar here. But as a genre it's definitely showing signs of potential.
This potential is now coming to fruition with a number of the studio's clients on the verge of breaking out beyond the Middle East.
"Kaz Money is doing a track for the TV series Heroes," explains Tavares. "It will air during an episode and be made available later for purchase on iTunes, as well as appearing on the Heroes soundtrack. Kaz is currently composing tunes for two Adidas TVCs which will be screened in the UK.
"Karl Wolf is also looking to raise his international profile and if he's successful, it will be our logo on the back of his CD. It's going to take just one project to be hugely successful for us to be taken seriously internationally.
Tavares is confident that all the pieces required for this shift in attitude are beginning to come together.
"We are looking to blaze a trail for hip-hop in Dubai. The introduction of MTV Arabia is another factor that will help the cause. MTV is heavily promoting local R 'n' B and hip-hop talent.
Creative Kingdom has its own plans for expansion, with Tavares revealing the company's ambition to establish new, significantly larger studios this year.
"We have been granted a licence for Dubai Media City and we are on the waiting list for premises there. We are looking at Studio City as well and hopefully sometime later this year we will be in our new studios," he says.
Ideally, CK is looking to double the floor space of its existing facility. This would provide enough room for three recording studios, two production studios and two video editing suites, in addition to its office space requirements.
With Dubai proving an increasingly popular holiday destination for celebrities, Tavares believes the lure of the emirate's luxurious trappings could encourage more artists to record in Dubai. While he concedes that A-list artists demand lavish surroundings and notes that "in terms of aesthetics, I think we are a bit behind", as a spin-off of an architectural firm, CK should have no problem addressing this issue in its new home.
Board - dual Yamaha DM2000.
Monitors - Genelec 1031A bi-amplified monitors for 5.1 and stereo.
Computers - Macintosh G5, Windows PC.
Digital Editors - Logic Pro 8, Cubase, Reason.
Convertors and clock - Apogee Big Ben, 2 x Motu 2408 MK 3, Fireface 800.
Mic Pre - Avalon vacuum tube 737.
Mic - Neumann U87, Rode Classic.
Miscellaneous - T.C. Electronic Power Core platform, Yamaha S90, Korg Triton pro, Motif Rack ES, Roland XV-5080, Ensoniq Mr Rack, Axiom 49, Yamaha Stage Pro drum kit, Fender Stratocaster, Fender Jazz Bass, Various Marshall and Fender guitar amps.
Plug ins - Native Instruments, Jam Packs, Logic Instruments.
Sound Board - DigiDesign Pro Control 24.
Monitors - Genelec 8250A DSP loudspeakers for 5.1 and stereo.
Computer - Macintosh G5 8 core, 16GB RAM.
Digital Editors - Pro Tools HD 2, Logic 8, Reason.
Convertors - Apogee Ad16X, Apogee Rosetta.
Mic. Pre - Avalon vacuum tube 737.
Mic. - Neumann U87.
Miscellaneous - Giga Studio, Drawmer Front End One, Yamaha Rev 5.
Plug ins - Bomb Factory, Waves, Digidesign, McDsp, Autotune.
2 x Neumann U87.
Audio Technica kit pack.
Shure Beta 52.
Audio Technica ATM 33a.
Audio Technica AT3816.
Sennheiser Black Lier 504.