Don't believe the hype

    Rumours of a multimillion dollar deal to bring Madonna to Dubai owe more to wishful thinking and shoddy journalism than fact.
    Comment, Delivery & Transmission


    The decision by Live Nation and AEG Live - the world's two biggest concert promoters - to establish operations in the Middle East has been celebrated by the mainstream press as a massive vote of confidence in the region's live events production industry.

    While it is a positive development that should go a long way to raising the profile of the region with international artists and the touring fraternity alike, the fact remains that the Middle East has a long way to go before it can legitimately claim to rival established markets on the international touring map.

    Recent UK press reports (that were subsequently republished unchecked by local media) which claimed Live Nation touring artist Madonna was set to earn a staggering US$25 million from two showcase gigs in Dubai are as outrageous as they are extreme.

    The reports, which were categorically denied by Madonna's management and Live Nation at the time of press, have the potential to do more harm than good in encouraging less-informed artists to demand outrageous sums for one-off gigs in the region.

    The fact is that unless some wealthy benefactor was willing to stump up the funds, which is unlikely given Madonna's penchant for edgy behaviour and questionable bank-ability in the Arab world, the local market (let alone any market!) would go bankrupt trying to accommodate such demands.

    While Madonna will more than likely make her way to Dubai in due course thanks to her deal with Live Nation, I seriously doubt the outlandish figures being bandied about will ever materialise for her or any other artist.

    It comes down to a case of sheer economics and a continuing lack of viable infrastructure. While the UAE, and particularly Dubai, has emerged as the GCC's leading market for landmark live events, the sheer lack of legitimate large-scale dedicated concert halls, as opposed to temporary outdoor venues, will conspire to ensure tier-one gigs remain borderline loss-making ventures.

    For all the grand overtures and media hype, Dubai and Abu Dhabi's potential will remain hamstrung by this very fact.

    The successful development of the Bawadi project - Dubai's bid to outstrip the Las Vegas strip - looms as the most viable solution to this problem, with the success of massive hotel-based performance venues tied largely to the vision of semi-permanent residencies by international artists.

    Yet, even in Vegas, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The reality is that very few artists are willing to endure the rigours of Fat Elvis-Las Vegas Hilton-style residencies, and those that do certainly earn their money, often signing 12 month contracts to perform multiple shows, five days per week, 360-odd days per year - and often for a lot less than $25m large.

    While short-term residencies may prove a panacea to this problem in Dubai, luring first-rate artists to the emirate who aren't simply looking to hit paydirt will prove a far greater challenge.

    Aaron Greenwood is the group editor for IT, broadcast & communications of ITP Publishing Group.


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