The Fu­ture of Mu­sic

It may take some cun­ning ma­neu­ver­ing and a lit­tle teas­ing, but even­tu­ally Ang­hami will prove too good for you to re­sist. And at that mo­ment when you fi­nally dip a toe, that's when you'll get it. Wel­come to the new en­ter­tain­ment hub of the Mid­dle East.

Bespoke - - VISION - Writer: Na­dia Michel

If you aren’t one of the 40 mil­lion peo­ple al­ready us­ing Ang­hami’s mu­sic stream­ing ser­vice across the Mid­dle East, you may not know that’s where you’ll find pretty much any song you can imag­ine and lis­ten to it for free. That’s right. Whether you’re look­ing for the lat­est Khaleeji re­lease, pop­u­lar Egyp­tian songs or the lat­est US bill­board chart-top­ping hip hop track, Ang­hami has it and ex­cept for a few brief com­mer­cial in­ter­rup­tions, you can seam­lessly cre­ate playlists and lis­ten to all your favourites for as long as you want, with­out spend­ing a dime – pro­vided you have ac­cess to in­ter­net, of course. And that’s where it gets in­ter­est­ing: the re­al­ity is that most of us want ac­cess to mu­sic all the time, and that in­cludes those mo­ments when we’re away from wifi (while jog­ging or driv­ing, let’s say). En­ter Ang­hami Plus, which al­lows you to down­load as much mu­sic as you want di­rectly to your de­vice, and for less than the price of a cof­fee each month. “Ob­vi­ously, our users would love to get ev­ery­thing we pro­vide for free, and that would be great. But you know, I haven’t seen Mcdonald’s dis­tribut­ing burg­ers for free.” says Elie Habib, co-founder of Ang­hami, the mu­sic app that’s tak­ing the Mid­dle East by storm. Habib and co-founder Eddy Maroun are the brains be­hind the Ang­hami mu­sic app that has, since 2011, done so much to erad­i­cate il­le­gal mu­sic piracy, by sim­ply of­fer­ing an eas­ier al­ter­na­tive. The idea, they say, came to Elie dur­ing a ski trip in the moun­tains of Le­banon and his frus­tra­tion at the lack of easy ac­cess to mu­sic while out in the great out­doors. It quickly evolved, and even­tu­ally be­came a tech startup that’s now com­pet­ing with the world’s big­gest play­ers. That’s be­cause, at its essence, there’s noth­ing new about Ang­hami. In fact there are plenty of other plat­forms cur­rently of­fer­ing mu­sic stream­ing, in­clud­ing Ap­ple and Spotify, (which an­nounced it would be launch­ing its ser­vice in the UAE in May) but Ang­hami carved out its space any­way, cap­tur­ing the Mid­dle East mar­ket with a finely tuned busi­ness ap­proach. “There are fea­tures you find on Ang­hami you’ll never find on any other plat­form. You’ll find mu­sic re­lated to Ra­madan, you’ll find stuff re­lated to Ara­bic and in­ter­na­tional con­tent be­cause this is key to the way we con­sume mu­sic; you might be in­ter­ested in Ara­bic mu­sic and then in in­ter­na­tional artists at a dif­fer­ent pe­riod of time,” ex­plains Maroun. Let’s not for­get there’s also the lan­guage search op­tions, which al­lows for Ara­bic, and the fact that the com­pany has come up with a prod­uct that is tech­ni­cally op­ti­mised for con­di­tions in the Arab world. “We know the re­gion has prob­lems with bad in­ter­net, which can be bad for a tech startup, and data sav­ing is im­por­tant be­cause data is ex­pen­sive here.” ex­plains Habib. “We stream way faster than any com­peti­tor. We worked to make sure that our mu­sic files are very small but at the

same time good sound qual­ity. That’s why we were cer­ti­fied Dolby Pulse (a license that en­sures sound qual­ity ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards) from the be­gin­ning. We didn’t have to do that,” he re­veals. “That’s prob­a­bly not what Ap­ple is do­ing be­cause they don’t have that is­sue in the West­ern world,” he con­tin­ues. “By de­fault, we pro­vide you with qual­ity that is as light as pos­si­ble, but if you want you can go to set­tings and get it as high as 320kbps, which is pris­tine qual­ity and that would ac­tu­ally be even higher than what Ap­ple pro­vides,” he points out. These re­gional par­tic­u­lar­i­ties have un­doubt­edly been key to Ang­hami’s suc­cess, but what hooks the rest of us is the app’s highly in­tu­itive func­tion­al­ity, in­clud­ing some in­cred­i­bly spot on, per­son­alised sug­gested weekly playlists. “We started tar­get­ing mu­sic rec­om­men­da­tions by re­gion, but then we re­al­ized that just wasn’t good enough,” Maroun re­calls. “Mu­si­cal tastes are very dif­fer­ent in Le­banon than in Saudi or Morocco. Even in the Gulf you find dif­fer­ences be­tween each and ev­ery coun­try, which makes it dif­fi­cult.” In­stead, Ang­hami in­vested heav­ily in de­vel­op­ing their own ma­chine learn­ing tech­nol­ogy – or ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence – to tar­get each user ac­cord­ing to their habits. “We’re teach­ing ma­chines to think. You can­not scale hu­mans the same way, but you can teach a ma­chine to un­der­stand what a hu­man would un­der­stand,” Habib says. As a re­sult users can cre­ate a playlist, and Ang­hami will come up with sug­ges­tions for sim­i­lar mu­sic, just like a good friend might. We’re talk­ing the kind of stuff you for­got you loved so much, and new mu­sic you never would have dis­cov­ered yourself. This spirit of in­no­va­tion is re­ally what has been at the heart of Ang­hami’s suc­cess. “We al­ways worked un­der the premise that we can build our own tech­nol­ogy. If we had to buy any of it, we would have run out of cash a long time ago,” says Habib. Tak­ing that idea even fur­ther, and to en­sure a pros­per­ous fu­ture for the com­pany, Ang­hami is work­ing closely with lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties on AI ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes, so as to en­cour­age stu­dent devel­op­ment. “One of the lega­cies we want to leave is for peo­ple in Le­banon to cre­ate the next big com­pany, the next big startup. Be­cause the only oil we have in our coun­try is our peo­ple, and we need to nur­ture that. In­no­va­tion now – in 2018 – is go­ing to­wards cre­at­ing more ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence prod­ucts. We think we should help the eco­nomic ecosys­tem with that.” In­ter­est­ingly, Ang­hami’s role has grown way beyond be­ing a mere mu­sic­stream­ing tool. That is largely thanks to some strate­gic part­ner­ships with key play­ers in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, in­clud­ing a very ef­fec­tive spon­sor­ship agree­ment with the hugely suc­cess­ful Mid­dle Eastern ver­sion of The Voice (which ini­tially grew Ang­hami’s sub­scriber num­bers from 3,000 per day to 10,000 per hour) and a re­cent deal with Was­sim 'SAL' Slaiby, the L.a-based man­ager of the Weeknd and French Mon­tana, among oth­ers. Slaiby has al­ready en­abled a per­for­mance by Shakira at this year’s Cedars In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val in Le­banon on July 13th. Ang­hami also pro­duces mu­sic and orig­i­nal con­tent in-house, giv­ing it a leg up on com­peti­tors. “We have a stage here in our of­fices be­cause we like to see those artists in­ter­act­ing, and we have a stu­dio so it’s like a mu­sic lab,” says Habib. “This is cre­at­ing a rev­o­lu­tion in mu­sic. We’re re­ally proud of this role were play­ing in the in­dus­try,” Maroun chimes in. “We think we’re chang­ing the way peo­ple con­sume mu­sic, open­ing them up to a world of mu­sic.”

“Ob­vi­ously, our users would love to get ev­ery­thing we pro­vide for free, and that would be great. But you know, I haven’t seen Mcdonald’s dis­tribut­ing burg­ers for free.”

Left: Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib gained seed­ing from Mid­dle East Ven­ture Part­ners (MEVP) in 2012 and have since raised cap­i­tal from Mo­bily, du and additional pri­vate eq­uity in­vestors, to­talling over 40 mil­lion USD of fi­nanc­ing thus far.

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