Outgoing AIM CEO Paul Pacifico to Develop Saudi Music Sector as Head of Country’s Music Commission
LONDON — Paul Pacifico, the outgoing CEO of the U.K.’s Association of Independent Music (AIM), has been hired to head the Saudi Music Commission, which is responsible for developing and championing the burgeoning music sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Pacifico takes up the post in January. He will succeed Mohammed Al Mulhem, who is listed on the Saudi Music Commission website as the incumbent chief executive.
The Saudi Music Commission was established by the Ministry of Culture in 2020 as part of a wider push to grow Saudi Arabia’s economy and status as a high-end global tourist destination.
The commission says its objective is overseeing the development of Saudi’s music market through building world-class infrastructure, providing universal access to music education, empowering music artists and creating job opportunities in the country, which has a population of 35 million.
Specific market data for Saudi Arabia’s music industry isn’t currently available, with IFPI grouping the country within its Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional statistics. According to IFPI’s latest Global Music Report, MENA was the fastest-growing region in 2021, with recorded music trade revenues growing by 35% to $89.5 million.
International artists have, however, often faced strong criticism for performing in Saudi Arabia and helping promote a country widely accused of human rights abuses.
Last year, the Human Rights Foundation and the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi led calls for Justin Bieber to cancel his headline performance at a concert in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to mark the end of the Formula One season.
Despite public pressure for Bieber to pull out, the concert went ahead on Dec. 5, with R&B singer Jason Derulo also performing at the show. In 2019, Nicki Minaj canceled her appearance at a concert in Jeddah. At the time, Minaj said she was boycotting the show in support of women’s rights, gay rights and freedom of expression.
Only a few years ago, concerts were banned in Saudi Arabia, where ultraconservative norms prevailed, and unmarried men and women were segregated in public spaces. That changed with the appointment of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017, who has introduced sweeping reforms to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and create jobs for youth.
MDLBEAST Soundstorm, the biggest music festival in the region, launched in the capital city of Riyadh in 2019, while its latest edition set to take place Dec. 1-3 with performances by DJ Khaled, Post Malone, Bruno Mars, Wizkid, David Guetta, Marshmello, Tiësto and Carl Cox, among others.
“It is truly remarkable to see the level of support and the pace of change within Saudi Arabia as it builds a strong music sector for all to participate in,” Pacifico said in a statement announcing his appointment. He called the opportunity to help further develop the market a “huge privilege” and said he was looking forward to working with colleagues to “build a vibrant, inclusive and effective music sector.”
It is not known if Pacifico will relocate from the U.K. to Saudi Arabia when he takes up his new post.
In August, Pacifico announced he was stepping down as CEO of AIM after six years at the head of the organization, which represents more than 1,000 independent labels, artists and music companies, including Beggars Group, Domino, Warp and Ninja Tune.
Pacifico’s term as CEO officially ended on Oct. 31, but he is continuing in the role until the end of the year when his successor takes over.
Key achievements from Pacifico’s two-term tenure include last year’s Music Climate Pact, an industrywide initiative to decarbonize the record business backed by all three major labels and dozens of indies.
Pacifico is an associate professor at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain and is featured in Billboard’s 2022 International Power Players list. He spoke on behalf of the indie sector during last year’s U.K. Parliament probe into music streaming. And during Brexit negotiations and the COVID-19 pandemic, he petitioned the British government for greater support for independent musicians and music companies.
Prior to joining AIM in 2016, Pacifico served as CEO of the UK’s Featured Artist Coalition and founding president of the International Artist Organisation.