As music fans now stream albums and releases for a nominal fee or even for free, global and regional artists have found the traditional reliance on royalties and stream-related revenues no longer sustainable. As a result, we have witnessed artists adapt to a new form of direct-to-fan relationships, particularly brand partnerships, as a more sustainable alternative avenue to continue pursuing their passion for music.

While we often see talent and artists partnerships worldwide, with global brands always investing in emerging artists, this trend has only been normalised recently in the MENA region, with a specific focus on male artists. Serving to bridge that gap between regional female artists and brands, Dubai-based Female Talent Agency (FTA) has recently emerged as the first-of-its-kind female-led creative agency, specialising in facilitating powerful and authentic collaborations.

Spearheaded by Anna George - who has worked for over ten years in Sony Music Entertainment Middle East as the Head of Talent Partnerships, International Marketing and Licensing - FTA seeks to play a role in shaping the future of music and brand partnerships in the region. Besides fostering these collaborations, FTA also aims to nurture and amplify regional female talents, not only within the ever-growing MENA music scene but also globally.

In a virtual interview with Anna George, she shared her insights on the significance of female talent and brand partnerships in the region, the secret behind successful collaborations, and how she aims to shape the future of music and brand partnerships in the MENA music industry…

Can you share with us a little bit about yourself and your background for those who don’t know you? 

Hey, absolutely! I am Anna George. I grew up living between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. But, I have spent the majority of my life in Dubai. My interests have always leaned towards the business aspect of the music industry. After completing my degree in Arts and Entertainment Management at the University of Leeds, it was a no-brainer to return back to the region and pursue my music career.

I first spent ten years at Sony Music Entertainment Middle East, where I took on the role of the Head of Talent Partnerships, International Marketing and Licensing. Then I took a little detour over to TikTok as Head of Music for MENA, which was a whirlwind of creativity, and personal connection with the emerging artist scene. Lastly, I worked with MELT Middle East, part of the Steve Harvey Global family, to facilitate partnerships for US celebrities within the MENA region.

What made you decide to establish the Female Talent Agency? And, what was the main inspiration behind it? 

I have always felt a strong sense of responsibility to empower female talents from the region. It’s been a lifelong dream to channel my expertise into something purposeful and run my own company. It’s been a long process. And, after years of experience, for which I am deeply grateful, I finally launched my Female Talent Agency earlier this month on February 4th.

From your perspective, what is the significance of talent and brand partnerships, both in the regional and global music industry?

Considering that the regional music market is still developing, emerging artists need to hustle and diversify their income sources to maintain their sustainability and growth. Brand partnerships can help them accomplish this without sacrificing their artistic integrity. These partnerships offer mutual exposure for both sides; brands gain access to dedicated fan bases while artists gain more visibility through the brands’ multiple channels, which can propel them from being local sensations to becoming recognised artists regionally and globally.  

By offering a new space for artists to explore creative avenues and experiment with new concepts, these collaborations can successfully fuel innovation in the music and creative industries. Meanwhile, on the flip side, brands can also level up by aligning with some of the best storytellers in the world.How is FTA bridging the gap between female artists and brands in the MENA music industry? And, what differentiates it from other creative agencies?

What sets FTA apart is that we leverage years of hands-on experience directly from the music scene to establish a personalised approach to brand partnerships, all with a specific focus on nurturing female talents within the fast-growing MENA music industry. 

Our secret key to facilitate successful authentic collaborations that go beyond traditional endorsements is establishing a close relationship with our artists. We get to know our artists personally and understand their distinctive skills and interests beyond music. This allows us to uncover the quote-unquote less obvious opportunities, and match them with brands that align perfectly with the unique aspects of their identities, their values and target audience. 

Also, here in the region, it’s usually the brand that takes the first step in reaching out to artists. However, with FTA, we’re flipping the script. We’re the ones reaching out to brands, already pinpointing the starting points of synergy.

You have mentioned that you have worked with global music companies on talent and brand partnerships like Sony Music Entertainment Middle East. How has this influenced your approach towards music and brand partnerships for female artists in the region? 

I was able to uncover three key ingredients which are crucial in making successful music and brand partnerships for regional female artists. Firstly, it’s essential that both the artist and brand share the same values, and want to evoke the same emotions with the audience. Secondly, there needs to be mutual trust between both parties. For instance, if an artist is only in for the paycheck, or if a brand tries to micromanage the artistic process, it just doesn’t click. 

Lastly, artists should always be involved in the creative process, rather than being brought in at the final stages of a deal. By allowing them to contribute to shaping the idea from scratch, artists become more invested and excited, which ultimately results in greater outcomes.

Based on your own experience, what does it take for regional female artists to make it both regionally and globally?

Beyond the basics of a strong online presence and mastering digital platforms, talent needs perseverance, by becoming savvy networkers, and seeking out the right brand partnerships. Artists can’t do it alone, they need a solid team rooted in the music industry by their side. 

How does FTA support female artists in navigating the challenges they face in the male-dominated music industry? 

Being a female-focused agency composed entirely of female music industry executives, we seek to play a role in paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse music scene. 

We aim to make a significant impact in closing the gender gap within the MENA music industry, by offering female artists a platform to showcase their talents through linking them with the right brands to enhance their career.What do you think of the nature of talent and brand partnerships within the MENA music industry, and what do you think it’s lacking in comparison to the global music industry?

As the appreciation for the region’s diverse musical talents continues to grow, we are witnessing the emergence of more opportunities for brand collaborations. However, many emerging artists in the MENA region face challenges accessing resources, mentorship, and finding the exposure needed to grow at a sustainable rate, which sometimes creates a gap between artists and brands. 

While brands heavily invest in emerging artists across the globe, the MENA region has only recently started embracing this trend. But, the focus always remains on male artists. As the industry continues to evolve, I believe we will soon be witnessing a shift from this traditional approach, and hopefully the emergence of more inclusive and creative collaborations, purpose-driven partnerships and even co-created products. 

You have launched your agency with established female artists in the region like Felukah, TamTam, and Reina KhouryHow does FTA empower artists like them to express their individuality and artistic vision?

Before joining the FTA family, our artists undergo a series of sessions designed to deeply understand their unique individuality and artistic vision. We would never advise our artists to alter their appearance, behaviour or lyrics to fit a brand’s requirements. Instead, we embrace them for those who they are and seek out brands that resonate with their authentic selves. Our commitment is to amplify their voices just as they are.