With music distribution having undergone multiple transformations throughout the past few decades, today the process has become relatively straightforward, with the majority of artists releasing music independently through services such as Distrokid or CD Baby. While these services provide accessibility for many artists around the globe, artists in the Middle East and North Africa often express their frustration with them, as they tend to offer little customer support within the region, greatly limiting their work there.

Out of the heart of Cairo, a local initiative named Sout Sharq aims to take a new approach to the process of independent distribution. The company’s ethos is one that is locally rooted in Egypt, and one that is more in touch with local players in the music industry. Through their own online distribution service, Sout Sharq offers many of the benefits of the industry giants, allowing users to release their music on all major streaming platforms, with the additional benefits of local financial transactions, customer support from industry professionals, and a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of the MENA music industry.

To better understand the implications of having a regionally specific music distribution service, we spoke to Seif Madih, Founder of Sout Sharq, to hear more about the inner workings of the company.

What made you venture into creating a music distribution platform?

As an artist myself, I’ve been through the process of music distribution many times before. I’ve always faced issues with distribution services myself, and people I’ve spoken to in the industry share my frustrations. I wanted to create a service that is more tailored to artists in Egypt, by addressing the issues that Egyptian artists face, and offering them better support that operates 24/7. I also used to work in distribution with Egyptian artists such as the crew from Maadi Town Mafia and Yonyo from Ra2smal.

How does Sout Sharq differ from other distributors?

I think it offers more freedom than other distributors. For one thing, we don’t delete your data if you don’t renew your subscription. This is a common issue that artists face, and with our subscription model, this won’t be an issue. We also deliver customer service and support to artists that are more attentive and more well-versed with the music industry in our region.

What are the current subscription models you offer?

Artists can distribute through our platform by paying an upfront fee of EGP 50 per release, along with waiving 5% of the royalties for us to collect, which they can pay with Vodafone Cash or Instapay. Whether it’s an album or a single, each release will cost the same amount. We also offer a yearly subscription for artists we sign with our label.

Tell me about your work as a record label.

Before developing our distribution service, we operated as a label back in 2018 named Madih Records. Then we rebranded in 2020 and renamed it ‘Sout Sharq’, to better represent the sound of Cairo. We currently have over 30 artists in our roster, and we are scouting more artists through our distribution platform.

How can artists collect their payouts once the streaming money comes in?

We believe that one of the biggest problems around music distribution in the region is managing finances online. In Egypt, a lot of people have taken to local payment services such as Vodafone Cash and Instapay, so we wanted to be up to date with that. Once your payouts reach a minimum threshold of 50 Euros or the equivalent (15,000 to 20,000 streams), you can withdraw that balance through local payment services, or with a good old fashioned bank transfer.

What impact do you think a local distribution service will have on the industry?

I think it’s very important to become less dependent on international outlets to distribute music. The infrastructure around that is built more for a global industry, and oftentimes, the issues we face with that in the region go unaddressed. With a local initiative like this, people can become much more involved with the process of distribution, and when we operate regionally, we will have a tightly-knit network of industry players that will help spotlight the music released through Sout Sharq.

What are your plans for the future?

We want to refine our user interface even further. While we’ve addressed a lot of the issues we faced with competitor’s interfaces, there is still more room for improvement. We also plan to launch a radio broadcast this year, where we will be highlighting some of the music we love from around the region, while also signing more artists with our label.