Class Act: 117Live's John Oakes On What It Takes To Bring K-Pop's Biggest Stars To Dubai
As the CEO of 117Live, a subsidiary of Al Ahli Holding Group, John Oakes brings in his extensive experience of managing his music, entertainment, event and marketing consulting company in the US to manage 117Live's entertainment projects in the Middle East, which include everything from concerts to shows to corporate events. With its own arena (The Autism Rocks Arena) to boot, 117Live has, since December 2015, brought in acts such as Guns N Roses, Bryan Adams, Ed Sheeran, as well as pop culture festival PopCon and Fiesta De Los Muertos 2017.
In April, the events company brought SM Town Live, the global performance brand under South Korean entertainment company S.M. Entertainment, to Dubai. Showcasing 35 renowned artists such as EXO, BoA, SHINee, Red Velvet, Girls' Generation, and more, the artists performed for over 15,000 fans. From taking in the vision of Group CEO Mohammed Khammas of looking at global growing trends and noticing Korean pop's rising popularity across the world, followed by meetings in 2017 in Seoul with CEOs and top management from Hyundai and SM Town, it culminated to the process of Dubai being selected as the next stop on the SM Town world tour.
On the potential that 117Live saw in bringing SM Town to UAE, Oakes comments on its extensive production of more than 10 different acts as a distinctive element. "It's truly a unique experience to have all these acts share the same stage, as they each independently have their own extremely active tour schedules around the world," he notes. "As a result, SM Town fans from around the world are willing to travel to see the show and as a result experience Dubai."
According to Oakes, bringing foreign acts to the UAE is reliant of a number of different factors, such as looking into how the music and events industry has various representation for bands and musicians, including "a booking agent who manages the live performance business for a band, a manager who acts as the CEO of the overall business of the band, and record label who typically oversee the recorded music side of the band's business."
Relationships and reputation play a big factor too, as "if bands do not trust [that] you will work with them to deliver a world-class experience to them and their fans, they will not consider working with you." But Oakes says the biggest factor is timing and availability, "as bands travel around the world touring playing live music, so we work with them to confirm their schedule coupled with then [if] they are writing and recording new music, and if they have played in Dubai or the region in recent years."
But what about the risk, and how does the team handle and minimize it? Oakes says they face two primary risks: the financial and event safety side. "As far as financial risk the act of producing, promoting, and marketing live music, entertainment events, motorsports races and other hard ticketed consumer attended events is a lot like gambling, as we are betting on the value of the band, artist, entertainment or attraction of the event to motivate people to spend their money and leave their couch. We handle the financial risk through monitoring consumer trends, buying smart, managing expenses and then as a self-administered insurance plan we focus on marketing, advertising and promotion to make sure the event catches the attention of the people who should be interested to buy tickets to attend." On the other hand, on event safety, Oakes asserts how they put in best practices and procedures in place, as well, ensuring laws and regulations are followed by everyone attending, performing and working on the show.
As 117Live strives to continue to be an industry leader in the live music and events scene in UAE, Oakes says they have upcoming growth plans that they plan to share as they continue to attract, produce and promote concerts and events in Dubai. "117Live started out with a temporary concert and music festival event site, meaning temporary site fencing, portable restrooms, VIP platforms and suites, stage, artist dressing rooms, etc.," Oakes remembers. "We are near finished with construction on permanent infrastructure for the largest capacity open air outdoor live music and entertainment venue in the Middle East. The long-term investment in a permanent venue will give us the versatility of hosting various styles of events, and continue to host the best regional and international talent at our concerts and events. As we grow our investment in infrastructure, [it] will allow us to continue to reinvest in attendee experience not only with bringing the concerts and talent they want to see live, but to also improve our service and facility to give a world-class experience."