10 Swedish companies shaping the world
Published: 24 Aug 2012
Sweden is one of the world's biggest exporters of music. While most people know the national origin of ABBA, it may be less known that Swedes lie behind many of the chart successes of today as well. What's the secret, Sweden?
Sweden's DJ Avicii ranked number six on the Top 100 DJs list by DJ Magazine in 2011. Photo: At Night/Press photo
Almost regardless of music genre, you will find internationally successful Swedes: Avicii (dance), Robyn (pop), Ann Sofie von Otter (opera), In Flames (metal), E.S.T. or Esbjörn Svensson Trio (jazz) and The Hives (rock), to name but a few. And new talents keep emerging.
Many realize that if they want to support themselves with their music, Swedish audiences aren't big enough. Budding musicians also get a confidence boost having watched bands like ABBA and Roxette sweep the world off its feet, even if they are from a small and modest country like Sweden.
Success breeds success. This is one of many arguments often cited when trying to explain the achievements of Swedish music. Indeed, why Sweden of all places? Is there a reason why Swedish House Mafia was the first electronic dance act to sell out (or even play) the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City in December 2011?
Swedish pop queen Robyn is often on tour, both in Sweden and all around the world. Photo: Nils Linde
Swedes have a unique disposition to music, embedding it into everyday life. Visitors who mingle with locals will discover this Swedish habit. Ordinary Swedes don't just sing at someone's birthday, but at pretty much every festive occasion, whether it is a holiday tune or a short song to accompany a toast. Sweden also boasts the highest number of choirs per capita in the world.
In 2011 the Swedish Performing Rights Society (STIM), which oversees collection and payment of music royalties in Sweden, had 68,061 copyright holders tied to it. For thousands of musicians to "make it" (or at least make a living out of their music), there are sure to be thousands more with other jobs who still keep playing for the fun of it.
An early start
According to Elisabet Widlund, CEO at the association Musiksverige ("Music Sweden"), the Swedish industry success is partially a result of the education system. "It starts in early years when you go to school and have access to instruments and music classes." For those who develop an interest as they grow older, there is "access to rehearsal rooms, coaching and also a very professional music industry."
Musiksverige's Elisabet Widlund wants Sweden's export of music to increase even more. Photo: Musiksverige
There's also a supportive cultural policy that allows for smaller events where newcomers can work out their act, funds for music study circles, as well as municipal music schools that allow anyone with an interest to experiment with music from an early age. But let's not kid ourselves; the main reason for the international success of Swedish acts is due to their own talent and hard work.
"Swedish society encourages individualism and creativity and independence," Widlund says. "We have a lot of potential musicians that are creative and have their own ways of expressing themselves."
Sweden also has many success stories from behind the scenes. Songwriters and producers like Max Martin, RedOne (Nadir Khayat) and Andreas Carlsson have written hits for the likes of Britney Spears, Madonna and Céline Dion. Swedes seem to have a knack for mass-consumed pop. Not only did Sweden's Loreen win the 2012 Eurovision title, but 10 of the songs from other countries had Swedish songwriters on the team.
RedOne won a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording for the production of Lady Gaga's megahit "Poker Face." Photo: Reuters Feature/Scanpix
Swedish songwriter Negin Djafari, behind mega hits in Japan as well as gold and platinum albums in North America, says the success of Swedish songwriters "has a lot to do with our heritage from folk music. That is what has given us all these strong melodies."
Fame abroad first
Whatever the reason, confidence among Swedish songwriters, producers, video directors and singers seems to soar high. The opposite can be said about Swedish audiences and media. Avicii, Swedish House Mafia and many of the other bands mentioned above had to start abroad, building a substantial non-Swedish fanbase and fill non-Swedish stadiums before getting any major kind of attention back home.
Good thing that the Swedish modesty, another Swedish characteristic, doesn't manage to hold back the creative side of musicians.
This feature has been published by the Swedish Institute.