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Swedes prefer streaming to downloading

Sweden is home to a vibrant community of file-sharing activists, but it is also at the forefront of a global recovery in music sales driven by streaming music services such as Spotify, AFP's Sören Billing reports.

Swedes prefer streaming to downloading

Legal downloading sites like Apple’s iTunes Store were once thought to be a panacea for the global music industry, providing an alternative to illegal download sites like Sweden’s Pirate Bay.

But if the high-tech Scandinavian nation is anything to go by, music downloads could soon be as obsolete as CDs or vinyl records.

iTunes’ success has been modest here, with the vast majority of consumers preferring to stream songs rather than owning them on a hard drive.

Last year, 2012, was the best year for music sales in Sweden since 2005, with 63 percent of revenue coming from digital sources, according to data from the Swedish Recording Industry Association (GLF). Out of that, 90 percent came from streaming services.

“Norway and Sweden are similar in that a large part of music revenue comes from streaming, and in that both countries have seen strong growth,” said Ludwig Werner, managing director of the Swedish chapter of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Other countries, including Europe’s largest economy Germany, still derive most of their music sales from CDs, he noted.

With income still lagging the heydays of the early noughties, when file-sharing began eating into results, Werner said it was too early to tell if the music industry was out of the woods.

Last year’s sales of 943 million kronor ($148 million) in Sweden was up 13.8 percent from the previous year, but well below the 1.55 billion registered in 2002.

The Swedish turnaround has been driven by two events: In 2009, the Ipred law came into effect, giving copyright holders the right to require service providers to reveal details of users who share files, paving the way for legal action.

Also contributing to a rise in legal music sales was Spotify, the digital media juggernaut launched by Swedes Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon in 2008. The streaming music service still counts Sweden as one of its most successful markets.

“We do see a similar trend (for sales) across the Nordics, but primarily for Sweden and Norway where the penetration for streaming services is very high,” spokeswoman Marine Elgrichi said.

According to the company, the 1,000 kronor that a paying Spotify user spends on music per year is twice that of a user who downloads songs.

Asked about the criticism levied at the digital music service for how it compensates artists, Elgrichi said it pays 70 percent of revenues back to record labels and collecting societies, who then pay the artists.

Last spring, Spotify had paid out a total of 1.6 billion kronor. At the beginning of this year that amount had doubled.

“To double that figure in under a year shows the huge strides we’re making,” Elgrichi said.

Tom McAlevey, founder of Radical.FM, a Swedish music streaming start-up modelled on US-based Pandora Internet radio, said streaming music services would create “the most lucrative era the music industry has ever been in.”

According to his own calculations, between 100 and 200 plays on Spotify earns a record company the same amount of money it would make from a download.

“After that it’s just pure profit. No one’s buying anything a second time on iTunes,” he said.

“It’s going to be the most lucrative thing ever because you get paid forever,” he argued.

Artists’ criticism of streaming services like Spotify was beginning to subside as they were “starting to understand the math,” he said.

The rise of streaming music is already affecting how record labels operate. With more people discovering new artists through shared playlists and “tailored” radio stations like Pandora that predict what kind of music the listener wants to hear, there’s less need for costly advertising campaigns to

promote the performer.

“Previously most of our marketing activities were tied to paying for exposure,” said Robert Litsen, an executive at Swedish-based Cosmos Music Group.

Promotional campaigns for a singer or a band were now more focused on “what you communicate” rather than “how much you’re willing to pay,” he added.

Others believe it could shift the industry’s economic cycle away from the traditional spike in CD sales before Christmas.

“With less focus on the Christmas market, we can spread out the releases of albums at different times, when artists have more of a chance to stand out,” the managing director of Universal Music Sweden, Per Sundin, said in a recent report from IFPI.

Prior to the controversial Ipred law, Sweden was at the forefront of file-sharing activism, and in 2006 fans of the website Pirate Bay formed the Pirate Party to campaign for copyright reform.

But party leader Anna Troberg said she didn’t think the crackdown on file-sharers was behind the music industry’s newfound success.

“I think it’s because they’ve finally begun using new technology to their advantage, rather than trying to fight it,” she said.

Spotify was a good alternative for “chart music”, but finding the sort of niche acts she listened to herself was harder, Troberg noted.

AFP/The Local/nr Follow The Local on Twitter

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MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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