When the crowds gather in Reykjavík for this year’s Iceland Airwaves, Alþingi may not be the first item on their sight-seeing ‘to do’ list. But a handful of Members of Parliament are nonetheless working to institute a comprehensive review of the country’s music scene, to provide greater government support for young, up-and-coming artists plying their trade.
A parliamentary motion proposed by former radio host and music industry bigwig Skúli Helgason is calling for the creation of a taskforce to explore what the government can do to support and strengthen music publishing, promotion, research and development, the live scene and exportation of Icelandic music.
Signed by 15 MPs from all parties, the resolution highlights the importance of the Icelandic music scene in attracting tourists to the country as well as the impact of music on the national economy, responsible for as much as a quarter of jobs in the cultural sector. The motion cites Iceland Airwaves as a player, bringing in almost a billion ISK in 2012.
Lack of support
“Other cultural genres have traditionally had far more support than the music industry—especially what you’d call popular music,” Skúli insists. “The visual arts, literature, even classical music have more support, for example through funding for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra or The Icelandic Opera. I’m all for that obviously, but we cannot expect the music scene to be self-sufficient.”
“The live scene is especially important,” he says. “It is only a couple of years since Iceland Airwaves began to be supported by the national government. If Icelandic artists are to be successful abroad, they need to get some experience from touring locally.”
“At the moment,” he points out, “there are only a handful of venues available for them to play—most of them in Reykjavík. You can count on one hand the number of places where artists can go in the rest of the country and expect to get a decent audience.”
The government already supports the work of the Iceland Music Export office, which promotes and produces Iceland Airwaves. The annual festival was, however, founded by Icelandair, which Skúli says might explain the lack of early government support.
“People said it was a private event run by a successful company and so didn’t deserve support. But this wasn’t the case, as it was running a deficit for some years. That’s changed now, and the support Iceland Airwaves has had from the Icelandic government in 2010 and 2011 has done a lot of good.”
More than funding
It is however not a question of more funding for Icelandic music. “I want to see people who have expertise in the field study all aspects of the industry,” he says. Despite the skyrocketing success in recent years both in Icelandic exports and the local scene, Skúli and the supporting parliamentarians maintain that there are huge challenges still facing the industry.
The rapid expansion in online music distribution is one such major issue Skúli says needs to be addressed. For instance, it is estimated that as much as 1.7 billion ISK is lost every year through illegal downloading in Iceland, according to the resolution. “We still haven’t found an effective way of tackling the problem,” he admits. “It is important to make sure artists and publishers get their fair share for their work, at the same time as ensuring users retain the access to music they presently enjoy.”
Skúli insists there is broad support across the industry for a full study. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people and had a great deal of support for doing this,” he says. “That includes the publishing industry, the live scene, and artists themselves—it’s crucial to have the support of the business.”
Whether or not the resolution finds political support in the last parliamentary session before next spring’s general election is another question. “I’ve been successful in securing the support of MPs of all parties,” Skúli says, “but the resolution has not yet been put on the agenda for discussion. There is a lot of competition in the final year of a term, but I’m hopeful the resolution will get some time and eventually be approved.”
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