From Iceland — Putting Pop on the Priority List

Putting Pop on the Priority List

Published October 6, 2006

Putting Pop on the Priority List

How to support the Icelandic music industry and promote Icelandic music abroad has been an issue of debate year after year with no clear answer in sight as to how to create an acceptable platform for the industry to grow. While a proposal on an Icelandic Music Development Fund bounced back and forth between the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, other projects took priority while musicians have had to settle for little, if any, pay and lack of facilities.
Meanwhile, some MPs and interest groups have been looking to Sweden for a good example of how to do things right. Export Music Sweden, formed in 1993, has aimed at promoting and marketing Swedish popular music globally, resulting in 6,533 million SEK total export income from the music industry in 2004 alone. Swedish bands have been the focus of worldwide attention, not only ABBA and Ace of Base, but The Hives, Roxette, Sahara Hotnights, Refused, The Cardigans, The Helicopters, The (International) Noise Conspiracy and José González, making Sweden one of the largest exporters of music in the world.
Bryndís Ísfold Hlöðversdóttir, a candidate for The Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) in the upcoming primaries, believes the same could be done for the Icelandic music industry. Hlöðversdóttir is making the issue a priority in her campaign by pointing out that investing in musical talents could be a more pleasurable way to create job opportunities than heavy industry plans will ever be.
///You talk about making music a growing industry with opportunities to create jobs. It is an idea that has been brought up a couple of times before. What makes you think now should be a good time for introducing it to the public once again?
– Rightfully this is not a new idea and there have been talks on making music a trade for years but nothing has happened. The Alliance Party debated the issue in the 2003 elections and now I’m bringing the issue up again as I think it’s more important now than ever to start focusing on new job opportunities. Recent protests against Kárahnjúkarvirkjun are good examples of what Icelanders don’t want, so instead of making plans on more power plants, which I think are short-term solutions, I want to look at the future and its opportunities, like those in the music industry.
It is clear we need to adjust to a new world and changed situations and one angle to do so is to look at the Icelandic music scene seriously, invest in it and emphasise creating a field for that industry to grow. By that I mean spending money on marketing and promoting as well as distributing Icelandic music abroad and providing suitable facilities. To put popular music further on the map so to speak.
It’s all just a question of ideology and political stand to say we believe in Icelandic music and that we prefer to harness people’s talents instead of rivers and rivulets crisscrossing the country.
///There are a lot of issues to be tackled to satisfy everyone. How would you want to see it done?
– My idea is to stop thinking of musicians as people with a hobby and start thinking about them as investments worth financing and providing them with decent working conditions. My aim is to create a platform for the musicians and give them a space to grow in the form of some sort of development and export grants from the state treasury. As the situation is today, very few musicians can earn their living by creating music, let alone pay for plane tickets to go abroad, but still we are producing a huge amount of music every year. One thing we aren’t lacking is talent and people who are willing to give it all they’ve got if they get the possibility to do so, but Icelandic musicians are greatly lacking in funding and facilities.
I want to use the Icelandic Film Centre as a model. It gets around 350 million ISK per year from the government and with that amount it can finance film projects and promote Icelandic films abroad. The result is that Icelandic movies are gaining worldwide recognition. There’s nothing to indicate that we can’t create the same model for the Icelandic music scene, an Icelandic Music Centre. That centre would consist of professionals and individuals who know the industry inside and out, are in touch with the grassroots and what’s going on. This new centre would handle export, host concerts, help and support musicians to attend festivals and be a general adviser for musicians as well as those who want to invest in Icelandic talents, all with the aim of promoting Icelandic music.
One idea could also be to cooperate with private companies and get them to donate empty buildings as rehearsal facilities. Take the DV building for example, which has been desolate for a long time. That could be a perfect rehearsal facility. Instead the companies wouldn’t need to pay rates.
///What do you think about the effort being put into promoting music today? The Trade Council of Iceland for example organised a trip to the annual Midem music trade fair in Cannes earlier this year under the banner Hear Iceland! where 23 representatives from 15 companies and organisations were present to promote Icelandic music for possible buyers.
– Efforts have been made, I’m not undermining that. I don’t know what the trade council’s plans are for the future though. There are also some grants but in my view that’s just not enough. The Airwaves festival is a great enterprise and the travel fund Reykjavík Loftbrú an excellent project as well. The drawback is that there’s no official institution where people can seek guidance, grants and direction on what to do, how to apply, etc. We do have potential but unfortunately, there’s still a lot missing.
///Now there are number of individuals who have been working hard at creating a setting for young musicians, Danny Pollock and his conception Tónlistarþróunarmiðstöðin (The Centre For Musical Evolution) is an example, where today 43 bands have facilities. Is there any interest in supporting private enterprises like that one and building upon?
– What Danny Pollock has been doing is really admirable. He has created a healthy environment for young bands and artists and has made a great effort in applying for grants and keep the centre running. I think it is really important to sponsor those kinds of enterprises and give them better opportunities to flourish.
///You talk about government grants. When decisions like those end up in a committee isn’t there always a risk that the grants don’t go to the right people? Who will choose on whom to gamble, how much he should get and why? Who’s going to evaluate the applications?
– Well, what I find practical is to get interest groups and bodies within the music industry and record companies as consultants, just like the Icelandic Film Centre does. The politicians have to create the platform and get the bill through the parliament and after that rely on the professionals to supervise.
///This idea, making music a real industry, comes from Sweden, which has become a leading music centre. Are you looking at Sweden as a model?
– Yes, we can learn a lot from Sweden. They have made a very promising environment for their musicians. Today, royalties are the largest growth area in the export industry, but even though it’s not an extensive part of the Swedish economy, it’s a large industry compared to many others.
At the same time the setting has been quite unfavourable in Iceland. Many artists have proven that it is possible to be quite successful, like Björk, Sigur Rós, Gusgus, Quarashi and Emilíana Torrini to name a few.
///Making this matter an electoral issue, what the general public will want to know is whether this is profitable for the national economy.
– In Sweden, it has proven to be quite profitable. There, music in general is a growing industry, and bands from around the globe are travelling to Sweden to record and seek expertise. Of course it will take time. We won’t be Sweden overnight but in making an effort, we are getting closer. Music will never be our biggest export or save us when we are all out of fish in the sea but it is a kind of job creation that will get us far away from outdated thinking.
Marketing music internationally is a costly project but a profitable one for the country in the long run. The first task is to make music an accepted industry but to do so there needs to be some government intervention.
It’s not all about profit though. We need to think about what kind of a country we want to build and create a more positive image. We have everything we need: the talent, the people and the interest. It’s all just a question of harnessing what we’ve got and making music a priority. In my view, that is a far more prosperous choice than many others and much more joyful choice than the aluminium smelters for example. We can easily market ourselves as a country of music, and that is a goal we should seek to achieve.

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