How did Sweden become one of the world’s biggest music exporters?

How did Sweden become one of the world's biggest music exporters?
Swedish song writers and producers play a large role in Sweden's music export success. Photo: Per Larsson/TT
A new report by Export Music Sweden finds that Sweden is one of only three countries in the world that are net exporters of music, meaning that they import less music than they export.

The report aimed to establish whether the commonly quoted statistic that Sweden is the world’s third biggest net exporter of music was correct, and found that it was. In 2010, it was estimated that Swedish pop music exports totalled more than $820 million.

Export Music Sweden’s report measures a country’s exports by finding the ratio between imported music against exported music. Only three countries – the US, the UK and Sweden – have positive ratios. While the US is the world’s leading music exporter, earning 4.5 dollars for every dollar they pay to import music, Sweden is second with an export ratio of 2.7. The UK is behind Sweden with a ratio of 2.2. 

It is worth noting that this ratio is also affected by how little a country imports music from abroad, so the Swedish high score will also be affected by a national preference for Swedish music.

The ratios are calculated through the revenues of the collecting societies. When a Swedish song is played overseas, the overseas collecting society sends money back to STIM (an organisation representing Swedish songwriters) in Sweden and vice versa. The ratios are therefore calculated on the money collecting societies sent/received in a given year, and found that STIM is a net exporter. 

Why does Sweden export so much music?

There are many things that help explain Sweden’s large role in the music industry despite its small population. Lately, the growing importance of Swedish streaming platform Spotify has also helped promote Swedish music abroad.

Another explanation for the phenomenon is the strong music interest in Sweden, with the highest number of choirs per capita in the world – 15 percent of Swedes sing in choirs.

The enduring popularity of some Swedish artists such as Abba, Roxette and Avicii also plays a big part in the Swedish music exports.

The report also analysed Spotify exports by region, finding that Swedish music is mostly played in North America (making up 27 percent of Swedish music exports on Spotify) and South America (13 percent) while only 10 percent of Spotify exports were in the other Nordics. 

What makes a song Swedish? With an increasingly global music industry, much of Sweden’s music exports are deemed Swedish as they are written by Swedish songwriters or produced by Swedish producers. The Canadian Government uses a system where at least two out of the four parameters MAPL (music, artist, production, lyrics) must be led by someone of that nationality, which Export Music Sweden suggests using.

Why does it matter?

The report by Export Music Sweden suggests that the Swedish government should invest in reaching an even greater audience as the Swedish industry is approaching market saturation, where almost all available customers of Spotify in Sweden already use the service.

Further growing music exports are the way to do this, bringing Swedish music to new users abroad.

“With 3.5 billion smartphones in circulation the global recorded music market won’t slow down anytime soon,” the report notes, with its authors urging the government to support Swedish music exports.

“Export Music Sweden and the music industry in Sweden has a noticeably modest support for export endeavours compared to e.g. Norway, where the state offers ten times as much,” Jesper Thorsson, CEO at Export Music Sweden, told The Local.


Member comments

  1. It seems to me there is a lot of protection though. Just as an example, it sounds strange that for a country so passionate about Eurovision, the winning song has never been played on the radio throughout the summer. Of course they did not expect an Italian band would win, and it is clear they pretend this never happened. Instead I had to listen to that mediocre Melodie Festivalen winner. Let us be clear: not that I am quite interested in this dispute, but this closure attitude is more general and it is really something I always dislike in a country, the idea of being always the best, even when you are not, because around some other had a better idea. Maybe I should get used to it and focus on other aspects ….

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