I sat down with a record producer for what I thought would be a light interview about his work and the Swedish Music Industry. However it evolved into something else. I've always been fascinated by the music and artists that emerges from the particular Nordic country. Rather, its propensity to produce music that is both constantly amazing and original. Dontstopthepop even did a 3 month celebration of Swedish music and the contributions its citizens have provided the world of music. Throughout this blogs life, I've always asked Swedish musicians why that particular country produces so much good music. Is it in the water? Is it the education system? This is where I started this interview. But it turned to other places. So much so, I decided against posting it. It was too critical. It was shelved. Why? I've always tried to be positive about music. If its not good, then why bitch about it? I'm not actually eloquent enough to be a good bitch about someone else's music. And hey, at least they tried. They're doing something in music that I could only dream about doing. Hence the name of the blog: dontstopthepop. This about the continuation of pop. Not the other way round. However! His experiences were interesting if a tad controversial. Its because of the latter point his identity remains anon. What I can reveal about him is he's worked with icons of music, his songs have topped the charts around the globe and he's sold absolutely millions. So here goes...
Why do you think the Swedish are so good at providing amazing hooks and original pop music?
We take it very seriously. We do not frown on pop music. Do we make great pop music? Original good music so? I don't think that's right. Not anymore.
What do you mean?
Sweden is generally good at watering down sounds and making it sound commercial.
I still don't understand.
As a song-writer and producer I, and my team, were hired to copy what was going on in America and the UK. "Re-do it". We're cheaper. Its cheaper to send a boyband to us instead of London or LA. We're good at mimicking the heavyweights and we're a lot cheaper too. That's generally how it goes. UK label wants that cool Pharrel sound on a boyband cd but they can't afford NERD so they'll ask us to do it.
(DSTP: I was frowning here which he read correctly as my reluctance to believe him leading him to expand on his thought.)
Look, as a whole we Swedish pop musicians set our clocks on UK or US time. I've been in the industry for over 20 years now and I've never met another producer who'd look at the Swedish music industry or a Swedish pop act for some kind of influence and reference. Its probably the last thing we'd admit to. The music scene in the UK is far more lucrative, creative, unique and original. It never used to be like this for sure. But we kind of brought that upon ourselves.
We're very good at what we do. We're very good at providing record companies hits made to measure. So we'd be given a spec. Creative a brilliant demo and this demo would be recorded by the pop act. No difference between our internal version and the finished thing on the album. so albums in record shops contained demos. Unfinished works. That sounded great because we're really good at doing that (and grateful for the money).
I don't really see how making a good demo is a problem.
Imagination. It now means record companies have a really high standard for the demos. Expectations. Before, the anr departments needed to be really creative. A demo would come in-it wouldn't sound so good but they had the imagination to envisage it maybe as a dance song instead of a ballad. That's how hits were made. Now, a track that's in its demo form gets sent in and its turned back because it doesn't sound good enough. As record producers we shot ourselves in the foot with that one. But its also led to record companies missing out on songs that became huge hits. Thats happened to me a few times. A British record company actually having troubles at the moment, said no to me on this one particular song. I could hear it was gonna be huge hit Maybe it wasn't up to scratch but hey its a demo. So I work on it a bit-making the changes I was always gonna do. A rival record company hears and it becomes a massive hit. Before I sold it though, I went back to the original record company. You know, loyalty matters. Were they sure they didn't want it? They never got back to me. It became a worldwide hit.
So the improving condition of demos sent out by Swedish producers has bit them on the arse?
Yes, but it as bit hard on everyone's arse. Songs have to be submitted in perfect condition. Its become impossible. We're asked to make the global hit without even knowing the singer who'll do it! That is ridiculous. Many Swedish writers just can't deal with that so they leave Sweden. Its too closed-in too. I had to leave for a bit.
Do you think this is why RedOne left Sweden as he was asked to make songs in the vein of the A-Teens instead of Just Dance?
I think. Maybe. Probably. You'd have to ask him. There's more money to be made outside of Sweden because there's the possibility to be more creative and not toe the line musically.
No, you've made lots of money and you're still in Sweden. And made money through Sweden.
Generally yes. But compare and contrast the money I've made from records in Sweden and the money I've made overseas. The one's I make from inside Sweden are tracks I'm not exactly proud of or completely original.
I would beg to differ.
I'm not being clear. The music I've made is part of a trend. Swedish musicians are afraid of being different or independent. Especially within pop.
The Swedish music industry is corrupt.
Record companies own Cd shops. Record companies own radio stations. The chart is thus owned by record companies. You don't have that in the UK. Its very hard to break through if your on a label that isn't a major. Its very hard to be signed if your original and different.
Well that last point might apply in the UK.
No, Sweden is pre-dominated by a competition called Melodifestivalen. And it is dominated by Melodifestivalen-related acts or somehow connected to Idol. Its like a fever. Sweeps through the country. I put my hands up. I have made money from Idol. It is not good for the music industry. I can't think of any new or original act to come through that isn't somehow connected to that.
I don't buy that at all. Look at Robyn.
Robyn is unique. And, not entirely new.
Okay what about O'Spada? What about Dyno? What about Sound of Arrows? Or at the more poppier side of things? Le Kid and the dancetastic September? To my knowledge, none of them are related to Melodifestivalen or Idol. Yet, they're making waves and pretty fresh ones too!
I concede that. Point taken. I happily concede that. I hope your right and they succeed. But it will be very hard for them. Tough. They will have a very hard time. I bet everyone of them are more concerned breaking the UK first. I bet Sweden isn't really high on their list.
What do you think will change things?
We have independent labels and brilliant pop acts. They do exist. But we as an industry need to be more independent and more cutting edge. Be more brave. We need to follow whats going on in the UK and USA but not by fucking copying your acts. I really respect that in the UK and USA the use of the internet has really had an impact. It messes things up. I've loved watching the UK and USA music industries unravel with the arrival of the internet. It hasn't had so much of an impact here. The best thing we came up with was Spotify. We're so stuck. Its Idol, Melodifestivalen, Aftonbladet, Christmas songs, schlager and thats it. Its so dated. The internet has opened it up. Not here. New music and new acts are walled up here.
How do you mean?
I know friends within the industry, including sometimes myself, who'll hear about an amazing act not through Swedish outlets but from places like Popjustice or blogs like Dontstopthepop. that's not good. We're not supporting our own musicians, pop stars and studios enough. So they move to the UK or the USA. Its very frustrating.
So what's the problem with Melodifestivalen? Its fun! And they do have rules about who they let in so its the best song in and not open to abuse. This way, from how I understand, its the best song rather than the songs owned by the major record labels. This should surely allow singers who are independently signed in on the ball.
Ah yes. I'm, not actually well versed or experienced with Melodifestivalen. I've submitted maybe once or twice. My problem with Melodifestivalen isn't the music. I actually think its great! And, I love schlager. But Melodifestivalen dominates the industry and I hate how we've become so dependent on it. Like Idol, many jobs depend on it. But the reliance is overbearing.
And sadly those rules aren't so airtight. Many songwriters depend on Melodifestivalen. Dependent like drug addicts.
Yes, I must admit certain songwriters do pop up more than once.
Well, that is something else entirely different.
Hahaha. No, I will be taken to court!
The reason why I've only sent in once or twice is because I don't want to waste a song that's gonna be rejected because I'm not fucking the right guy.
Oh my god! Its not like that is it?
Joking. Just wanted to see your face. Seriously though, you do hear things that you have to shrug away.
Look, the competition is a quick hit. Like all dependencies, if you've had a song in Melodifestivalen these days it might do well in Sweden but it never lasts. That's why songwriters submit so many songs. They flood the charts after the competition and eventually vanish. I wouldn't waste a song of mine on Melodifestivalen. Give it to a US label. They'll really know what to do with it. Ultimately it will make more money.
What do you make of Idol?
I respect it. I think Sweden needs to loosen up its reliance on it. Idol would be really good if we had a vibrant music scene like the UK's does.
Are you saying Idol is fine as long as there's a movement in music that offsets its significance?
Yes, we just need something else to keep the Swedish music industry on its toes.
Neo (above) of Hitworks did well at Melodifestivalen.
Yes, I really respect everyone at Hitworks and what they're trying to do there. However that is the exception. A real exception.
So who rules the roost within the music industry?
Without naming names its pre-dominated by the majors. As expected. Not the artists. Thats the problem. The majors lead the way. Not the artists. This country would never support an act that is surrounded by internet buzz. Its who you know. Labels like Neon Gold (UK) and Cherry Tree (USA) would never be noticed. Only unless the girl was on Melodifestivalen. Ellie Goulding or Lady GaGa would never be signed. We'd just ignore them. Or get them singing Fredrik Kempe songs.
That's very cynical.
That's for sure! But it is true. This how I see it. A young Robyn would never be signed if she was trying to break Sweden nowadays. At the camper end of things, the same applies to Alcazar. I doubt they'd be signed to a label in 2010. Nor sadly would ABBA. For me, that is the real true state of the Swedish music industry and what is even more depressing is that we've brought it upon ourselves.
My urge is to counter every claim he made. What about Paloma Faith's Stargazer from her last album? Its pure bliss. Came out of Sweden. Those aforementioned names DYNO, O'Spada, Sound Of Arrows, Le Kid....all new, all fabulous, all Swedish. Distinct and original. What about the fact that Melodifestivalen provides the world with pure explosions of poptastic trinkets of pop slices down in under 3 minutes of sheer joy? What about Emilia De Poret? What about Jennie Abrahamson? What about Sophia Somajio? What about Paula Lobos? What about Name The Pet? None of them have ever touched Melodifestivalen and or Idol & I think they're doing just fine.
I still don't know what to make of this interview. I wish I'd been more critical with his answers. Like any industry, its gonna have its quirks, flaws and lacunae. Still, I was shocked as to what I was hearing. In fact I still am. & to be honest I'm still in two minds as to whether this should be on DSTP....