How Sweden Became One of the Biggest Exporters of Pop Music in the World

Canada does a pretty good job of punching above its weight when it comes to exporting music to the rest of the world.  A series of cultural protectionist measures (CanCon, FACTOR, VideoFACT, etc. etc. etc.) have done wonders in creating a strong and viable music industry–even though we sit right along the border of the biggest exporter of popular culture on the planet.

Yes, we’ve done well.  But we’re rookies compared to Sweden.

With a population of about a quarter of ours, Sweden has become the pop juggernaut of the world.  And I’m not just speaking of ABBA.  So much of the pop music that comes from other parts of the planet begin and is often finished at studios in Sweden.  Think Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Backstreet Boys, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Avril, Lavigne, Madonna, Britney Spears and dozens more.  How did this happen?

Pacific Standard Magazine has a great article on how Sweden became the musical powerhouse that it is.  And oddly enough, it started with churches:

IN THE 1940s, CHURCH leaders and cultural conservatives in Sweden rallied together around a solemn mission: to safeguard the country’s youth against the degenerate music—the “dance-floor misery”—that was being piped in from America. To combat this threat, the country built one of the most ambitious arts-education programs in the West.Municipal schools of music spread across the country, offering morally uplifting instruction in classical music. Many of the schools, which were often free to attend, allowed students to borrow instruments, as if from a public library, for a nominal fee.

The aesthetically conservative intent of the municipal schools created an extremely democratic form of education. Because their purpose was to inoculate the masses against the corrosive effects of popular entertainment—and not to train a select group of virtuosos—the schools were widespread and accessible to children of all talent levels. (Fees have become more prevalent over the years, and currently run about $100 per semester.) When the schools’ curricular offerings began to diversify in the 1960s, Swedish students gradually started studying the very genres the schools were built to stifle.

It’s fascinating.  Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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