Nordic Talks part 1: Make shifting, live streaming and online recording

The first installment in our Nordic Talks discussion series was held on June 4th. The group consisted of 20 music professionals – including managers, labels, agents, publishers, artists and songwriters – from all around the Nordic countries.

This series was started by Music Finland to share the good practices, ideas and thoughts for the future, that these companies and their workers have been able to find during the covid-19 crisis. On the first discussion, the focus was on record labels, music managers and publishers.

There were two main points in the discussion, the first one being solutions – the new innovations, opportunities and tools on how the companies and their artists have adjusted their business to the current situation, and the second one being the new practices – how will these new solutions remain a part of the companies’ business?

The music professionals in the conversation were:

  • Nis Bysted (Escho, Denmark)
  • Agnete Hannibal (Escho, Denmark)
  • Kristoffer Rom (Tambourhinoceros, Denmark)
  • Astrid Thorsen (Universal Music, Denmark)
  • Carla Ahonius (Manage Me, Finland)
  • Teemu Brunila (Nordic Music Partners, Finland)
  • Teemu Laitinen (PME Records, Finland)
  • Fredi Lunden (Prevail Entertainment, Warner Music Finland, HMC Publishing, Finland)
  • Antti Kosonen (PME Records, Finland)
  • Kimmo Valtanen (Universal Music, Finland)
  • Sölvi Blöndal (Alda music, Iceland)
  • Ísleifur Þórhallsson (Sena Live, Iceland)
  • Erlend Buflaten (Propeller Management, Norway)
  • Kai Robole (Arctic Rights Management, Norway)
  • Rasmus Stolberg (Efterklang Brodie Sessions, The Lake, Norway)
  • Cecilie Torp Holte (Circle Management, Norway)
  • Ali Wali (Nora Collective, Norway)
  • Ankit Desai (Snafu Records, Sweden)
  • Per Kviman (Versity Music, Sweden)
  • Kerstin Mangert (Musikförlaggana, Sweden)
  • Erik Ohlsson (Jubel, Sweden)

Slow, steady and focused

Many of the participants saw the past spring as period, where companies had the possibility to take things a bit more slowly and to focus on the core of their business, especially in the record labels, who saw this as an opportunity for artist and product development. They also thought that when the artists' careers were in danger, they needed to serve the artists even better. That of course included applying for grants: governmental help for the artists, and also grants for creating new things. Some companies even spent time on developing other sides of the business that might have been hindered before, whether it was concentrating on their management services, making new websites or otherwise streamlining their processes.

When the artists' careers were in danger, the companies needed to serve them even better.

As the situation for artists and musicians – and basically the whole music industry ecosystem – has grown more dire week after week, there has been a lot of demand for lobbying to government. Some of these campaigns have been implemented with big artists in the front. One grassroots approach to the slowing-down of income was keeping direct relationships with the music field, including fans, record stores, music supervisors et cetera.

For many artists, creative work has not been an option under lockdown: even if there would have been time, the hardship and loss of income has been bothering artists too much to go to the studio and make music now. Still, some artists have been coping with the situation by writing more music – and some have even switched to new field of creative work, for example writing books.

Sweet streams are made of this

The biggest solution seen by most Nordic companies has been streamed live events and gigs. The rise in digital live contents – as well as new technological solutions – has created new income for artists and experiences for the fans. One participant called it ‘rethinking new business models and services’.

While digital shows were seen mainly as positive phenomenon, some participants noted that the investment value is not always great – when done professionally, they do take a lot of work, but can be financially difficult. They were considered very good for staying afloat, but not business. Often, voluntary donations were seen as an especially potential way to grow income to the artists. Using micropayments on platforms such as Twitch has growing rapidly in Europe, and is especially popular in genres such as EDM and hip hop.

The rise in digital live contents – as well as new technological solutions – has created new income for artists and experiences for the fans.

While some companies called for small-scale in-house productions and cutting the middle-men from the line, others boasted with huge productions made with big-name sponsorship deals, such as Finnish rap duo JVG’s mayday concert in a “virtual reality Helsinki” on April 30.

Live streaming big special concerts or VR experiences were seen as a future opportunity, especially for global megastars, allowing a single production to reach a worldwide audience at the same time.

As many participant saw online shows merely as a way of promotion, it was considered very important that the artist engages with the audience, for example chatting with fans after the performance. A double-bill – with a well-known artist and a “supporting act” doing – an acoustic set with a split screen was pointed out as an innovative way to promote new talents.

Online togetherness or physical attraction?

While there was talk about ‘online togetherness’ and exploring possibilities of live streaming – for example what are possibilities of not having an audience in the house – many companies had also bumped into the reality of rapidly growing supply of online shows. It has been noticed that it’s more difficult to get people tuning to live streams.

The Swedish online festival Låt Live Leva, found a new huge market with 50 000 visitors. But after the first shows, the donations have slowed. On the opposite side, another participant mentioned a growing demand for private shows by artists for i.e. company parties.

Some of these new income sources for artists can and will coexist with the live and record sales revenue when the pandemic situation is over.

A consensus was in the group, that some of these new income sources for artists can and will still coexist with the live and record sales revenue when the pandemic situation is over. Considering the fact that an artist cannot play as many streaming shows a week as they can do touring, the money is more limited in that sense. Therefore online events and streaming shows could be a great added bonus in i.e. record or artist launch campaigns in the future. Still, breaking into new markets with live streaming shows was seen as a challenge.

One big concern among the live music sector is: will the audiences’ concert-going habits change during the lockdown? One opinion was, that artists should not play free streaming shows, because that will harm the possibility to sell tickets in the future.

Recording without borders

The pandemic has obviously affected all possible sectors in the music business, not only the live branch. This has been noticed by producers and songwriters no longer able to make co-writing and recording sessions with artists – especially international productions have suffered.

Although music producers have been suffering, many participants say that reaching songwriters to pitch songs has been quite easy, due to everybody not being as busy as usual. Pitching songs online has improved the level of co-operation and made it easier for A&R managers to find good songs for projects.

Brunila ordered the singer a computer equipped with the needed software and executed the recording sessions from the comfort his own home.

Teemu Brunila, a Finnish songwriter and producer (and co-founder of Nordic Music Partners) normally based in Los Angeles, woke up to the situation, when he had to cancel a session with an internationally known pop artist (update on Nov 4th, 2020: later confirmed to be Kylie Minogue, whose album "Disco" includes three songs co-written by Brunila). Instead of flying to London to make the session as planned, Brunila ordered the singer a computer equipped with the needed software as well as a studio microphone. Then Brunila executed the recording sessions from the comfort his own home – pre-programming and recording the vocalist’s takes on their computer through the Teamviewer application. The experience was so immersive, that the production team has been thinking about the necessity of even being in the same physical space while recording.

Other participants also mentioned different tools that are great for music co-production online, such as Pedal as well as Dropbox and Google Drive. For example beatmakers in the hip hop field have embraced online production tools and working practices at many places.

Music Finland's Nordic Talks is a new Nordic level conversation series between companies and organizations in the core of the music business. Articles will run on Music Finland's website throughout June 2020, with part 2 focusing on the folk and world music scenes.