Danish Footprints on the International Music Stage
Danish Footprints on the International Music Stage
‘No. 1 in USA’, ‘Spotify’s most-streamed song of all time’ and ‘No. 3 on Billboard 200’. Within a period of just five years, the Danish music export have found itself on a significant upward development that benefits from the success of, not just one, but several Danish stars putting Denmark on the international map of music.
‘I would venture to say that Denmark has never had this much success with its music export than right now’, says Søren Mensberg, booking agent at 3rd Tsunami Agency and co-founder of Riotville Records.
According to Per Rambøll’s industry statistics (Danish Music Sales 2015), the music export turned over 564 million Danish kroners last year, which is an increase of 20 percent, regarding record sale and international tour business just compared to five years ago. Music Export Denmark (MXD) views the number of active Danish artists abroad to be larger than ever. Here, one can illustrate with three artists who with impressive success have broken down the sound barriers abroad. The heavy metal band Volbeat has become one of the biggest rock bands in the world and their latest album, Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie (2016), has been number one in seven countries. MØ’s ‘Final Song’ (2016) has been in Top 50 on Spotify, while she featured on Spotify’s most streamed song of all times with ‘Lean On’, a collaboration with Major Lazer and DJ Snake, in 2015. Simultaneously, Lukas Graham has established themselves on the international market with world hits, VMA, MTV and EMA award nominations and performances on some of the most popular TV-shows in the United States (‘Ellen DeGeneres’, ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’, ‘Conan’ etc.).
The more latent potential of several electronic names and the Danish DJ culture are also growing worldwide. Lastly, but surely not the least, one should not forget the Danish composers, who have written music for some of our many popular TV drama series such as The Bridge (2011), Borgen (2010) and The Killing (2007). The income from TV series as these is a significant part of Danish music export.
Besides high sales figures and music chart rankings, the weight and the amount of music companies and artists abroad, collaborating and investing resources in Danish artists, serve as a great symbol of the competitiveness of Danish music. MXD has gathered a substantial market intelligence database with, among other, data from the export support applications. Director of MXD, Thomas Rohde, comments: ‘from our data, it is apparent that Danish music export have increased during the last 5-6 years. A lot of Danish music attracts an array of the most important music companies and cultural institutions abroad’.
The internet increased the competition among musicians infinitely. A situation in which an international breakthrough seems to be durable in a way it has not been at earlier times. The ambitions of a musician’s dedicated heart are rarely to be questioned, however, with the physical borders being knocked down by the possibilities of the internet, a change of attitude is found among the musicians and everyone else working within the field. The result is an increasing focus on working and thinking internationally and being strategically present at the larger music events in Germany and the United States.
Artists and their record companies cooperate systematically in promoting their music abroad and while they obviously benefit from the stardust of the ones ahead of them, the constant growing popularity of streaming services also play a vital part in spreading Danish music abroad. In the last couple of years, the music industry has prioritised building digital bridges between the consumers and the producers and the results are already showing. Since 2013, streaming services have been the biggest source of income for Danish music companies according to the annual report ‘Music Companies 2013’ from IFPI Denmark. At that point, streaming services made up 63 percent of the total revenue and in 2015 this number had already risen to 82 percent. This is also an example of how the music industry very much needs to be willing to adapt to live up to the consumers’ wish for flexibility.
The Market of Benelux and Germany
Looking at the representation of Danish music in Benelux, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, how does the current situation look like? And what is the potential of this particularly market?
The Belgian music venues; Ancienne Belgique and Botanique, both located in the heart of Brussels, are two extremely desirable music venues, and especially, AB presents a notable range of Danish musicians. The 3rd of October the musical phenomenon MØ performed at AB and she is followed by a line of other Danish voices, such as the elegant Agnes Obel, charismatic Alex Vargas and metallic Volbeat who all have visited the Belgian capital this fall. Furthermore, one does not need to enter the new year without a Danish beat as both Trentemøller, Efterklang and the record-breaking Lukas Graham hits the stage in Brussels between January and March 2017.
Naturally, there are always venues in capitals and larger cities that are considered more well esteemed than others. As mentioned before, AB and Botanique are at the top floor in Belgium, but when looking on the wider scale of Benelux and Germany, venues such as Paradiso and Melkweg in the Netherlands, Berghain Berlin, Ubel und Gefährlich, and Docks and Grosse Freiheit 36 in Germany are surrounded by a certain prestige, which reaches across borders. At these venues, Denmark is also well represented. For instance, both Choir of Young Believers, Medina and MØ performed in Germany in November, Alex Vargas and Agnes Obel at Paradiso in the Netherlands and just as Trentemøller visits Brussels in early 2017 he makes a stop at Melkweg in January.
Belgium as a Musical Linchpin
‘Belgium is certainly a lucrative and open market to Danish music’ – director of MXD, Thomas Rohde.
Belgium’s location is, without doubt, essential to the attractiveness of this market. Having the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France as neighbour countries and Switzerland and Austria also being within reach on wheels, Belgium connects these countries as a kind of linchpin. However, besides the advantages in logistics and transport when promoting in Belgium, another significant character of this market pops up. Any Danish band or promoters need to have in mind the challenge of a federation that is divided in the West-Nordic Dutch-speaking Flanders, the South-Eastern French-speaking Wallonia, the bilingual capital Brussels and a tiny German minority. Yet, despite the linguistic barriers and whatever trickiness embedded in this reality, the possibilities of the Belgian market to the Danish music industry do not fade. Benelux and the German-speaking countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) are all financially strong countries with a well functioning infrastructure and Denmark has a competitive advantage compared to other countries, including our Nordic neighbours, considering the logistic closeness. As Thomas Rohde says, ‘When Danish bands tour, they can literally wheel down across the borders’. Also on the part of 3RD Tsunami Agency, Søren Mensberg comments on the potential of this market, ’all the artists I work with dream of an international breakthrough. They dream of playing at the most momentous festivals in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. There is a great interest in touring in these specific countries’.
Thus, these areas have a definite priority to the Danish music industry and this also shows in MXD’s projects. MXD have had various of different projects and campaigns in Belgium during the years, for example the ‘SPOT on Denmark’ in collaboration with ROSA (Danish Rock Samråd) and the Belgian Flanders Music Centre and WBM (Wallonie-Bruxelles Musiques). The event consisted of a mini-festival presenting Danish music at AB in Brussels and a conference called ‘Spot on Trading’ connecting and strengthening the Danish-Belgian ties. Additionally, MXD funds and organises visits of foreign music actors and journalists to SPOT Festival in Aarhus, Denmark. During the last five years, this festival has gathered the largest participation of German music industry representatives outside of Germany.
The United Kingdom and the United States might still be the most important taste-maker markets concerning rock and pop music in relation to the media, as well as being the location of the headquarters of some of the large record labels. Yet still, MXD in general encourages all new Danish bands to build up a healthy business and capital before orientating themselves towards some of the extremely investment demanding markets as for instance the United States, which further points Danish musicians in directions of the markets in Benelux and the German-speaking countries.
Status Quo on Danish Music Export
In retrospect, the dance-pop band Aqua is viewed as a band that paved the way for other Danish musicians in the nineties. They broke down the international sound wall with the hit single ‘Barbie Girl’ and they were the very first Danish band to become number one on the British ‘Singles Chart’ with the song ‘Turn Back Time’ in 1998 (first beaten by Lukas Graham 18 years later). With 28 millions sold records Aqua is still, to this day, the bestselling Danish group ever seen in Danish music history. If Aqua can be said to have influenced the hopes and dreams of Danish bands in the 90s, bands such as Lukas Graham, Volbeat and MØ are those who at the current moment climb the latter, pushing themselves, each other and those behind them to think bigger and be better. As MXD’s director says; ‘MØ’s international success has had a crucial importance. She has clearly acted as a catalyst for a whole wave of young Danish talents.’
Danish music has become a permanent element on the international venues, spotlighting Danish musicians, composers and producers in general. What the Danish musicians on the international venues around the world seem to have in common, are the fact that they are not afraid to be themselves. Whether it is wearing a tank-top on an American talk show with million viewers watching like Lukas Graham’s front man or presenting a devil-may-care attitude and protesting female perfection like MØ; they have made an international audience hunger for the next perfect Danish beat, yet served with a refreshing Danish tribute to imperfection.
As 2016 draws to a closing, it appears to be a clear record-setting year regarding Danish music abroad. Looking ahead, Danish music export is supported by a strong and growing interest in the Nordic, stimulating the potential of the European market, including the Benelux and German-speaking countries.