The state of the Swedish Indie scene

by | Music

Hard times for Swedish independents on Sweden’s biggest national radio channel Sveriges Radio P4

To get songs on the important playlist on the national Swedish Radio’s biggest channel; Swedish Radio P4, is for the vast majority of Swedish independent labels something of an unattainable dream. Although the digital music portal where the record companies, hoping to be considered and played on the channel every week, register their current releases, is open to everyone, it is considered by many to be “a black hole”.

“If you happen to be signed by an indie label in Sweden, your chances of being heard on the country’s biggest radio station are definitely slim”, says a label manager at a Swedish indie label.

SIMBA has analyzed all published playlists for the national Swedish Radio’s biggest channel – Sveriges Radio P4 – during 2020 and 2021. The figures show that the Swedish independent record labels’ share of the songs that were put on rotation this year was only 21 percent – and compared with the previous year, the share fell by as much as a quarter.

In recent years, more and more established and other Swedish artists and bands have chosen to work with independent record companies. This includes world stars such as Zara Larsson, Icona Pop, Mando Diao, and Per Gessle (of Roxette fame), as well as the locally recognized Swedish artists Benjamin Ingrosso, Lars Winnerbäck, Smith & Tell, Darin, Uno Svenningsson, Lena Philipsson, and Tomas Andersson Wij.

But despite the fact that TEN Music Group, one of Sweden’s both internationally and locally most successful record companies, is also an independent company, the independent sector as a whole is still losing ground to the major companies Universal Music, Sony Music, and Warner Music in the radio landscape.

“So we should have to sit and check which record companies the music comes from?”

During the past year, all the Swedish indie companies together have only achieved 68 of the total of 291 songs that P4 have put on rotation – which is only almost half as many as the three major companies had the same year.

At a meeting between Sveriges Radio’s music editors and the members of the Swedish independent companies’ organization SOM a few years ago, Sveriges Radio’s former Head of Music answered the criticism with a counter-question: “So we should have to sit and check which record companies the music comes from?”.

“What the distributional distortion seems to be mainly due to, however, is not about that, but more about, among other things, the larger companies’ advantage in the form of their financial muscles that make it possible to invest significantly more in active sales and radio promotion, which most indie companies cannot afford and therefore does not get the same opportunities for a fair assessment in the music editors’ selection process.”

“larger companies’ advantage in the form of their financial muscles”

“In principle, this leads to the purely musically based selection process being put out of play, which explains why the conditions for indies and majors in recent years have more and more been cemented in a kind of David vs. Goliath-like situation,” states a frustrated indie label representative. “I fear that the playlist jury is not aware that the music is not judged on equal terms at all, and I would like the national Swedish Radio’s music editors to make more of their choices by actually judging the quality and potential of the songs.”

In the independent sector as well as in other parts of the music industry, most believe that Sweden’s state-funded radio should actually have a responsibility to better reflect the music life in the country and not compete with the commercial radio stations.

“We are keen to provide as broad, versatile and nuanced a picture as possible”, writes Swedish Radio on its website about its journalistic mission. But when it comes to the choice of music in the biggest channel P4, both the breadth and versatility are now increasingly being questioned.

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