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Music export "business"

Written by Tommi on 25.03.2010 12:28:22

Blog image for entry Music export "business" Ah, free money. My favorite type of money.

The export endeavours of the Finnish music industry received a lion's share of the grants provided by The Finnish Ministry of Education for the benefit of Finnish cultural export. This year, the sum was 1 644 000 euros.

That's understandable as with the success of eg. HIM, The Rasmus and Nightwish, the business of exporting music has reached the position of a viable important pillar of the Finnish economy - the knights in shining armor ready to whisk away our gigantic budget deficit now that our forest industry and Nokia are doomed!

...or has it?

Lucky for us, the Internet provides us with enough material to call "bullshit" on this shenanigans! According to the numbers published by Music Export Finland, the amount of export revenue generated by the Finnish music industry in 2008 was... *drumroll* 23.3 million euros.

I know that number sounds pretty big in the eyes a rookie band trying to rake together a thousand or two to put out their debut album independently, but in the eyes of big business, 23.3 million is next to nothing. My dayjob is at a pretty irrelevant company in the grand scheme of things and even we export for ca. 1-2 million euros annually, almost 10% of what the music industry generates.

At the same time, exporting music gets ca. 7% of its revenue in a single handout.

So, am I proposing less money to music?

Why do I have a beef with the music industry getting money, even if I'm usually the first person whining about how hard making ends meet in this crapstorm of a business is?

My beef is with how the only way to get money to culture is by masking it in a facade of commercial viability. Let's get real, even if we get a hundred more HIM's and the existing ones break even bigger, the revenues will still be totally irrelevant compared to "real" business, like the forest industry or telecom. This is not a Napoleon complex, just a healthy dose of reality.

1,64 million euros is a whole lot of money from the perspective of all the square one bands out there just trying to score a steady rehearsal space and to put some sort of semi-professional recording together. You could literally fund hundreds of bands into a flying start with that money.

Still, while the commercially doomed efforts are being supported with sums like that, state-funded rehearsal spaces and low-cost junior studios are being taken down in Helsinki and elsewhere around Finland. Scoring a rehearsal space at a reasonable rate is insanely difficult and getting to go to a real studio the privilege of the better-off.

Unfortunately I could not find the lists of export support beneficiaries online (what's up with this Esek and Luses?!) - this is the closest I got. The lists of beneficiaries have traditionally been pretty grim reading. Sure, they've given even us a few grants (I think Echo Is Your Love and Hero Dishonest have gotten a grand each so I'm not complaining we ain't getting ours), but the bulk of the money goes to already established acts that usually are more from the commercial than the artistic side of things. Not that I really care about as I do to some degree believe that even art should be validated by audience demand, but it still sends a very clear message: we only support projects that make this appear to be more of a business than it really is.

But even this is not my beef. I don't care who gets the money in the end. I care about the rationale behind the money and I think that currently it's wrong.

You can get the (very much public) lists of beneficiaries by asking them from Esek and Luses directly.

So what?

My point in all this is: forget the business side. This thing is not going to turn into a viable business, so let's stop justifying things with that. Culture should be a value in itself and even though that fits badly into return-on-investment calculations, the numbers achieved so far with music look simply ridiculous. If 1,6 million goes in as grants and 23,3 million comes out as revenue (yep, that's revenue, not profit), something is wrong.

Support music - the culture, not music - the business.
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Comments (10) 1/10

25.03.2010 14:10:19 Sami Sänpäkkilä wrote

Thumbs up Tommi! Yep, I think the people in the cultural political positions who are sitting on the money are not perceiving art in general, be it film or music, as much more then another business.

25.03.2010 15:34:21 "Lassi"

This was a fine read indeed.

25.03.2010 15:48:28 Triani wrote : "Music Export business"

Hi Tommi,
good blog post. Yes i agree with a lot of what you say.
Do you know the figures that are given in grants for say, classical music. I'd be amazed if the classical music business generates anywhere near the monies that good old rock n roll does, yet I can assume the grants received in the classical music sector far outweigh the popular music ones, due to someone making the distinction that popular music really isn't culturally important. I think that is the basic problem, cultural political positions' recognition of popular culture in general. Saying all that, if you lived in the UK good luck getting a penny if you do anything remotely creative! I know a lot of people in Finland who can still make music on some level due to the grants they receive, so it's not all bollocks!

25.03.2010 16:09:16 Tommi wrote

Hey Nick!

Don't even get me started with the whole damn monetary prioritization of "classical" culture - or jazz for that matter.

That's an entirely different debate where I'd use far more capitalization in my letters and plenty of bad language.

Then again, I'd hate to see rock music turn into a grants-based bullshit-bingo.

25.03.2010 17:09:26 triani wrote

yeah, sadly i think that the grant route will be for a lot of bands the only way to keep making music.

25.03.2010 18:10:53 Tommi wrote

It's an apuraha-indie world.

25.03.2010 22:11:39 Avi wrote

My impression from talking to various other Music Export people (not in Finland) is that the grants help them promote Finnish music abroad which in turn helps them promote the idea of Finnish culture and/or Finland as a brand. The logic being that maybe HIM fans will start buying Nokia phones and so on, not that the artists themselves will generate strong ROI. Of course that's not necessarily all that much better when the money could be better used to support youth-oriented rehearsal spaces and so on, but at least the money exists at all. Still, please do try and keep HIM, The Rasmus et al at home -- I don't want them here.

25.03.2010 22:24:10 Tommi wrote

So... how much are you willing to pay for us to keep them here?

25.03.2010 22:52:59 Avi wrote

can we compromise and ship em to the Baltics or something?

26.03.2010 10:32:26 Tommi wrote

"""My beef is with how the only way to get money to culture is by masking it in a facade of commercial viability. Let's get real, even if we get a hundred more HIM's and the existing ones break even bigger, the revenues will still be totally irrelevant compared to "real" business, like the forest industry or telecom. This is not a Napoleon complex, just a healthy dose of reality."""

Eikös jo pelkästään yhden menestyvän ruotsalaisen biisintekijän tulopuoli ylitä tuon suomalaisen musiikkibisneksen kokonaisviennin... ;)

Noh, periaatteessa olen kuitenkin kanssasi hiukan eri mieltä... kuten sanoit, tuo vientitukihan on AIKA PIENTÄ. Ja kohdistuu kuitenkin suht järkevästi kunnianhimoisten musiikkialan tekijöiden edesauttamiseen (Fullsteamit, biisintekijät, kustantajat, managerit, koulutus jne). Jos ja kun tämän seurauksena suomalainen musiikkivienti saadaan kasvamaan tulevina vuosina edes 15-30% vauhtia, en valittaisi hetkeäkään.
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