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Industry Insider: Stein Bjelland

By Tomas Lauvland Pettersen Posted: 05. Nov, 2014

NYU's Stein Bjelland (Photo: Jan Inge Haga)

With the NYC conference ‘The Future of the Streaming Economy: Scandinavia as a Case Study’ kicking off this week, we’ve talked to its initiator, Stein Bjelland of the New York University, on what the Norwegian industry can teach their US’ colleagues.

Can the Norwegian music industry teach its US counterparts how to master a growing streaming market? What lessons learnt on the Scandinavian marketplace can applied across the Atlantic? These and many more questions will be answered at a conference starting at the New York University on Nov 7: ‘The Future of the Streaming Economy: Scandinavia as a Case Study’.

We have talked with the conference’s initiator, Norwegian entrepreneur, arts consulter, educator and NYU Clive Davis Institute faculty member Stein Bjelland on what Norway can teach the US, what the current state of the US streaming market is and where it might be heading in the near future.

We managed to reach Bjelland just before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight and asked him what his main focus is these days:

– Nowadays, I’m spending much time in New York and at NYU, says Bjelland. This autumn I’m teaching classes at NYU and is hosting, along with The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, the conference Stream-Tech this week. This is the first edition of the conference that we are going to expand on next year. In addition to this, I’m partaking in a study commissioned by Norway’s Ministry of Culture that will assess the current state of the country’s artists’ livelihood situation. Super-important and really interesting work – these are issues that are close to my heart both personally and professionally. The study is due to be finalized early new year. Beyond that, I have a dozen other projects I work on.

The Future of the Streaming Economy

You’ve titled this week’s conference ‘The Future of the Streaming Economy: Scandinavia as a Case Study’ – what is the reasoning for the title? What knowledge garnered on the Scandinavian market could be disseminated to the North American one?

– Simply put, one can easily come to believe that you’re living in the future here in Scandinavia when it comes to how streaming models and the market function and have evolved since Spotify (and later Wimp / Tidal) launched back in 2008 – the new digital reality is really functional here in Scandinavia. Still, a great deal of work remains to be done for the industry to come up with a distribution scheme within the framework of this model that can be perceived as fair for everyone.

In Bjelland’s view, the US streaming market still has some ways to go to catch up with Scandinavia:

– It’s as if the world’s largest and most influential music market, the US one, is still lagging three to four years behind Scandinavia. The discussions that have been held over here this autumn are reminiscent of what was being debated at (Oslo music industry convention/showcase festival) by:Larm years ago. The aim of the conference is therefore to discuss relevant streaming-related issues seen in a Scando/US perspective.

– To actualize these topics over here, it is vital to have a basic understanding of how the US market is built up. In my experience, I see that several Norwegian companies have much to learn about how this market actually functions. If we are to compare ‘our’ streaming market to the US one, with services such as Pandora and ITunes Radio, we’ll soon come to realize that the picture is more complex than one can easily believe. A thorough understanding of the US radio-reality, both in a historic perspective as well in a contemporary digital one, is a prerequisite for introducing our Scandinavian visions, ideas and models over here.

Bjelland is keen to emphasize that trying to recreate the Scandinavian streaming model on the US market might not be the right path to follow:

– This conference is not another Viking raid – it is much more about dialogue and reflection over these issues and the thinking that goes behind it. In reverence, I believe that it can be a bit naïve to assume that one can implement the Scandinavian streaming models quickly and efficiently on the US market, regardless of how fast broadband penetration is expanded and how much Spotify leverages.

– Those of us who have spent much time over here and been active in the market, are now witnessing fantastic opportunities unfolding for Norwegian companies that have ambitions for the US market. Still, success depends on knowledge, a solid network, and, not least, presence over time.

Indies vs Majors

Who will be speaking at the conference?

– The idea is to start with broad strokes, focusing on numbers, statistics and analysis. IFPI and Music Ally are key partners here – it will be really interesting to gain insight into their perspectives on the big picture and prevailing market trends.

– The next step is to bring in the perspectives of both of the traditional ‘camps’; A2IM will problematize and challenge from the independents’ stance while I’ve challenged Sony Music US to speak the majors’ case.

– We’ll continue by taking a closer look at services such as Tidal, Spotify and the US streaming-radio situation. We’ll also focus on business models and the ideas behind the strategies, not to mention video services that are playing an increasingly important role. Another topic will be to discuss and reflect with bloggers that are now emerging as the new tastemakers and curators in a complex reality.

– To wrap things up, I wanted to give a clear voice to the creators, the artists. I’ve asked my colleague, songwriter and artist Mike Errico, to usher us out into the NYC evening escorted by what might be the day’s most important thoughts.

Lessons learned

In your view, does the Norwegian music industry have a competitive advantage in streaming markets in other territories? Has Norway’s music industry gained a form of knowledge at home that can be utilized when exporting its acts abroad?
– Definitely. It is crystal clear that a window has opened up over here for Norwegian skills and knowledge. I’m uncertain as to whether our business models will be the prevailing ones over here, but what is certain is that the development is at a rapid pace right now and we are all, fortunately, not knowing where we are heading and what comes next.
Bjelland urges Norwegian tech companies to act before it’s too late:

– I do really wish that Norwegian thinking, technology and knowledge were on board when the US streaming train soon leaves the station. In that perspective, it will be interesting to follow Tidal’s US operations in the time to come. I’d also like to see companies such as Phonofile take position on the US market. It could take quite some time for a chance like this to arise again.

– Parts of the Norwegian industry possess a level of understanding and hands-on experience that a majority of their ‘competitors’ over here can only dream of having. It might sound a bit bombastic or un-Norwegian, but the reality over here is that it is, indeed, a reality. For as long as it lasts.

The Future
Seen from a Scandinavian perspective, how do you believe the US streaming market will develop in the near future?

– That’s the million dollar question. I think that ‘niche’ is a key word here – it is also in sync with the US’ current Pandora-fuelled streaming market. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pandora and Spotify business models can meet. Parallel to this, Apple could also play a key role, although I haven’t really concluded for myself whether if they are able to change anything in this market in the near future – their Beats acquisition notwithstanding.

– Streaming market development at home and abroad put aside – are there any personal Norwegian favorite acts that you really have faith in?

– That’s a nice question – I’ll have to try to be a staunch local patriot and give some well-deserved respect to Slut Face. At the same time, it’s been fantastic to witness Kvelertak’s rise to global rock stardom.

Any gigs with Norwegian acts in NYC this autumn you’ll get to see?

– I’ve had a pretty hefty work-load this autumn, both at home and in the US, but I did get to see Sandra Kolstad a couple of weeks ago in a cool setting that differed quite a bit from a traditional CMJ showcase. The gig was a live-video recording for Braund Sound/Red Eye Transit in a Greenpoint studio – pretty awesome.

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