What do Candy Crush, Minecraft and Skype all have in common? They all hail from tech-savvy Stockholm. Even though we in the UK tend to fetishise Sweden’s gender equality, architecture, design and crime drama, we often overlook its contribution to music and tech; and the country’s capital is at the global forefront.
Soundcloud and Spotify were both invented and founded in Stockholm – two platforms that most Clash readers use on a daily, if not hourly basis – and are perfect examples of what the city’s Head of start up and tech, Joseph Michael, has dubbed ‘MusicTech’.
“MusicTech describes technologies allowing us to create and consume music,” says Michael. “And in Stockholm we’re really strong in both music and tech – it really needs acknowledgement.”
Let’s look at tech first. After Silicon Valley, Stockholm produces highest number of ‘unicorns’ – tech companies valued at over a billion dollars – per capita. Per million people in Stockholm there are 6.3 unicorns; in Silicon Valley the number is marginally higher, 6.9.
In terms of Europe, the small city of just 1.4 million inhabitants punches well above its weight: there are five unicorns in Stockholm, five in Berlin (with 3.5 million inhabitants) and seven in London (with a huge 8.5 million inhabitants).
And its not just modern tech start-ups, Stockholm has led the world in more traditional tech for years: a huge 40% of global mobile traffic runs on a Swedish network, Ericsson, headquartered in Stockholm, and the green “call” button was invented in the city way back in 1979.
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In terms of MusicTech, Stockholm is equally well-represented in the global market. As well as modern day essentials Spotify – with 30 million paying subscribers worldwide – and Soundcloud – with 175 million users – Stockholm-born Kobalt is the world’s largest independent music publisher.
Stockholmers also have a habit of founding MusicTech companies that others want to buy, Michael tells us. Beats Music – the streaming service of headphone-maker Beats Electronics – was co-founded by swede Ola Sars. The entire Beats company was acquired by Apple for $2.6 billion in 2014, and Sars now runs Soundtrack Your Brand, also known as Spotify for Business.
Tidal, now owned by Jay Z, was launched in 2014 by Norwegian/Swedish public company Aspiro, whose founders were Jörgen Adolfsson, Christer Månsson and Klas Hallqvist – colleagues in a Swedish telecom company.
Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis started RDIO in 2010, a music streaming service with 38 million songs in its library – more than both Spotify (30 million) and Apple (37 million). The company is now based in San Francisco.
It’s not just music streaming that Stockholmers are trailblazing: Pacemaker is a personal music mixing app, designed for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Auxy Is an iPad app for creating music. Just one month after release in 2014 the app was featured by Apple in the app-store, and saw 500,000 downloads in the first couple of weeks.
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We like new things. It’s in our nature...
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It’s not just apps, Stockholmers are busy inventing MusicTech objects that help users make music in the real world: there’s Sensus, the world’s first ‘smart guitar’, and Zoundio, AI that works with instruments to help learning, Michael thinks all this is no coincidence, that Stockholm itself is the reason for all its inhabitants’ innovation. “We produce great music for such a small country, and tech is part of our DNA” he says.
He’s right: Stockholmers tell Clash about how affordable and accessible music education is in the city, and how early they are to adopt technology. Sweden is the third-largest music exporter in the world behind the US and the UK (incredible considering its size) and Stockholm is at the heart of it.
The city produced Max Martin, record producer and songwriter, who's had a total of 54 songs reach the top 10 charts, more than Madonna (38), Elvis Presley (36) and the Beatles (34). In May of 2012, half of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were written or produced by Swedes. The city is even playing host to one of the biggest global music events of the year: the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 breezed into town at the weekend.
Micheal thinks the size of Stockholm has resulted in a collective mind-set reaching further than its physical size. “We are able to innovate and we like new things. It’s in our nature,” he says. “Because we’re small it forces everyone to think globally – the size of the city is actually beneficial.” Stockholm proves it’s quality not quantity that’s important.
Fancy visiting the MusicTech capital? Clash stayed at Clarion Hotel Stockholm, located on island Södermalm: a hip district famous for its restaurants and bars. Make sure you eat at Bleck for its cured elk, natural wine and most excellent staff.
Fly from all major London airports and Manchester with SAS, British Airways, Norwegian or Ryanair, landing at Stockholm's main airport Arlanda, Västerås to the west or Skavsta to the south. Take the Arlanda Express train from Arlanda to the city or book on a coach with Flygbussarna.
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Words: Emma Finamore (@Finamoray)