How did Sweden become one of the world’s biggest music exporters?

A new report by Export Music Sweden finds that Sweden is one of only three countries in the world that are net exporters of music, meaning that they import less music than they export.

How did Sweden become one of the world's biggest music exporters?
Swedish song writers and producers play a large role in Sweden's music export success. Photo: Per Larsson/TT

The report aimed to establish whether the commonly quoted statistic that Sweden is the world’s third biggest net exporter of music was correct, and found that it was. In 2010, it was estimated that Swedish pop music exports totalled more than $820 million.

Export Music Sweden’s report measures a country’s exports by finding the ratio between imported music against exported music. Only three countries – the US, the UK and Sweden – have positive ratios. While the US is the world’s leading music exporter, earning 4.5 dollars for every dollar they pay to import music, Sweden is second with an export ratio of 2.7. The UK is behind Sweden with a ratio of 2.2. 

It is worth noting that this ratio is also affected by how little a country imports music from abroad, so the Swedish high score will also be affected by a national preference for Swedish music.

The ratios are calculated through the revenues of the collecting societies. When a Swedish song is played overseas, the overseas collecting society sends money back to STIM (an organisation representing Swedish songwriters) in Sweden and vice versa. The ratios are therefore calculated on the money collecting societies sent/received in a given year, and found that STIM is a net exporter. 

Why does Sweden export so much music?

There are many things that help explain Sweden’s large role in the music industry despite its small population. Lately, the growing importance of Swedish streaming platform Spotify has also helped promote Swedish music abroad.

Another explanation for the phenomenon is the strong music interest in Sweden, with the highest number of choirs per capita in the world – 15 percent of Swedes sing in choirs.

The enduring popularity of some Swedish artists such as Abba, Roxette and Avicii also plays a big part in the Swedish music exports.

The report also analysed Spotify exports by region, finding that Swedish music is mostly played in North America (making up 27 percent of Swedish music exports on Spotify) and South America (13 percent) while only 10 percent of Spotify exports were in the other Nordics. 

What makes a song Swedish? With an increasingly global music industry, much of Sweden’s music exports are deemed Swedish as they are written by Swedish songwriters or produced by Swedish producers. The Canadian Government uses a system where at least two out of the four parameters MAPL (music, artist, production, lyrics) must be led by someone of that nationality, which Export Music Sweden suggests using.

Why does it matter?

The report by Export Music Sweden suggests that the Swedish government should invest in reaching an even greater audience as the Swedish industry is approaching market saturation, where almost all available customers of Spotify in Sweden already use the service.

Further growing music exports are the way to do this, bringing Swedish music to new users abroad.

“With 3.5 billion smartphones in circulation the global recorded music market won’t slow down anytime soon,” the report notes, with its authors urging the government to support Swedish music exports.

“Export Music Sweden and the music industry in Sweden has a noticeably modest support for export endeavours compared to e.g. Norway, where the state offers ten times as much,” Jesper Thorsson, CEO at Export Music Sweden, told The Local.

Member comments

  1. It seems to me there is a lot of protection though. Just as an example, it sounds strange that for a country so passionate about Eurovision, the winning song has never been played on the radio throughout the summer. Of course they did not expect an Italian band would win, and it is clear they pretend this never happened. Instead I had to listen to that mediocre Melodie Festivalen winner. Let us be clear: not that I am quite interested in this dispute, but this closure attitude is more general and it is really something I always dislike in a country, the idea of being always the best, even when you are not, because around some other had a better idea. Maybe I should get used to it and focus on other aspects ….

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‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT


Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden