How Iceland is revamping its music industry infrastructure
Photos provided by Leifur Björnsson
Since 1999, Iceland has attracted some of the most renowned filmmakers through its film production refund program. Given the picturesque landscapes, it proved to be a lucrative initiative, pulling the likes of The Game of Thrones and Star Wars. Now, Iceland is trying to repeat that success in music, creating the Record in Iceland initiative. Composium sat down with Leifur Björnsson, the program's project manager, to learn more.

Leifur himself has been in the industry for over 20 years, juggling different hats. Doing everything from marketing management to computer science, Leifur always played and recorded music. When his band Low Roar started to take off, the artist realized just how difficult it was to grow due to the lack of the music industry's infrastructure in Iceland.
Because of that, Björnsson and his bandmates had to operate out of LA to work with their management and record label. "Bands need a lot of support in growing their teams, and my experience as a touring and recording artist has been very helpful [in building this initiative] – there's not a lot of it here," he says. "It's a unique situation: the resources are so limited but the talent stays raw, not driven by any idea of commerce success [but rather] creativity."

So, when he was offered to become project manager, Leifur took the opportunity immediately. Given how successful the film refund program has been, the music refund program raised a lot of hope when it launched in 2019. The initiative was designed in the most artist-friendly way: anyone could apply for the 25% refund as long as at least 14 minutes of the recorded music is released within 18 months apart from each other.

When 2020 rolled in, however, most studio bookings fell through due to the pandemic, so the initiative largely relied on the film program for soundtrack and audio gigs.
Photo credits: Vinny Wood. Studio Silo
As the restrictions eased and country borders opened, the program quickly got back on track (pun intended). The numbers speak for themselves: since launch, there were 324 reimbursements, amounting to $1,006,636. While the first two years the program relied on local artists who've had small production costs, 2021 and 2022 accounted for around 70% of that payout, according to Leifur. "Most of the applications during Covid were from local artists and record labels but that was good for the program because [we] got it rolling smoothly before the big clients came in," the project manager explains.

There's also been an uptick in film and TV orchestral recordings. In fact, a famous Icelandic film composer moved back to Iceland during the pandemic and was able to stay in business for his foreign clients because the country had facilities to record the orchestra.

Going to Hollywood together with the director of the film refund program, Björnsson was able to meet with people who are planning to shoot movies in Iceland. "Cultivating these Hollywood relationships resulted in more audio productions of the highest caliber taking place in Iceland," he conveys. "There is a lot of interest amongst the major production companies in the US. We've already seen audio productions here for Netflix and The BBC." There is a leading production coming to do its next score, and there are talks with a gaming giant.
At the same time, the two attend showcase festivals, talking to artists, managers, and labels to further promote the idea. The director noticed that Iceland's stunning scenery was able to lure musicians just as well as film directors. "There's a lot of interest in choosing Iceland as a destination to travel," Leifur notes, adding that the geolocation allows it to be a transition stop between countries for touring artists.

With these initiatives and projects started across the entertainment industry, the Iceland government hopes to become a global creative hub in the Atlantic. A lot of it has to do with fostering home-grown talent, educating its citizens, and generating local jobs so that artists don't have to leave to propel their careers like Leifur once did. "What would make this progress a success is that we would have a lot of local studios that can produce music on the highest production level [and] a lot of people working in audio production locally," the project manager shares.

As Björnsson tells me, there are a number of prominent projects in the works to support this movement. It will take time, but from what it seems, Iceland has a strong foundation to become a robust creative hub in the heart of the Atlantic.
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