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#InConversationWith Leifur Björnsson - All you need to know about Record In Iceland Programme

Leifur Björnsson  Iceland Music

"The main agenda with the audio production initiative is to build music industry infrastructure locally and to build Iceland as the creative hub that we want it to be, and as it should be"

Did you know that you can take your band to record in Iceland and get a reimbursement for 25% of the recording costs? Well, that is what the Record in Iceland programme is all about.

For this week's #InConversationWith we sat down with Leifur Björnsson, Project Manager at Iceland Music, to unpack everything that is behind Record in Iceland, understand the context of its creation, its objectives, challenges and impacts.

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Tell us a bit about your career path and your current role in the Iceland Music Office. How did you get to this point in your career, professionally?

I grew up on rock and metal and was in bands from a young age. Iceland is a very small place, with only 400 thousand inhabitants so the platform for original music there is pretty limited. Over the years, I started getting into projects that had more international relevance, working on records and touring outside of Iceland, in the UK and France at first. One of my bands took off and I spent a few years touring the States and Europe intensively. After getting somewhat tired of the road, I came back to Iceland and was involved in starting a record label with a couple of friends. The label got sold at the end of year ‘21 which was when I joined Iceland Music Export. Because of my previous experience as a recording and internationally touring artist, I’m involved in the export activities we work on mostly. That’s bringing export ready bands from Iceland to showcase festivals for example, as well as managing the Record in Iceland project.

Now, let's talk about the Record in Iceland programme. We know that the programme is inspired by the Film In Iceland initiative. What are the results of that initiative that caught the attention of Iceland’s Music Office and how do you think they will translate into the music ecosystem?

The film initiative started some 20+ years ago, so there is already a lot of data on the benefits of that initiative. That program is also a government funded refund program for film production happening in Iceland. What we have seen that program bring to Iceland, is that now we have the knowhow and infrastructure to be able to support top level productions, which was not the case before the initiative started. A side effect is that it makes Iceland an attractive destination for travellers, so if they’ve seen shots from Iceland in Batman or whatever, they want to visit. The main agenda with the audio production initiative is to build music industry infrastructure locally and to build Iceland as the creative hub that we want it to be, and as it should be.

We guess that convincing the government to reimburse recording costs might not be an easy task to do. What was the process for getting this initiative approved?

Well.. Iceland is a very small town, the degree of separation is fairly low so I guess if you compare it to another country, the process was pretty straight forward. We had the film initiative already in place, with data backing up the economical benefits of that program. The audio production budgets are obviously always going to be small in comparison to the film budgets so it was not a very difficult sell to get them to add the audio production part.

Inspired by Film In Iceland

What would you say is the main objective of the Record In Iceland initiative? Is it linked to developing the local music industry, is it linked to a music export objective, is it linked to a tourism objective, or all of them?

Yes it’s a mix of these things but perhaps not so much focused on tourism, that is merely a side product of these initiatives. The long term goal is to build an infrastructure within the creative industries in Iceland for the country to become a true creative hub in the centre of the Atlantic. Like we’ve seen happen with the film for example, that now we finally have production companies in Iceland that are able to service top level productions. The problem that we’ve had in Iceland is that our talent has to leave the country very early, or as soon as they start showing international potential in their art. That is because we desperately lack the infrastructure here to be able to support the artist with what they need to grow their international careers. From that perspective, there is a music export angle there along with developing the local music industry.

How do you measure the success of the project?

What long term success of the project would look like to me, is that we’d have more music companies here in Iceland working internationally, like agencies, management companies, record labels etc. We already have artists that are doing very well internationally, we have world class recording studios that are able to facilitate everything up to top quality orchestral recordings, but we are still lacking more music industry infrastructure on the business side. I am hoping that this will be the long term impact of the project. The main goal that we are aiming towards is to make Iceland a creative hub for the creative industries. In the past our forte has been exporting art with international appeal, but now we can be more intentional about making use of our geographical location plus the country being an attractive and epic travel destination.

Iceland Creative Hub

We’ve heard that the Iceland Airwaves Festival has a significant impact in deseasonalizing tourism during the winter season. Is the Record In Iceland initiative linked to this strategy of the Icelandic Airwaves Festival in any way? (maybe to extend the stay of arriving musicians?)

Yes, so when Iceland Airwaves first started out, this was the agenda, to have something happening during the slow season in tourism. This is not the case today because tourism has grown very fast and is spreading throughout the entire year at this point, but with stummer still being the busiest time. I know a handful of cases of musicians that have come here to play the festival, crossing the Atlantic, and extending their stay to make a recording and make use of the Record in Iceland refund program. It is pretty clever actually. The airline will allow for up to a week of layover for free, and you only have to release 14 minutes of the recording sessions to be eligible for a refund. That way, you can offset a large portion of your budget of travelling because costs of travel and lodging can be included in the budget. I’ll add that some conditions apply that people can read about on our website’s Q&A's section. Also if people are seriously thinking of making use of the refund initiative, I encourage them to get in touch with us and figure out what’s possible and how to best make use of the initiative in their production. 

It seems that getting the reimbursement is quite easy and straightforward. You don't actually need a previous approval to be eligible for it.

The program is designed to be easy to use to make it more attractive. Coming to Iceland to record and work on music is already a serious commitment and most of the time investment also. When the budget is submitted after the material has been released, it requires the books and receipts to be in order and all costs submitted to be backed up with invoices and receipts of payment. It was decided not to have a pre-approval process or a budget minimum on the recording initiative as it is with the film initiative to make the project more accessible and attractive for music professionals to use. There is an independent committee issued by the ministry of culture and business, who go over the budgets submitted and double check if all adds up.

Record in Iceland application process

What are the requisites for studios to be part of the programme?

Any studio in Iceland that can issue a legal invoice can be a part of the programme.

Are there any similar projects in Iceland where musicians get similar types of subsidies?

I can’t really think of anything similar in Iceland that’s available to international artists. There are some project funds that are available to local artists, for recording and writing for example, but they are exclusive to artists paying their tax in Iceland. I am hoping that in the future we’ll have a similar initiative for music videos made in Iceland. For obvious reasons but I’m asked about that a lot. To say when or how that will happen is too early though.

Are you interested in recording an album in Iceland? Then head to the Record In Iceland website to explore everything related to this programme.

Record in Iceland

Did you enjoyed unpacking this music initiative? Do you want to connect with other music professionals and advocates that are is using music to promote social, cultural and economic development in its community? Then join the Music Cities Community.

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