Music is deep-rooted in Faroese culture. Before the late introduction of instruments in the mid-1800s, Faroe Islanders would sing ballads, lullabies and hymns using only their voices. In recent decades, Faroese artists have been able to make a living from music, through international connection. Some have reached international audiences, but to date, these efforts have had limited institutional support.

The next step in the evolution of Faroese music is to develop opportunities for better connections between artists and the international music market.

Leading that effort is UK native Fred Ruddick. He is the newly appointed head of Faroe Music Export (FMX), a government-run music export office, founded in 2019. One of its first tasks has been to undertake an appraisal of the entire Faroese music industry.

“First and foremost, we need to understand what we already have here,” says Fred Ruddick. “We need, amongst other things, a broad overview of companies, content, venues and opportunities, as well as an understanding of how funding works for music. It is an ongoing process, and by gaining a good basic insight, we can start to find areas where we can best inject ideas and opportunities.”

One of FMX’s first local projects is a collaboration with Faroese national broadcaster, Kringvarp Føroya. A new series, called “Í Luftini”, translated as ’on-air’, will feature live studio performances by current artists releasing music. Launched in October, it airs every few weeks on national television and is shared online via FMX’s website.

When an artist releases music, they create assets to accompany their music, such as videos, press photography and live performance videos. These assets enable artists to connect to markets. Artists featured on the series will be able to share the content with their audiences and future business partners.

“Storytelling in music is essential,” says Fred Ruddick. “This collaboration works very well for everyone involved. For Kringvarp Føroya to share new Faroese music with the Faroe Islands, for the artists to have high-quality content and for FMX to tell the story of new Faroese music as it happens.”

Although FMX is involved in helping to create opportunities for artists, artists themselves must also work hard to connect their music. FMX is there to amplify people’s efforts.

“We have, for example, shared possible PR courses with artists, to help them prepare and undertake this when they request PR work. We’re duty-bound to talk to people, support and guide them with ideas and opportunities, but we cannot supply inside business services for any company or individual. It is very much up to them to do the work.”

Although he has worked at FMX for less than a year, Fred Ruddick has been connecting Faroese artists to the outside world for much longer.

As booker and creative director at the Faroese music festival, G! Festival, for four years, he regularly helped Faroese artists with promotional packages, biographies. He introduced them to outside agencies when appropriate. At times he would feel frustrated with how things did or did not work locally and experienced a conflict of interest in selling a festival ticket and wanting to develop the Faroese music industry.

“On paper, I was selling a festival, but I have always worked for music. I have always put the artist first. In terms of development, I understood and felt many of the gaps that exist here.”

Functioning as an export office under the Ministry of Industry, FMX can connect with industry without being compromised with any other agenda than export and best music practice.

“Having an export office helps the country because it gives agencies from abroad a point of contact and an official office that has a responsibility and commitment to music. Without us, it is less easy to connect.”

International opportunities have been minimal in recent months as the music world struggles to cope with the dire effects of Covid-19. Tour cancellations, a decrease in digital streaming growth and plummeting physical album sales, among other products, mean the music industry stands at the forefront of industries that have taken one of the greatest hits during the pandemic.

“Storytelling in music is essential”

A June report by the National Independent Venue Association in the United States indicated that 90 per cent of independent music venues in the US could close forever as a result of the pandemic.

A Musician’s Union report in the United Kingdom says a third of British musicians could leave the industry due to financial losses. A recent Oxford Economics study suggests that the global live music industry could take three to four years to recover fully.

Covid-19 has also affected the Faroese music industry and had a significant impact on FMX’s plans during the first year. Fred Ruddick has had to cancel nine international trips and seen many projects put on ice for the foreseeable future.

“I have made some plans and then changed some plans. The year has completely turned on its head. The Faroese music industry has taken a huge hit. We cannot even begin to quantify the loss, not only of money but also opportunities.”

Faroese artists have lost huge sums of money because of tour cancellations. FMX has supported the industry by speaking to the government about the challenges artists are facing. The support packages have helped but need to be more focused, according to Fred Ruddick.

“The intention of the support packages was correct. But we need them to work effectively, primarily supporting artists who make music professionally. In the current state, we feel they fall short of this.”

The effects of Covid-19 have also resulted in more music being produced globally. This trend also applies to Faroese artists, with many releasing albums and singles in 2020.

One of the islands’ most treasured artists, Eivør, was forced to cancel her autumn 2020 tour. On a brighter note, her recently released album, called Segl, has received glowing reviews, and she gave a digital live stream release concert in the Nordic House in Torshavn, Faroe Islands capital, in October. The event had a socially distanced audience of 100 people in attendance, with a ticketed stream accessible worldwide.

“You need to adapt to any given circumstance. It is a period of consolidation and reflection. Also, of strategic thought on how to move on.”

Despite the current state of the music industry, Fred Ruddick is optimistic about the future.

“When you experience this level of depression, you see a boom when it is over. For example, people will be delighted to stand in a queue! They will be only too happy to suffer what they previously did, to experience live music again, so in the long term, it could have a positive effect on business.”

Fred Ruddick sees opportunities to work on the locals’ perception of the Faroese music industry. It has earned more respect than it is given.

“We need an evolution of thought about music in the Faroe Islands. We need people to respect music as an industry and a form of income. There are great opportunities for Faroe Islanders to develop international music careers, and many who already do it, largely because of the digital revolution that has produced platforms like Spotify.”

Fred Ruddick recognises it is early days and points out that having realistic goals will help create success stories.

“When the export office was founded, the press reported that FMX was going to make Faroese music world famous. I spoke to the journalist and explained that when Faroese football got their first manager, they did not expect to win the World Cup. But there is significant, meaningful success to be achieved and enjoy, between where we are now and qualifying for the World Cup.”

Listen to music from the Faroe Islands on FMXs playlist on Spotify.