With over 25 years of experience in the production music space, Patrick Appelgren has spent the last two decades leading the Nordic region of Universal Production Music and more recently as Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Prior to that, he was a member of a successful 80s band that made it big in Japan and returned to releasing albums in 2006. Off the back of previous interviews with his peers like Armand Thomassian, I was able to stop by Patrick’s offices and chat about his work and career.
– Hi Patrick. Pleasure to be speaking with you. Can you tell me about your beginnings in the music world and how you got started?
Of course. It started with my parents buying me a piano when I was seven and sending me to music school in the third grade. At age fifteen I started listening to bands like The Beatles andDeep Purple, and I took interest in keyboards thanks to guys like Jon Lord and Keith Emerson. I loved how they played B3, so I got my brother to buy me one and that’s how I really got into music. I later became the keyboard player in a band called Treat.
I sometimes pinch myself when thinking about it. It was fantastic to be in a band that played big stages, recorded at prominent studios and supported major bands. We performed all around the world, from Japan to multiple European countries. That said, we weren’t stars like Queen and the tour life isn’t wasn’t always glamorous; we slept in bunks on the bus until it was time to eat and wait for the show to begin. Then we played our hearts out, took a shower and went back to sleep whilst the bus took us to the next city. It had a rough side to it, but we had fun nonetheless.
– There’s a notion of being “big in Japan” which seems to be something that Treat attained. Tell me about that.
We first came to Japan in 1990 and it was a crazy experience. A fan grabbed hold of my hair and pulled a chunk out, so it was very different from the European scene. We got off the plane thinking no-one would recognize us, but we ran into a crowd of people holding welcome signs, so we had to go back inside and wait for the promoter to come get us (laughs). We loved it and returned to Japan in 2015, 2017 and 2018 to play shows with Europe.
– In which countries did Treat achieve the most album sales?
Europe, Sweden and Japan are the biggest markets for us. We were an album-centric band, so streaming wasn’t our main focus. Our main supporters were diehard fans who bought physical albums, so we wouldn’t put out any music if it wasn’t for them.
– Do you know how many records Treat sold in total?
I have no idea (laughs). I think our best-selling album was “Organized Crime” in 1989. We sold more CDs back then, whereas today I don’t even know how many streams we have. To be honest, I mainly make music for fun because my real job is at Universal Production Music. Treat is a hobby at this point, so we’re grateful for whatever money it generates.
– Treat disbanded in 1993 and later reformed in 2006. Why did the initial breakup happen and how did that affect you?
We all wanted to do something different once the early 90s arrived, but grunge music had become one of the biggest rock genres and we didn’t feel like competing with that, so we chose to break things up. I went to work for a production music company called Match Music. One of their staff members was on maternity leave and they needed someone to fill the spot so I jumped in to help with things like sales, admin work and mailing out CDs. They eventually hired me full-time and I became their first Nordic employee, though I still played keyboards as a side gig.
– What was it like working for Match Music and how was the production music industry like back then?
It was a fun time. The label had about 50 albums when I started and everything was done using CDs. We’d place orders with the warehouse that kept our inventory and send the CDs to different production companies. By visiting clients and looking at how many of our albums were on their walls, we could figure out our market-share. The CDs were stacked alongside each other according to labels like KPM and Extreme, so we’d make sure clients had all our new releases.
The business back in the 90s and 2000s was entirely B2B. A production company or agency would make some content for a brand or a broadcaster, and we’d provide them with music by either working with their Music Supervisor or sending them a box with hundreds of CDs to look through. A similar format was used at Universal when we sent out drives with MP3s.
– When I interviewed Adam Taylor about APM’s work in the 2000s, he said they’d send CDs to clients as a complimentary gesture and expected them to pay for the usage. Did you do the same?
Yes, there wasn’t any audio detection back then, so we trusted our clients to pay for any usage. In the event someone used our music without licensing, we’d call the broadcaster to get the name of the production company that made the show. Then we’d reach out to them and say, “We heard our music in your program and it doesn’t appear that you’ve licensed it. We’ll send you the bill “. But that didn’t happen too often. We always prioritized good client relationships and regularly asked if they’d found something usable in our CDs. They might say, “Yeah, I found something that works for a TV commercial “, so we’d look at the price list and send them an invoice.
– How did you go from Match Music to working for Universal?
Match Music was eventually bought by BMG, which led to us centralizing the Nordic operations to Stockholm and closing the CD warehouse. BMG also bought Zomba in 2002, an acquisition that included several labels like Bruton and Galerie. It made BMG a major player since Zomba was one of their main competitors, and they were renamed to BMG Zomba Production Music. Universal later bought BMG Publishing in 2007 and I decided to remain at the company. As a result, most of my current Nordic staff have been with me for 20+ years
– Regarding the company, I’ve heard some people say “Universal Publishing Nordics” and others “Universal Publishing Scandinavia”. Which one is correct?
Some people call us “Scandinavia” and others say “Sweden”, but the correct name is “Nordics” because we also cover Finland which isn’t included in Scandinavia. There are nine countries that we administer in total: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
– What kind of music do your clients typically request and what market needs does Sweden have for production music?
Clients need all types of music in the B2B space. You’ll eventually get someone asking, “Do you have any bad music? I need something that’s poorly produced and sounds unimpressive “. So we produce a wide range to cover all areas, which means working with composers that can make both high and low-grade stuff.
It wouldn’t make sense for Sweden to produce country and Western music for the Nashville market since Nashville does that quite well already. So we started building a local roster of composers some years ago, and we encouraged them to service the local Nordic market with our own sound, which isn’t always Swedish folk music. Scandinavian crime dramas like “The Killing” or “The Bridge”, aren’t using folk music, yet that sound has become associated with the Nordics, so we focus on that.
With scripted shows, a majority of them have score composers who work on them exclusively, but production music still gets used to fill in the gaps. We have relationships with most editors and supervisors in our markets, so we help with that also.
– How big is the Universal Production Music catalog and how much of it is owned by you?
The catalog we represent changes occasionally, but I believe it’s around 630,000 unique tracks worldwide. Majority of our repertoire is owned by us but we also represent third-party labels, some of whom have expertise in certain genres. If they have enough albums to fill a gap in our catalog, then it makes sense for us to distribute them.
– With one of the bigger catalogs around, how is Universal able to make its offerings accessible to its clients? I’ve heard from others in the industry that oversized catalogs make it hard to find the right track for ones needs. What are your thoughts on that?
I disagree. It would be different if we were stuck with CDs, but search engines have made things easier across the board. Whether searching amongst 30,000 or 630,000 tracks, the experience is largely the same, and the latter has a better chance at providing a relevant result with more options for the user. Our engines allow for granular searching and we have other technology to let you search across the whole library too. Additionally, our music supervisors are ready to provide music for our clients should they need help finding something specific, though most people end up navigating just fine on their own. To put it simply, you can either be a small grocery store or a big one, and Universal is obviously the latter.
– Moving forward, how do you see Universal Production Music Nordics expanding its business?
That’s a good question. As with most things, any potential expansion starts with having good contact with our clients, but in today’s online space with millions of YouTubers it’s impossible to contact all of them about their needs. Most would rather search for their own music and buy it using subscriptions. But that said, we have solutions for anyone who wants music for media and we hope to be able to communicate that moving forward.
– Thanks for talking to me Patrick. It’s been a pleasure. What does the rest of the year look like for you and Universal Production Music?
We’re excited to expand the Nordic catalog, onboard new composers, and work more inclusively and reasonably with initiatives like 100% HER, which is super fun and important to us. We weren’t able to do in-person meetings with our staff during the pandemic, so I look forward to meeting people in-person again, to hear their needs and to get updated on industry trends.