How Swedish pop production predicted Offshore 2.0
This article was previously published for the Forbes Tech Council and was written by our CEO, Emilien Coquard
When people think about offshoring and elite engineering talent pools overseas, they don’t normally make an association with bubblegum pop music — but bear with me. During the late ’90s and early 2000s, a small Swedish music studio was responsible for a phenomenally high percentage of the world’s biggest pop hits. Cheiron Studios innovated upon the formula laid out by Abba and helped put the likes of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys on bedroom walls around the world.
Swedish song developers go global
I know what you’re thinking: What on earth does this have to do with offshoring? Well, prior to this, American and British record labels had preferred to keep things in the house, or at least within the tried-and-tested confines of the two countries. Outside help flew in occasionally, of course, but the idea of alignment between a bunch of Swedish music geeks and the tastes of teenagers in Milwaukee or Manchester wasn’t even on the radar.
But using a secret formula that combined elements of Swedish folk music, an obsession with melody coined “melodic math” and catchy lyrics written in second-language English, Swedish pop took over the planet. Eventually, the major pop label at the time, Jive Records, signed an exclusive deal with Cheiron — in effect bringing them within the organisation. And it paid off. The primary songwriter Karl Sandberg, writing under the pseudonym ‘Max Martin’, continues to have success today and is currently behind only Lennon and McCartney in the all-time U.S. number ones list. But if I had to hazard a guess, you’ve probably never heard his name, which is precisely the intention. If you’re still wondering how this relates to offshore development, keep reading.
Offshore 2.0: The Cheiron approach
Of course, the offshore development metaphor isn’t 100% apt, because Max Martin and his team sat outside of the record labels as an entity. In that regard, it could perhaps be seen as closer to high-end outsourcing. However, what is apt to compare is the culture of collaboration between the headquarters in the UK/U.S. and the “delivery teams” in Sweden, the alignment of the two entities in regards to meeting customer expectation (music buyers: the end user), and the acknowledgment of American and British labels that superior talent lay outside of the Anglosphere. In software development terms, it’s the understanding that Western Europe and North America isn’t just a fierce seller’s market — but that often the skills you need to scale and build innovative offerings lie further afield.
To take the analogy one step further, the songwriting savants at Cheiron had developed a model that worked. Their proven approach of melody and arrangement gave record companies a near-guarantee of success — or at least a far lower chance of failure than simply throwing money at the latest trend. In a similar vein, the most competent offshore partners combine the sourcing of top talent with managed operations and aim to provide long-term value rather than a short-term fix. I told you it would make sense if you could bear with me!
From pop to the present
There exist parallels between the evolution of the modern pop music model and the current space offshore occupies. If we go back to the initial analogy, the Cheiron model built upon the foundations laid by the songwriting houses of decades prior, added a modern twist, and ensured their product was aligned with the priorities of the U.S. and British labels and their end-users. And in the offshore realm, by building upon previous successes within the industry, forward-thinking providers now prioritise long-term value, cultural alignment, and engineer fit — where skills and people are centric to the offering as opposed to simple cost arbitrage.
Similarly, I’ve often discussed offshoring in the concept of possessing a secret weapon when compared to competitors. Could there be a more apt analogy than the success of Jive Records and Cheiron Studios?