“Making music is just what I do… I never thought anyone would give me money for it.”
I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve heard this from songwriters and bands. But they couldn’t be more wrong. As long as you are prepared to do a bit of legwork there really are oodles of options out there – including the PRS for Music Foundation, the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund and particularly – if you happen to live in England – Arts Council England’s funding scheme Grants for the arts.
“The Arts Council? They just fund opera.”
Yeah, I used to hear that all the time too. Nowadays thankfully, not so much. Off the top of my head in the North I can think of numerous promoters, festivals, commissions, showcasing events and bands that have benefitted from thousands of pounds of Grants for the Arts funding.
So what sort of thing can I apply for?
First and foremost, the project has to be relevant to you and where you are in your career. I generally recommend the best way to get started is to get an application in for something relatively simple like a small tour. Then build from there. Now there are certain things you have to get your head around first – Grants for the arts is bound by certain rules and goodness knows the guidance can be pretty dry, but persevere. If you don’t get to grips with it, chances are you’ll miss out on the cold, hard cash. It all seems pretty alien to begin with but trust me, once it clicks, you will be able to rattle off an application in your sleep.
A brief word on funding recordings…
I get asked a lot about getting funding to make recordings and have to be honest that in my experience, this is a challenge. Not a total impossibility but certainly a challenge. You’re up against trying to make the case for public benefit, arguments about market distortion … all sorts. That said, there are ways to make recordings happen. If, for example you are producing a relatively cheap run of albums that demonstrably offset the cost of a tour; or if you are archiving a project; or perhaps creating something for free digital distribution, then you will make a stronger case. There is a piece of guidance you can look at here.
How to go about this:
READ THE GUIDANCE
First things first, read the blurb online. Yes this is tedious but I swear it will save you time in the long run. I’ve lost track of the amount of applicants that could have saved themselves a great deal of heartache had they taken that little bit more time at the beginning. There’s even a set of helpful videos there to walk you through thr process. It will save you messing up the form and will answer a bunch of your questions.
LEARN THE LINGO
This is lottery money, it’s the public sector, so you need to get to grips with the sort of language to use. For example, think less about self-promotion and more about public benefit; less about shifting units and more about how a project will develop you artistically; less about fans and crowds and more about engagement, reach and diversifying audiences.
ASK SOME QUESTIONS
Arts Council England has a dedicated, knowledgeable and downright helpful bunch of folk on the end of a phone – at 0845 300 6200 – who will be only too happy to answer general queries.
PLAN YOUR PROJECT
Most bands realise that these days, you need to be savvy about all aspects of the business, from marketing to tour-planning. Get your dates sorted, work out the budgets, make sure it all makes sense.
DO IT RIGHT
We’re talking thousands of pounds – it’s worth taking a bit of time over. Once you are at the stage of making an application, read it through, check the numbers add up. Then read it through again.
IF YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL
Spread the word! Let folk know that this can be for them. Your music is art and just as valid as anything in an opera hall or gallery.
It is lottery money – We’ve all heard about funding cuts but as long as people keep buying Lotto tickets, this fund will keep on giving.
There are no deadlines – It is a rolling programme that runs throughout the year, every year. You are only limited by the start date of your project (see the guidance but basically you’re looking at having to submit the form at least 6 weeks before you kick off).
Unlimited lives – It is not a case of ‘get rejected once and that’s it’. If you are unsuccessful, pick yourself up, get some advice and then apply again. If you are applying for less than £15K, you will get a decision within six weeks.
Lastly – don’t be put off, this really is do-able. Good luck and keep fighting the good fight.
I am obliged to say that these thoughts are subjective, my own and do not represent official Arts Council policy