Have You Ever Been Funded?

Today I’m in Edinburgh with Amplified, at the ‘Talent Development Symposium’, co-sponsored by Festivals Edinburgh and The Arts Council. The Amp stuff will be posted at http://www.amplified10.com/tds10/, and there’s already a post I’ve put up there with a series of questions that face The Arts Sector.

So one thing I thought it’d be good to chat about is funding, and experiences with funding thus far. So, as the title says, have you ever been funded?

  • Ever had money from the Arts Council, the PRS, any other grant body, in order to do your art?
  • Ever been on a grant funded tour?
  • What was your experience?
  • Ever felt like you missed out on funding due to a lack of communication about where it was available?
  • Ever been helped out by the Musicians Union in finding funding?

Would be great to hear your experiences, the good the bad and the ugly, and how things could’ve been done better…

Over to you, arty types:

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  1. As a band we have applied for – but have never received – any funding from any grant body. We’ve always been unsure why, as we would think that we’re ideal candidates – a small, apparently “niche” or “specialist” (whatever that means) band, entirely self-funded, with a growing back catalogue of work that has attracted a decent amount of national press/radio play, who have toured the UK and Europe pretty extensively for the last few years building up a small but fairly dedicated fanbase. Its got to the stage now though where we’ve had to take some time off from playing live as all our equipment is in serious need of repair, and we’ve literally spent all our money. And plenty we didn’t have in the first place.

    We’ve been turned down for funding a few times, most recently to attend the NXNE festival in Toronto which we had been invited to play. To make the tour make more financial sense, and to make the funding more worthwhile I had organised a whole Canadian tour around this event, including sessions and interviews at a number of radio stations around the country as well as gigs in venues and at house parties. I had to organise all this in advance as not only did we feel it would massively strengthen our application, but also because we suspected that it would take so long to process that if we waited for the application to come through there wouldn’t be time to organise anything before we left! This turned out to be very accurate, as we only found out a short time before we left that our funding had been declined, and as we couldn’t afford the plane tickets ourselves (as we’d previously spent all our money on the band up to this point) we had to cancel the entire project, letting down a large number of people who had agreed to help us out purely out of the goodness of their hearts. Which, as prolific DIY promoters ourselves in the north east of england, we felt dreadful about. We’d spent literally weeks organising everything – scouring the internet researching Canadian venues/DIY promoters/magazines/radio stations & shows, not to mention car hire/hotels/etc. – so to see it all go up in smoke was pretty disheartening.

    It pretty much knocked the stuffing out of us, especially as we weren’t even given a reason as to why funding was declined. We felt like it was a fairly bullet proof application, although we understand there must be a large number of bands in a similar situation – we definitely don’t feel as if we have a god given right to get funding or anything like that. But, on the whole, the whole process meant that we spent weeks away from actually making music, let down a whole load of people who were kind/foolish enough to put their faith in complete strangers they’d only spoken to briefly over the internet, and ultimately ended up feeling completely dejected and demotivated. A totally negative experience!

    It probably sounds like we’re bitter, but we’re truly not – we’ve just decided that as making music is something that we really love doing that it should be its own reward, and if that means we have to constantly lose money to do it then so be it. We’ve had to move back in with our families to continue to survive as musicians after 10 years of living away from our home as proper adults, but there’s no way we can even afford to rent a place and continue being a band, so what can you do? As depressing a thought as that may be, at least its not as depressing as funding! We’re not even concerned with ‘making it’ as a band, as most bands that ‘make it’ seem to completely suck – making music is just something we feel like we have to do to stay sane.

    This is just one example, we’ve also tried to get involved with the Arts Council to help set up music workshops (similar to the US Rock & Roll Camp For Girls), small independent festival, etc. all to no avail. Working as DIY promoters we brought bands from all over the world (Melt Banana & The Warm from Tokyo, Kid Commando from Gothenburg, Death Sentence: Panda from San Francisco, Persil from Amsterdam, etc. etc.) to Middlesbrough, Teesside – somewhere where they almost certainly would never have played were it not for our hard work. We never made a penny out of it, as we wanted to keep door prices as low as possible so anyone who wanted to come could afford to – Teesside is not an affluent area. We never received any funding help whatsoever, but it was still worth it. Obviously we are in touch with a large amount of people in the arts, and we’ve seen a number of heavily funded projects flush so much money down the toilet on stuff that really is doing no good at all other than attempting to justify an arts organisation’s own existence… that’s pretty depressing. I can’t give any examples as I’d get in trouble, but that’s what we’ve experienced. Its all led to a feeling of “how come these self-serving charlatans keep getting tens of thousands of pounds of funding each year to just fritter away on nonsense, and we can’t even get a penny for either our music, or other projects that would actually be worthwhile?” Over time time the answer has become clear to us – this is the nub of this whole rant:

    *clears throat*

    In order to get any kind of meaningful funding, you have to become an expert at applying for funding. You have to dedicate your whole mind, soul and being to chasing funding. You have to become a Funding Chaser. And, when you get that funding, and because you’re prepared to do anything to get it – to tick any box, to water down your ideas, to forget about what it was you were applying for funding to do in the first place – because of all that… your project will suck, and you will have become One Of Them. A Funding Chaser.

    This is why we’ve decided to completely forget about ever applying for funding ever again, even if it means living the rest of our lives in abject poverty. At least we won’t suck.

  2. thanks Andy, It certainly doesn’t sound like you’re alone in your experience. I’ve seen this from a few different angles – I’ve done one tour that was funded (a Jazz Services UK tour with Theo Travis, for which we got £1500 but had to spend some of it on magazine ads that clearly weren’t going to do any good at all…), I’ve seen a lot of projects go without funding that they were told they would ‘almost certainly’ get and then struggle to stay out of bankruptcy. In my own career, I’ve avoided it entirely, instead pursuing ways of making music that don’t require any outside assistance. Which has, obviously, put me in a more resilient position because everything I have to make music with is built around long term sustainability.

    I’ll see if I can put your story to some of the funding people here today, and see what they say!

  3. That’d be great, at least I wouldn’t just be venting into thin air then, thanks!

    Oh yes, we had a similar experience another time when we were specifically asked by a certain arts council/prs funded ‘musicdevelopment service’ based in the north to put together an application for In The City in Manchester. *They* approached *us*. So naturally we did it, and spent a lot of time again away from making music putting said application together. The impression was definitely given to us that they were very keen to put us on. Guess what? Yep, we got turned down. We got turned down even though they requested we apply! I was livid. We’ve since known other people to have other problems with them being messed around in a variety of interesting, creative ways.

    A lot of these services just seem to act as middle-man ‘funding hoovers’, sucking up all the funding allocated to an area that would have been better spent going direct to the people that need it, as their means of redistribution are so haphazard. But, unfortunately, they’re experts at getting funding.

    I do agree that its a difficult issue – as much as we put up with losing money in order to continue making music I suppose at least we’re in a position where we can actually afford to do so. Its not like our families are amazingly well off or anything, but at least they have a spare room in their houses where we can live. Not everyone is that lucky, and that’s where funding should be very useful. I’m just not convinced that it often finds its way to the right people, and whilst a whole industry exists to cream off as much funding as possible and redistribute it in as ineffective and nepotistic way as possible, I’m not sure this can ever be fixed. In which case perhaps that funding should be cut, meaning that we have to make fewer cutsto make in the health and education sectors? Bleak, I know… but aren’t we artists/musicians a little self-important anyway a lot of the time? I love art and music, but I can’t appreciate it without a working body and brain.

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