Business News Education & Events Management & Funding The Great Escape 2017

CMU@TGE 2017: Facilitating Export – UK Export Initiatives

By | Published on Friday 26 May 2017

Chris Tams & Bhavesh Patel - The Great Escape 2017

Look out for reports on all the key sessions at the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape over the next few weeks. Plus, from next Monday, we’ll be publishing a series of CMU Trends reports providing more in depth versions of the insight presentations CMU Insights delivered during TGE this year – go premium to access CMU Trends. Today, we look at two UK funding initiatives that support new acts looking to build their audiences overseas, both of which were profiled at TGE last week.

There is no one-stop music export office in the UK, but there are a number of government and industry supported initiatives in this area. As part of the BPI-supported CMU Insights Export Conference at this year’s Great Escape, BPI’s Chris Tams and PRS Foundation’s Bhavesh Patel ran through two of the schemes that support artists and music companies looking to grow their businesses overseas.

Patel started by focussing on the PRS Foundation’s International Showcasing Fund. “This is the result of a partnership between different organisations across the UK music industry”, he explained. “Including Arts Council England, British Underground, PledgeMusic and the Department For International Trade”.

“We have nine different partners across the scheme and everybody collectively puts money into this fund” he added. “The job of the PRS Foundation is then to distribute that money across the industry to help bands and artists build their presence internationally. This involves supporting British acts playing showcase festivals like SXSW, Eurosonic or Reeperbahn – if bands have been invited to play any of those events, then we have grants available to support them in that activity”.

“We work closely with the top tier showcase festivals, so the main criteria for this fund is that you’ve got to have an invite to play one of these festivals directly from the organisers”, he explained. “That’s an initial filtering process. We trust the judgement of a lot of these showcasing festivals, and that invite is the first step to applying for funding”.

Artists also have to demonstrate to the PRS Foundation that they are “export ready”, he added. “If you can show that domestically there is demand for your music, and that there is some interest, say from the local industry, in the other market you plan to play, then that means you have a strong case that can help you get the funding from us”.

Artists who have received International Showcasing Fund funding this year include Dream Wife, to play SXSW, and Anna Meredith, to perform at Eurosonic. In total, between 60 and 80 artists receive this funding per year.

Tams focussed on the Music Export Growth Scheme, which the BPI runs on behalf of the government’s Department Of International Trade. Since launching in January 2014 the scheme has handed over £1.85 million to 131 artists.

“It’s a matched funding scheme”, explained Tams. “MEGS puts 70% in and then the artist, the label, or whoever applies, has to put 30% in. It’s a grant, so you don’t need to repay it, and it’s basically open to anyone who’s a UK-based ‘SME’ – so less than 250 employees or a turnover of less than £50 million”.

“Those SMEs can be labels, artists, management companies, tour agents, promoters, anyone”, he continued. “Roughly about 94% of all the money we’ve given out so far has been given to artists that are working with independent labels”.

With regard to the application process, Tams admits: “It’s fairly laborious process – we make it difficult on purpose, because we want people who have actually got a sound business case. Whereas a lot of funding schemes are based on how great the artist is, we’re more commercially focused, we are looking to back sound business cases. We’re looking at whether or not we think the project will succeed”.

The government provides the funding in order to help grow the UK music industry’s exports, contributing back to the country’s economic growth. “Hence it’s called ‘Music Export Growth Scheme'”, Tams joked. “It’s not the ‘Music Export Go-away-and-have-a-lovely-time-at-SXSW Scheme'”.

Of the expected return, he continued: “We’re looking at, on average, about 10:1 return on investment that we give you. If we give you £10,000 to go on tour somewhere, we want to see at least £100,000 come back to that artist’s business. More than that, if possible”.

“It’s very competitive”, he added of the demand for the funding. “Last round, we had £150,000 to distribute, but we had applications totalling £2.3 million. Those applications come from a diverse range of genres – and for projects involving artists from many different backgrounds. But we don’t have no quotas on genres, or anything like that, projects are selected purely on merit, those that we think are most likely to succeed”.

So what does MEGS specifically fund? “Overseas music-based projects where we can add value and make the difference between a plan happening or not happening. The funding can cover digital marketing, press and PR, promotion, tour support, including the costs of session musicians, travel, per diems, visas. We like projects to be creative and innovative”.

“The applications that really stand out are the ones that are slightly different”, he said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of applications for bands to go and play the same four gigs in America, or the same fifteen gigs in Germany. If you have an application that’s slightly different in any way shape or form, you do tend to stand out”.

“We don’t particularly cover the costs of performing at international showcases, because that’s already covered by PRS Foundation fund”, he added. “But we will fund things like SXSW if it is part of a broader activity. If you do a fifteen date US tour and SXSW is one of your dates, we might be able to fund that. But we have a constant dialogue with PRSF, because you’re not allowed to get public funding for the same thing twice”.

Both panellists then offered tips for filling out funding applications. “It differs for each fund”, said Tams. “We’re looking for you to answer the specific questions on the form. The amount of people that don’t actually answer the questions is unbelievable”.

“There’s an old phrase ‘bullshit baffles brains'”, he continued. “Don’t waffle on. If you have two pertinent points to put over in an application, then just put those two. You don’t need to fill the form up with erroneous details. Certainly for us at MEGS, we’re looking for bands that are going to give us a good return on investment. We’re not a cultural fund. We’re not an arts fund. We are a business fund. We’re looking for a business case. If you are applying for arts funds then you need to tailor your application differently for that”.

Patel said that a lot of that advice applies to the PRSF showcasing fund too. Plus, he repeated, demonstrating some interest for the artist in the country where they are heading is also key. That may be media support or industry interest. “You need to generate that interest from the industry out there”, he went on. “They really have to want to see your band over at SXSW, or Eurosonic, or whichever event is it you’ve been invited to play. Demonstrating that builds a stronger case and foundation for your application”.

Asked about a good case study of a band who had received MEGS funding, Tams picked the Temperance Movement, who had already been discussed in the Export Conference by Phil Middleton from their management firm ATC. “Due to the MEGS funding, they got seen by a tour promoter in Germany”, said Tams. “That promoter then put them on at some Rolling Stones gigs, which gave them a six-figure PRS cheque at the end of the shows. That was a great return for us as a scheme, and obviously a great pay off for the band as well”.

“We have a fairly rigorous reporting structure for those who receive funding to meet”, he added. “We are constantly asked for updates from the government about what the return on investment has been. Since 2014 we’ve probably had about a 10.5-11:1 ROI on all the money we’ve handed out via the fund”.

“Those results don’t come over night”, noted Patel on how you assess the impact of funding. “We’re not expecting bands to go and play whichever festival and then come back the week after and tell us they’ve been offered a tour to go back. Sometimes it takes a year or two to really see the results of doing that show”.

Check out all the reports and resources CMU has published around this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conferences here. Find out more about MEGS funding here, and the PRS Foundation here.