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Q&A: Vanessa Reed, PRS For Music Foundation

By | Published on Tuesday 24 September 2013

Vanessa Reed, PRS Foundation

At this year’s CMU-programmed Great Escape convention back in May, Arts Council England chief Alan Davey officially launched the Momentum Music Fund, a new Arts Council-funded programme offering funding to artists looking to take the next step in their careers.

The launch of an Arts Council fund for what some dubbed ‘pop music’ created a little controversy, especially after an interview Davey gave to Radio 4, though following the announcement of the first round of Momentum grants earlier this month, supporters of the scheme are confident they will be able to demonstrate the tangible benefits the new programme offers the UK music community.

The programme is run by the PRS For Music Foundation, which also provides a range of other funding for artists and music organisations. CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke spoke to the Foundation’s Executive Director Vanessa Reed to find out more about what the Momentum Fund is aiming to achieve, the kind of projects being funding, and to get some tips for future applicants.

CC: For the uninitiated, what is the PRS For Music Foundation? Where do you traditionally get your funding?
VR: PRS For Music Foundation is an independent charitable foundation which supports the creation and performance of new music across all genres. It was created just over twelve years ago by the board of the PRS For Music – or then the Performing Right Society – who wanted to establish a fair and transparent way to support music across the UK. We aim to be a major catalyst for the development of new music throughout the country.

PRS For Music donates £1.5 million every year to the Foundation. We use this donation to award grants to artists (songwriters, composers, solo artists, bands, ensembles) and organisations (including promoters, festivals and development agencies).

In order for us to do even more for the UK’s music creators and promoters we work in partnership with other funding bodies and music organisations such as Arts Council England, BBC, Creative Scotland, Musicians Union and British Council to deliver specialist funding programmes like Momentum, New Music Biennial, British Music Abroad and Musicians In Residence in China.

Since 2000, we have awarded over £16 million to 4500 new music projects.

CC: So what’s the Momentum Music Fund?
VR: The Momentum Music Fund supports artists and bands who are at a tipping point in their career and have the potential to breakthrough commercially within the two to three years. This means that we’re looking for artists who can demonstrate a strong business case for financial support as well as outstanding musical talent. It’s supporting both artistic and career development.

Launched at The Great Escape in May this year, Momentum’s initial two year phase will distribute just over £500,000 to around 50-75 artists and bands for projects such as recording, collaborating with producers, UK touring, marketing and PR. We’re awarding grants of between £5000 and £15,000. It’s funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and PRS For Music Foundation, in association with Deezer.

CC: Why has the Arts Council decided to fund artists in this way?
VR: Arts Council England initiated a comprehensive consultation process with the music community to ascertain the needs of emerging artists building their careers in the music industry. PRS For Music Foundation contributed extensively to this consultation process, bringing our experience of supporting musicians for events such as SXSW and for UK touring and leading development programmes.

The overwhelming feedback from this consultation was that the majority of artists face an increasing demand to be ‘market ready’ before being considered by major labels and that seed funding would help to plug this gap, enabling artists to take more control of their career. Like us, the Arts Council strives to be a responsive funding body so this feedback along with research into music industry funding models overseas, gave us a strong case for ACE to launch a pilot fund which we will be evaluating carefully over the next two years.

CC: What are the key criteria for the funding? How do these vary with other PRS For Music Foundation funding schemes?
VR: In all of our schemes, we strive to identify the point in an artist’s career when our funding would make the most difference.

In our assessment of Momentum applications, we’re looking for artists or bands who already have a team around them (eg a manager, booking agent, PR, plugger etc), have already been performing at least club level shows, have released a recording commercially – either direct-to-fan or via an indie label – and have garnered national and specialist press, blog and radio coverage.

Of equal importance to these criteria is the quality of the artist’s music; it must be original -yes, we do get sent applications from covers bands! – demonstrate excellent songwriting, musicianship and fresh ideas.

Across everything we do at PRS For Music Foundation, it’s all about the music first and foremost, so our Momentum criteria don’t vary greatly from our other funding schemes. However, this fund is specifically targeted at artists who may be further ahead than some of the individual artists we support through our quarterly open schemes. Anyone, who’s just starting out should visit our website and sign up to our mailing list to find out about these other opportunities.

CC: What kinds of things were artists looking to fund in the first round of submissions?
VR: On the whole most of the artists and bands we heard from were looking for funding that would support their next recording or UK tour and associated marketing activities. Some artists had more specific requests such as covering the cost of employing other musicians/producers to realise a particular sound or recording or artistic development including arranging and orchestration techniques.

Several also mentioned how important it is to be able to professionalise their operations – for example by being able to properly pay for quality PR. This is helping some of them to move beyond “mates rates” to higher expectations, a stronger position for negotiation and the opportunity to be taken more seriously

CC: Who decides who gets the grants?
VR: The decisions on who receives Momentum funding are made by an independent panel of music industry professionals working in live, labels (major and indie), publishing, radio and press. To make the process fair, each round of Momentum is assessed by a different panel of advisors. Through our partnership with BBC radio, we also involve a BBC DJ in each panel. Target (1Xtra) and Jen Long (Radio 1) contributed to our first round of panels.

CC: What sorts of things were funded with the first round?
VR: The first set of Momentum-funded artists received grants for recording albums, working with top flight producers, UK touring, marketing, PR and promotions, adding to live show production, working with musicians to further the arrangements of their work and studio time to develop musical arrangement and writing skills.

CC: How will the successful applicants be monitored and feedback?
VR: Each artist will have to complete an evaluation of their supported project so we can monitor the outcomes in relation to their initial aims, objectives and business case. It’s crucial for the future of this scheme that we and Arts Council England understand its impact.

Momentum as a whole is being evaluated for its effectiveness and success by an independent consultant. This evaluation will enable us to look at the extent to which we’re meeting the demand for this kind of funding, the impact it has on individual artists and what this means for future funding policies at PRSF and Arts Council England (and beyond). We expect to be considering the results of our first rounds of funding in early autumn 2014.

CC: What tips would you have for people applying for funding in future rounds?
VR: First, be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you are at the right point in your career for Momentum funding. If an artist does not currently have a team around them there are other routes into funding that PRS For Music Foundation and Arts Council England can offer and this may help them get to the Momentum level at a later stage.

Second, make your business case and budget for the project or activity to be funded comprehensive and watertight. Our panel of advisors need to be able to see that any funding offered to an artist is going to be used as effectively as possible, maximising return on the investment for the artist and for the fund.

And third, ensure you can clearly demonstrate your career and track record to date. Applications are strengthened by good evidence of radio play and press/blog coverage, festivals, showcases and live dates already undertaken. We also need to know about your fanbase so please include numbers, web analytics and social media insights.

CC: Tell us about the Deezer partnership – how does that work?
VR: In our exploration of potential streaming partners for Momentum, we discovered that Deezer immediately connected with our focus on supporting emerging artists so the partnership came together very quickly.

They’ve injected cash into the funding pot so that we can fund more bands, and, together, we will be launching a Momentum Deezer app where you will be able to get the latest news, interviews and tracks from the funded artists. It will be available on the Deezer desktop and to download on Android devices. In the coming weeks we will be announcing another exciting promotional opportunity exclusively for Momentum-funded artists through Deezer. Watch this space!

For more information about the Fund click here.