For anyone that hasn’t been living underground for the past decade, it’s hardly news that it’s tougher than ever to secure enough funds to bankroll your musical endeavours, let alone make a living off of them.
These days, musicians are constantly on the lookout for new revenue streams that, far from allowing them to buy mansions and sports cars, will hopefully allow them to do things like tour or record an album.
One option that has come into larger prominence in the last few years is the music grant. But securing a grant can often be a tough, competitive, complicated, and even confusing process, with many potential pitfalls that could see a deserving band miss out on much-needed funds.
Considering the logistics involved, you can see why the music industry didn’t exactly jump for joy when the Federal Government announced a diversion of funds from the Australia Council, who serve as the government’s arts funding and advisory body, to the Arts Ministry.
Rodney Hall, a former chair of the Australia Council, slammed the cuts to the Australia Council as a “disaster”, saying, “Central to [the concern of the Australia Council has been] to bypass the possibility that the public money could get into the hands of a very few people dishing it out to their friends.”
Arts Minister George Brandis, meanwhile, defended the cuts, explaining that the purpose of the changes to how grants are awarded in Australia is to expand funding to artists and arts organisation who were unable to secure funding through the Australia Council.
“As a result of this program, more Australian arts practitioners and organisations will be able to pursue their creative endeavours,” Senator Brandis said. However, Mr Hall and other industry insiders remained skeptical, despite Sen Brandis claiming during Question Time that reaction in the arts sector had been enthusiastic.
Writing in Crikey, arts commentator Ben Eltham echoed the sentiments of the myriad smaller arts companies affected by the funding cuts, who claim that more than a billion dollars in cultural activity and hundreds of jobs nationwide could be lost.
Eltham followed up by publishing a list of the 145 arts companies that have been gutted as a result of the government’s cuts to the arts sector. Among them are the Queensland Music Festival, the Music Council of Australia, and the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.
This doesn’t even begin to paint a picture of the potential damage the cuts pose to the Australian music and wider arts sectors. In the battle over arts grants, clear winners and losers are beginning to emerge. But rest assured, there have been some winners.
The Australia Council recently announced the first results of its new grants model, which has streamlined and simplified the peer assessment process. As the council writes, this is the result of “a two-year reform process and extensive consultation with the sector”.
Australia Council Chair Rupert Myer AO said that while the round was highly competitive, the new model had broadened opportunities for the arts sector, with 273 projects supported, including 20 percent from first time applicants and an equal amount from projects in regional areas.
The total investment made by the council into the Australian arts sector was $9.1 million, with $2.6 million going into music alone. The grants funded initiatives such as International Pathways, which gives musicians money to tour overseas.
The new grants model opened in January 2015 and taking a look at the list of music grants, a number of familiar names appear, including Courtney Barnett, who received an International Pathways grant of $20,000 back in February to help the swiftly rising star take on the overseas market.
Other notables include Melbourne radio station Triple R, who received $80,000 as part of Arts Projects Organisations 2015; folk trio Little May, who nabbed just over $42,000 under the Arts Projects For Individuals and Groups 2015 initiative; and Ball Park Music, who scored a $25,000 development grant.
The biggest winner by far was the Sydney Chamber Opera, who scored more than $145,000 as part of an arts project grant, while the lowest sum of $3,783 went to Brisbane-born classical artist Catherine Milliken for the writing and recording of new work.
What’s particularly exciting about the list of awarded grants is the way it spans every possible genre and project. A record label like Spinning Top sits alongside the Tyalgum Music Festival, while the individual bands and artists awarded funds are equally eclectic.
The likes of metal bands like Hobart’s Psycroptic, who received $10,000, were considered by the council along with alt-rock outfits like The Getaway Plan ($14,560), folk duos like Holy Holy ($20,000), and cross-genre powerhouses like Ecca Vandal ($17,500).
There are also some more obscure selections, such as the $50,000 awarded to “recorder virtuoso” Genevieve Lacey and roots artist Mista Savona, who was given the same to help him record an album with reggae legend Sizzla.
It’s worth noting that so far this year, the Australia Council has spent roughly the same amount on grants as this time last year. However, considering the significant cuts to the institution, it will be interesting to see how much money is spent in the future and where it ends up going.