In the UK, the music industry has often been viewed as primarily commercial and therefore beyond the remit of arts funding. The expectation has always been that the industry will fund itself. However, in recent years this has all changed. Countries like Sweden and Canada have inspired a major re-think in the way we value music exports. As a result we’ve seen a major shift in public money now being used to fund the creation and performance of popular music. In examining the tangible effects of this type of funding on music production – and why emerging artists are increasingly reliant on this support – it does throw up the question of whether funding organisations have replaced the traditional role of a record label.
The MOMENTUM MUSIC FUND was set up in 2013 by the PRS for Music Foundation and Arts Council England, to address the growing disconnect in the funding of emerging artists. Both organisations recognised that talent development was suffering due to financial restrictions largely imposed by the industry’s slow reaction to a new paradigm of music consumption.
Album sales aren’t as lucrative as they once were. An era of streaming and cloud-based services has diminished royalties and income revenues for labels and artists alike. This is coupled with the fact that more and more record labels are expecting talent to be delivered ready-made, requiring little development and therefore incurring minimal risk on investment. In response to the realisation that current funding mechanisms were no longer reaching new and emerging musicians, ACE and PRS for Music piloted Momentum’s grant-based scheme to address the issue. The initiative offers grants of £5,000 – £15,000 to artists at a crucial stage in their development, with the aim of propelling them to break through to the next level of their careers. The investment can be used to pay for costs incurred in touring, marketing or recording.
As our own bountiful music scene suggests, there is no shortage of talent to assist, but often a lack of resources can inhibit the headway of fledgling artists. The fund is therefore aimed at artists who have already gained traction with their music, and are now ready to progress to the next level, both creatively and commercially. Former impresario of music development agency Generator, Joe Frankland, who has been installed as Momentum’s Industry Fund Manager, explains who would be considered eligible. “Momentum is there for artists who have created a lot of buzz, or for those who have established a really good team, or for people who are signed to an indie label but need a little bit of extra income to do things right in order to set up long-term careers.”
First and foremost the fund is looking to support people who make outstanding music, but, as Joe explains, those most likely to be awarded funding will already “have a solid team of professional industry relationships, such as an artist manager, a booking agent or a plugger”. Candidates who have a development plan in place, and who have already made an impact on social media, will be best positioned to be awarded support.
Since its launch in 2010, Momentum has helped fund forty-six albums and more than fifty UK tours. Some of its most prominent success stories have been plucked from Merseyside’s creative community too. “Two years in, we’re able to look back on how successful the project has been,” explains Joe. “We’ve funded artists like All We Are and Låpsley. We’re able to look and see it’s having a positive impact.”
Holly Lapsley Fletcher is a perfect example of the good that can come from Momentum funding. Obtaining her grant in June 2014, Låpsley used the money to support the recording of three EPs, her touring costs and to strengthen her live set-up. The funding ultimately afforded Låpsley the luxury of time and space necessary to develop her career on her own terms. “I don’t think I could have achieved it all without the support of Momentum,” she explains, “because those initial gigs that I did before Christmas have played such an important role in where I am right now.”
It didn’t take long for Låpsley to reap the rewards of her funding: she was signed to independent heavyweights XL Recordings shortly after the release of her first EP, The Understudy. Over the last 18 months, she has become one of the UK’s most hotly-tipped artists, appearing in the BBC Sound Of 2015 long list as well as performing on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury.
It’s fair to say that All We Are have had similar successes to Låpsley in 2015, and perhaps been even a little more visible given the way their debut record was received when it was released in February. Since receiving Momentum funding in October 2013, the band have really pressed the throttle to the floor and gone from strength to strength. Having initially been awarded funding to support a run of UK-wide shows, All We Are have fast secured a stellar reputation for live performance, appearing at major festivals such as Field Day, Green Man and End Of The Road. Beyond the obvious virtues of a cash injection, the trio found the application process to be of great value, encouraging them to coordinate a long-term strategy of what they wanted to attain.
“For us as a band to actually sit down and think about our aims and what we were trying to achieve was really important,” confirms Rich O’Flynn.
Perhaps most impressively, All We Are signed to Domino imprint Double Six to release their eponymous debut album. The record has generated broad appeal for the cosmopolitan trio, who have since received rave reviews and were bestowed with the accolade of GIT Award Winners 2015. The band themselves were surprised by the immediate effects of being awarded Momentum funding, as O’Flynn states:
“Since we received the funding we’ve started working with great management, and we’ve signed to a really great label. Things have gone quite quickly, but what the Momentum Fund really helped us with was the touring, which we see as integral.”
The overwhelming evidence from funded artists suggests the effects of Momentum support can be career-defining for its recipients. Clearly, public and lottery funding bodies (like Momentum or even Merseyside Arts Foundation) play an increasingly pivotal role in breaking emerging artists. These opportunities have arisen to fill the void left by the diminishing opportunities of traditional major label development deals, but PRS’s Joe Frankland believes the fund is more about complementing the existing model rather than succeeding it. “It’s not really replacing what a label does, it’s there to support people in the early days. The reality of the industry is that there is less money to support an artist in the early stages. A label might be able to put in £10K for an album budget, but if an artist requires more than that they can come to Momentum for funding.”
Patently, the assumption that the recording industry can sustain its own funding is no longer a fair appraisal. The investment needed to successfully release and tour commercially viable music is often huge. Even established labels such as Memphis Industries, Bella Union and Ninja Tune are now taking advantage of the support, applying for grants like those offered by Momentum on behalf of their artists. For many aspiring acts, the fund has undoubtedly become a crucial part of the process of releasing music – a vital boost necessary for their own careers to gather momentum.
If you’d like to find out more about the Momentum Music Fund, as well as other projects run by PRS For Music, head to prsformusicfoundation.com.