Last week we launched the new Arts Council England/PRS for Music Foundation Momentum Music Fund, aimed at emerging talent in contemporary popular music. This is not an area that the Arts Council has ventured into in any systematic way before, although through our funding to organisations such as Small Green Shoots, Generator, Urban Development and British Underground, and lottery grants through our Grants for the arts scheme we have been investing over £2 million a year in this area of music. Some people have expressed surprise that there is any role at all for public funding here, where the industry looks after itself.
One thing we should be clear about is that the music industry in this country, with total revenues of £3.8 billion (PRS for Music, Adding up the UK music industry 2011), is a huge global success. It encompasses many constituent parts, from the composers, artists and musicians at the creative end, through to managers, publishers, record labels, collecting societies and the live sector. Together these individuals - the majority of them small businesses - contribute not only to the economy but also to the cultural vitality of this country. And when the industry gets behind an artist it invests and invests heavily.
However, last year as part of our on-going commitment to talent development across the arts the Arts Council carried out a series of conversations with individuals across the music industry and found that, whilst considerable investment in talent was clearly going on, it appeared to be getting harder and harder for emerging talent to progress.
Harder because more limited financial resources are available to invest in new talent, harder because until recently legislation made it awkward for small venues to offer live music, and harder because small amounts of finance are difficult to get from commercial sources – finance to make a record, finance to fund a tour, for proper promotion, and so on.
So it's at this point – the early talent period, where we have identified the kind of urgent need that we already support in other areas of music, such as classical music and jazz.
Let’s be clear from the start, this does not amount to a failure of the whole popular music market – but to a specific need to help artists who are on the cusp of breakthrough to achieve their creative and commercial potential. Some of the organisations we fund, such as Generator and Urban Development, are already helping talented artists to get over initial hurdles in particular areas of music and locations. But people said more could be done.
So in conversation with others we decided to do two things.
First, we'd make it clearer how we could help talent at its earliest phase, through our open access Grants for the arts programme. This re-launches in July, and it will become much easier to apply for grants of less than £15,000. We'll signpost this scheme as a possibility for funding music more effectively.
Second, we sought a knowledgeable partner to run a pilot programme focussed specifically on supporting contemporary popular music talent at this next stage, to make the second record or fund a tour, for example – things that would help them to consolidate and get over the next hurdle towards being able to make a living from music. So that the diversity of talent that this country produces doesn't go to waste. So that the industry, in looking for the talent in which to make further investment, will have a richer pool of developed artists to draw on.
We chose PRS for Music Foundation as a partner, in the light of their experience giving small grants and their understanding of what was needed. They set up the Momentum Music Fund which we launched last week.
This fund is a two year pilot, to see if what we have identified is the right help to be offering. We need to be cautious in any intervention we make in a market to ensure it has the right effect – hence the small beginning of just £500,000 over two years. If it works, and if we have the money, we'd like to expand it. Because giving talent the ability to find its way really matters – to anyone who is concerned about culture in this country and the music they love.
I respect the music industry in this country – it’s populated by many talented people who have weathered many storms. I give it a large part of my disposable income every month. I know they invest hugely in the acts they nurture and support and will continue to do so. It's their life blood.
But I also hope that Arts Council England, having listened to the industry, can play a role in continuing its extraordinary success. Raw emerging talent needs to be given the chance to survive and develop to the next stage, just as it does in classical music, dance, theatre and the visual arts. This is what we do. So I'm proud to launch the Momentum Music Fund for popular music. I hope it will help talent really find its way. So that the whole industry will have a wider and more developed range of artists with which to work.
This post was written by Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England.