How To Get Federal Grant Money Money to Earn
Published Jan 01, 2006Canadian musicians are very fortunate when it comes to money. With the Canada Council for the Arts, the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR), and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) Foundation, this country has some of the most respected and emulated granting agencies in the world. (This article discusses national grants; provincial grant organisations vary across the country.) These organisations want to fund our most deserving musicians to help further their artistic aspirations and bring Canadian music to the world. The SOCAN Foundation actually forsakes the application process for its International Showcasing Program, contacting eligible members to award them up to $2,000 for trips to festivals like SXSW in Austin, Texas and CMJ in New York City. Such a gift isn't the norm; in most cases the key to earning these funds is knowing how to ask.
That's What Friends Are For
Of the national funding agencies available to Canadian musicians, the most prominent are the Canada Council and FACTOR; both employ a jury-assessed process to evaluate applicants. Application forms are provided on their respective websites and applicants are required to meet specific criteria and provide additional materials (i.e., CDs, marketing plans, lyric sheets, letters of recommendation, etc.) depending on the program. Through multiple streams, the Canada Council's music department provides financial assistance for all manner of specific needs: facilitating concert tours and production, sound recordings, festival programming, and related activities. Similarly, FACTOR helps independent recording artists get material produced and promoted, and also provides support for Canadian record labels, distributors, recording studios, producers, engineers and other facets of the music biz. The Canada Council is primarily interested in supporting non-commercial, subversive work by professional musicians that you aren't likely to hear on mainstream radio. The key distinction is professional. "It's about being out there and working," according to Russell Kelley, head of music at the Canada Council. "It's not about income levels or associations; it's more defined by desire and intent. In other words, it may only be part-time but you desire to be a professional musician and that's the primary place you want to be. It's also about peer recognition, where others around you see you working as a professional, paid musician."
Only the Loan-ly
With its mandate to provide assistance toward the growth and development of the Canadian independent recording industry, FACTOR's intent is to support commercially viable records. Of its varied programs, the most sought-after remain the Independent Loan and FACTOR Loan initiatives. The Independent Loan is unique because an artist isn't required to already have a means of distribution to qualify. "An applicant can apply to make a commercial release with a minimum of six songs, so it's basically an EP," says FACTOR General Manager Mark Watts. "Without a distributor, you can get a maximum of $20,000 for your sound recording project. If you get approved for that, the neat thing is that we will match you for up to $20,000 for your marketing and promotion initiatives. With the FACTOR Loan where you do have distribution in place there's going to be a bit more money for you and, with the sound recording, it'd be a maximum of $35,000."
In its music department, the Canada Council has $25 million to spend on musical projects, while FACTOR operates on an annual budget of about $11 million. Not surprisingly, the demand for funds far outweighs the supply. "It used to be that we funded the best work," Kelley explains, "but we're at the level now that we fund the very best work." While extremely rare, there are programs that do end up under-subscribed. FACTOR provides grants for professional songwriters and publishers to apply for demos that will get their material covered by other artists. "I'm not sure if this program is hitting the radar enough," reasons Watts. "Last fiscal year we received 100 applications for it and we approved 45 percent. Compare that to our most over-subscribed program, the Independent Loan program, where we had over 500 applications and we could only approve 19."
Don't Fear FACTOR
The extremely competitive nature of grant applications is nothing to be discouraged about, but it does mean that applicants must consider their submissions carefully. "I think some people are either too vague on their marketing plans or they can go the other way where they're not realistic," Watts says. "It's a tough thing to pinpoint exactly how you're going to sell your record, but you have to understand that when you apply to FACTOR, not only do you need to have the songwriting skills and the right music, you also have to know how you're going to sell your record. That's what you have to parlay and explain to the jury." Another key aspect to recognise is that FACTOR and Canada Council juries consist of artistic peers from across the country who know where you're coming from. "That's the biggest thing that people have a hard time understanding," Kelley laments. "They think they're talking to a bureaucracy or government but they're not, they're talking to other musicians. That's really important to remember because when you write about how you're going to do things and why, it needs to make sense to the musician down the street. You have to build their confidence that you've done the homework so that things will work how you planned and you'll get the benefits you're after. They need to believe that you know exactly what you're doing. It sounds really simple but it's really hard to do."
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can help me with my grant?
While you're welcome to contact representatives at granting agencies for assistance,
it's always a good idea to speak with successful applicants. A conversation about the basics with someone who received a grant can help demystify the process and make your own application more comprehensible. "My best advice, especially if you're new to this, is to show it to somebody else," says Canada Council's Russell Kelley. "Have them look at the application and certainly listen to the music you're submitting. It makes a real difference."
How specific should I be?
If you're wondering, "Will the jury understand this part?" it means they won't and you need to clarify something. Tour itineraries and marketing plans need to be very specific, with clearly outlined dates, venues, radio stations, and press outlets included. Applicants can even handpick precisely what music the jury hears. "You can tell the jury to listen to a specific minute of any song," says musician and jury member Veda Hille. "You can include a write-up in notes for the recording and that's something the jury will look at. If there's anything you want the jury to know, this is your chance to speak to them directly and I think that's a very valuable thing."
Canada Council for the Arts: www.canadacouncil.ca
SOCAN Foundation: www.socanfoundation.ca
Canada Music Fund: www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/ac-ca/progs/fcmus-cmusf/index_e.cfm
Canadian Centre for Philanthropy: www.ccp.ca
Canadian Heritage: www.pch.gc.ca