I’ve learned what works, what causes problems with the juries, and how to present projects so that they have all the best chances they could possibly muster. – Catharine Bird
MM: What kinds of things do you look for in a band or artist you choose to write a grant for?
CB: I started off working mostly for record labels and management companies who have lots of artists and their staff is already very busy handling all their activities. But really anyone can hire me to work on a project.
There isn’t one particular artist I tend to work with or seek out. People often ask me whether I work with specific genres, such as jazz or rock or hip-hop, but a recording budget or a tour works out pretty much the same on paper for any genre, so it doesn’t make a difference in how I work.
I do have to say no to artists who want me to write very small grants for them. The problem is that my fee would take up too much of the budget. However those smaller grants are perfect for artists to do themselves to get some experience in what grant writing is all about.
MM: How far in advance do you suggest an artist start preparing for a grant application?
CB: There are a lot of artists who contact me weeks or months in advance. But often I’m called in days or even hours before a deadline, when a busy manager or artist realizes the deadline has crept up and they’re not likely to make it on their own.
There is a lot of information required for the applications, for example scanned birth certificates and passports, or sales reports from distributors, or tour itineraries and contracts… these take time to collect.
In general I’m comfortable with a week to work on a project, but if there are a lot of projects I’m working on at the same time, I don’t mind getting the info early.
MM: What are some key elements that make a great application?
CB: There are two places to get music funding: the Factor/Starmaker programs and the Arts Councils.
The Factor funding is based around helping to support the radio and music retail industry in Canada, so they want to support artists who will have a radio hit, or a successful selling album or digital song. All artists can apply, but in particular commercial music (genres on contemporary radio stations) are best suited to the programs.
The key element for Factor when applying is having a marketing plan that demonstrates you know how to develop a fan base, radio airplay, media coverage and sales. Also having a team of professionals that support the artist: record label, booking agent, publicist, radio promoter, management… these give the artist a better score.[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]I encourage people to send high-energy songs that will get the jury’s heads nodding and toes tapping…[/pullquote]
The Arts Councils however are intended to support Canadian culture. So the type of music that doesn’t get on a lot of radio stations are the genres that will be preferred.
These programs don’t tend to get behind projects that are intended to be commercial ventures. They are mostly concerned with the artistry of the project.
The key element for these applications is to demonstrate how as an artist you represent a segment of the Canadian population, are able to capture these experiences and provide a context for that through art.
MM: What are some of the most common mistakes you see bands making when it comes to their proposals?
CB: A big mistake is sending rough demos that don’t capture your performance or the music in the best light. I encourage people to send high-energy songs that will get the jury’s heads nodding and toes tapping, rather than ballads. If the jurors can hear a radio hit in your demo, they’ll fund the album.
Another thing I tell artists is that the jury is listening to more than 100 songs in that one session, so they might turn off a demo after 30 seconds. So if your song has a long lead, make a jury edit of the song that gets to the hook quickly.
Keep in mind that often the difference between being accepted or denied funding is simply sounding better than all the other artists in the pile.
A last mistake artists make isn’t really a mistake – because the artist should be trying to make the best possible music they can, and sometimes you can’t get that in your hometown. But if you use non-Canadian musicians, producers, studios and other staff, you often can’t put those expenses onto the eligible budget.
Remember that the point of the funding system is for Canadian artists to support the Canadian music industry, and that means hiring other Canadians for the job. However, using non-Canadians doesn’t make the entire project non-eligible, and you can bring the project back home for post-production and mixing, artwork design, etc and have those expenses covered, so it’s a matter of taking a look at the budget overall and what other funding you can raise.
MM: What is the number one reason you might advise someone to hire an experienced grant writer over trying it themselves?
CB: The applications are intended to be filled out by artists and they’re not rocket science. You get to talk about yourself and your music, which is generally not a problem for most artists.
[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]The key element for [Arts Council] applications is to demonstrate how as an artist you represent a segment of the Canadian population…[/pullquote] The primary reason I’m needed is that the touring grant deadlines always come up when a band is locked away in the studio, and the recording ones always come up when the band is out on the road.
Sending the grant application to me means it will get done and submitted properly and on deadline and the artist only has to provide me with the rough information.
An average artist will do one recording grant and at the most two tour grants a year for a few years, until the band either breaks up or becomes successful enough to hire their own managers and grant writing staff.
But I do about 80 grants per year and have been doing this for more than five years now. I’ve learned what works, what causes problems with the juries, and how to present projects so that they have all the best chances they could possibly muster.
MM: For artists that might be new to grant writing, are there certain ones you recommend starting with?
CB: The grant system for musicians tends to be project-based. So you would figure out what you’re going to do over the next year, and then plan your grant deadline schedule according to that.
In general whenever an artist is about to do anything, I encourage them to check out the funding programs and apply for whatever will be relevant. The key thing is getting the applications in, and sorting out the budget of what you’ll need to complete that project.
Plus you don’t have to wait for the deadline date to apply. If you’re going into the studio in May, but the deadline isn’t until June, you should send in your application in April before you start the project, and the funder will process your application after the deadline in June when they have the jury collected, but will allow you to include in your budget all the expenses from the date of your application submission.
So you could technically finish an album and months later be reimbursed by Factor for your expenses, as long as you got your application in before you started. This is why it’s important to look at your plans a year in advance.
You can apply in April for a recording that you won’t do until September, but if you go ahead and begin to record the album, and then realize a deadline is coming up, you can’t apply at that point and get back any of the money you’ve just spent.
MM: Is there an “ultimate prize” when it comes to grants? One that would be like winning the gold medal of grant writing
CB: There isn’t a big prize that goes to me for helping an artist create their art. There are however big prizes that go to artists for making great art, and sometimes I see one of the projects I worked on winning a Polaris nomination or a Canada Council for the Arts prize. I also work in film and see projects I’ve contributed to go on to showcase at Sundance and TIFF.
These are people who can do things that only a handful of people on the planet are capable of doing, but they wouldn’t be doing it at all if I hadn’t come along and found them the financing to make it happen. I really enjoy that part of what I do.
MM: Do you have a grant that you’re most proud of landing?
CB: I think that I’ve got some pretty big projects lined up for 2013 and I’m pretty excited by them. So I’d say that the grant I’m most proud of landing will be the ones that come in this year. Who knows? It could be for your own project.
For help writing grants and an excellent list of grant writing resources, we highly recommend you check out Catbird.ca.