Let’s say you’ve been gigging for a while now. You’re using your brother’s hand-me-down amp, lugging your gear from pub to market to wedding, sleeping in the station wagon, and living off McStuff. It’s not exactly glamorous, but you get by.
Finding ways to squirrel away cash for recording, though, or get the band overseas to try your hand on the festival circuit, now that’s where it gets tricky. So what do you do?
Once upon a time, sure, you could just kidnap some label executive and wait until Stockholm Syndrome did the work for you. But even though there are plenty of boutique record companies out there now, convincing a label to take you on is still a tough gig. Thankfully, you live in the Age of Internetz, where spreading word of your ventures has never been easier.
Some of the best records in Australia have been created using grant funding. Albums by the likes of Tim Rogers, Art Vs Science, The Midnight Juggernauts and Ngaiire may have never seen the light of day had they not received a helping hand from an arts body. Likewise, some of the most explosive and defining tours by local acts would not have made their way around the globe if it weren’t for organisations like City of Sydney, Australia Council for the Arts, and MusicNSW.
Earlier this month, MusicNSW and the City of Sydney have opened the second round of their All Ages Access grant program, which funds all-ages events in inner Sydney. This grant is designed to encourage the creation of more all-ages gigs, with booking agents, musicians, managers, and venue owners encouraged to team up and apply.
However, we do have a few tips to help your application stand out from the rest.
Not only must your actual grant application be of exceptional quality, but you’re also up against countless other artists vying for a slice of the pie. That said, the boost to your career can be invaluable, and every independent artist should be keeping an eye on the grant landscape both here and abroad.
Emily Collins is an Executive Officer at MusicNSW, and is well-versed in the world of funding. Better yet, MusicNSW themselves are a tremendous resource of how to make your act sustainable, and are happy to face any barrage of questions you might have of how exactly you can start affording that wardrobe of clothes made from precious stones.
“Money is tough in this industry, particularly for emerging and mid-career musicians,” Collins concedes. “Most musicians get into music because they love music, which absolutely makes sense. But suddenly they’re running a small business – their band. And unfortunately, financial management is where we see a lot of musicians get stuck.
“If you’ve only got $5000 (thanks mum, Auntie Jan and generous tippers) – what’s the best way to use that? It really depends on where you’re at. We’ve seen some artists spend big on publicity or film clips or vinyl or social media or touring… and sometimes it just goes nowhere. There’s no rule book that can apply to every artist.
MusicNSW runs a series of free panels called Sound Advice where experts offer tips and advice on grants, among other things.
“[The panels cover] when to tour, how to get on radio, how to use limited funds, how to build an audience on zero dollars etc.,” says Collins. “These days you can absolutely do it all yourself on a reasonably small budget. But it does take a lot of planning, hard work and strategy. And pulling in the right people at the right time.”
With all that in mind, it’s time for you to go forth and conquer. Ask for advice, keep your finger on the pulse; and more than ever, just keeping playing and engaging with fans. A strong support network is the best foundation you can hope for. While you’re at it, check out these usual suspects for upcoming grant opportunities.
Crowdfunding has taken off like a brushfire, which is great in that many folk now know what it is. But like any blaze, it’s hard to say which way it’s going to move, and who might get burned along the way.
Amanda Palmer has felt backlash from Kickstarter supporters who donated, and then questioned her treatment of other unpaid musicians supporting her. Without being an established name, it’s harder again. Who’s going to sling you twenty bucks if they’ve never heard of you before?
That’s where your time on the road will hopefully come to your rescue. All those fans you’ve picked up along the way, all those names scrawled on your mailing list; they’re the ones who saw you, remembered, and want to be a part of seeing what comes next. That’s the underlying principle to remember here; your pledges aren’t just giving you a goodwill handout. They want to feel like they’re part of the journey, so through either rewards, acknowledgements, or surprising them at night when you burst out from their closet, make them feel like they’re one of the family.
“I set up my crowd funding campaign as a way to pre-order my debut EP,” Tullara Connors recalls.
From one-half of successful folk-roots duo, Siskin River, Tullara has been recently building a surging solo career of her own.
“By pre-ordering, my fans were contributing to my EP by paying for it in advance (which meant I could afford to finalise and print it) and waiting for me to send it to them. I think crowdfunding is an amazing thing when it’s personalised as it really builds a stronger connection between the artist and their fans.
For example, I had to make 93 G-string bracelets (that’s 93 used guitar-strings), all individually hand made by myself, with sweat and tears included in every. Single. Bracelet. So, the fan knows they’re getting something unique and special as well. Plus it brings us closer together,” she laughs, “as they are now wearing my sweaty guitar string bracelet.
House concerts were another major part Tullara’s campaign.
“I just finished a tour of house concerts in North Queensland. There’s nothing quite like getting to know your fans that little bit more when you’re going to their house to play a concert,” she says. “It was one hell of a great tour. Every night we’d enter a new house, to a new crowd that was eager and excited to have us there. It really adds a special spark to your show when there’s that added connection between yourself and your audience.”
Look for Patrons
Similar to crowdfunding, in that you’re still opening your ambitions up to fans and strangers alike to contribute, Patreon is somewhat more specialised. While Kickstarter, Pozible and the like are geared towards individual projects, Patreon allows people to engage with artists as, well, patrons. There may well be individual projects involved, but Patreon contributors are more broadly committing to the month-by-month development of the artist. Pledges can be used however the artist sees fit (although if there’s no proof in the pudding, your backers aren’t going to be sticking around for very long).
Alison Avron is a musician in her own right, but is also the founder and director of Sydney venue The Newsagency. After evolving into a staple of the local music scene, it was forced to close last year only to reopen in a brand new location at double the size. Avron’s Patreon backers aren’t the sole reason behind this rebirth – though their contributions make life a whole lot easier.
“Using Patreon as a monthly subscription has been a great way to connect with fans of The Newsagency,” Avron explains. “They give me a nominal amount of money each month and depending on how much that is, I give them discounts to shows and first dibs to what’s going on at the space. Sometimes they also let me know which artists they would like to see back. It really taps into the old school patronage method of places like the Sydney Opera House, but on a total grass roots level -considering you can pledge as little as a $1 per month. The $500 a month (but increasing all the time) doesn’t seem like much, but it’s great to know it’s there for things like, paying staff, piano tuning. Even in really desperate times, like paying an electricity bill!
“I first signed up to Patreon because I was cautious that doing too many one-off crowdfunding campaigns might get very exhausting for both me and my audience,” she adds. “I thought it would be a good way to combine me as an artist and an independent venue owner too. Turns out, thanks to hindsight and now my bigger and better venue, it wasn’t a good [balance], so I have made the decision to make Patreon just about my venue. It is already making it easier to manage and less confusing to anyone wanting to sign up.”
We’re working with City of Sydney to tell stories of Sydney’s live music scene. For more information on the work City of Sydney does, head to cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au