With the Federal Government’s arts support package subject to ongoing delays, the music industry desperately needs a lifeline. That’s where the $1 million American Express Music Backers Fund comes in.

The Australian music community has always been there to help in times of disaster. Through the Black Summer of 2019-20, musicians of all stripes donated proceeds from gigs and merch sales to bushfire recovery efforts. February’s Fire Fight Australia concert – featuring pro bono performances from the likes of Hilltop Hoods, Tina Arena, Grinspoon, Amy Shark, Baker Boy, Jessica Mauboy, Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham – raised more than $10 million for relief, recovery and rebuilding charities.

The music community’s benevolent streak hasn’t ceased in the months since, despite the devastating impact of coronavirus lockdowns on the music economy. “The music industry is one of the highest impacted industries alongside airlines and also the tourism industry,” explained Music Victoria CEO, Patrick Donovan.

American Express held its inaugural Music Backers program in in 2018/19, awarding grants to a range of musicians, venues, labels, promoters and artist development programmers.  Amex has just launched its second Music Backers Fund, dedicating another $1 million to the music industry – and the cash couldn’t come soon enough.

It’s no secret that contemporary musicians make the bulk of their income through live performance. So when Scott Morrison announced the ban on gatherings of more than 500 people in March, and then put the kibosh on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people a week later, musicians and live industry workers around the country – no matter their career credentials – found themselves out of work.

Music Backers Fund 2020

The 2020 installment of the American Express Music Backers Fund includes two separate initiatives. The first is the Nominate a Mate initiative, which lets you honour the hard work of a friend who’s used music to make a positive impact on others this year. All nominees will go in the running for one of 100 individual $1500 cash prizes. Nominate a mate here.

Then there are the Grants, which are aimed at preserving and growing the Australian music industry. Music Backers Grant applications are open to both artists and music businesses and range from $2000 to $50,000. Amex has put together a panel of industry professionals to judge the applications.

The grants are divided into three separate categories. First, there are the Back on Track grants, which are designed to help artists and industry professionals return to what they do best ASAP. These range from $2000 to $10,000.

The second category is Transformation and Growth, which is seeking applications from artists and businesses who want to invest in new opportunities that’ll set them up for future success. Transformation and Growth grants range from $2000 to $25,000

The final category is Innovation and Community Impact, which is looking to support ideas that could reconfigure or innovate how things work in the local music industry, and that will also have a positive impact on the broader music community. These grants stretch from $2000 to $50,000 depending on the type of support required.

Applications for round one are open now until 11.59pm AEST on Sunday, September 13th. Round two opens on Monday, August 14th and will stay open until 9am on Monday, November 9th. Successful candidates from round one will be announced on Friday, October 16th. All applicants from round one will also be considered in round two.

Busking for bucks

Just in case you think this isn’t necessary, it’s important to realise that music, despite being the most transcendent of art forms, isn’t immune to the ebbs and flows of the economy. For instance, by late-April I Lost My Gig Australia had reported losses of $340m from event cancellations and postponements.

Given the way the industry’s transformed in recent decades, musicians are more financially insecure than ever before. In July, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek warned musicians that they “can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” If they’re relying on the $0.006 that Spotify dishes out per individual stream, then the multi-billionaire Ek is right. But that’s precisely why initiatives such as the Music Backers Fund are so essential right now.

And besides, we all need musicians to get paid. Why? So that they can continue to enhance and texturise our lives, and so that we can all get together in a cramped room (as soon as biosecurely possible) and have our worries washed away by loud live music.