Blog: Let’s stop thinking about music in silos and recognize the challenges that all artists share
Personally, I love music that is bold, distinctive and has something new to say. I’m a longstanding fan of composers like Laurence Crane, Tansy Davies, Richard Ayres and Jennifer Walshe who write contemporary or experimental music. I love discovering fresh and original songs by individual artists and bands, whether Ghostpoet, Kate Tempest, Sam Lee or Lonelady. I also like it when things get mixed up as it did last week when Nico Muhly performed at London’s Union Chapel with organist James McVinnie, tenor vocalist William Balkwill and electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never.
One of the reasons I enjoy such different kinds of music is because they share an independent spirit; they represent an exhilarating alternative to the mainstream; an autonomous, artist-led DIY approach to making, producing and recording.
So why is it that the composers, songwriters and performers who create this independent music are so often perceived as having little in common? Does an upcoming electronica or left field hip-hop artist really have such vastly different career development needs as, for instance, a classically-trained composer? And wouldn’t it be better if we started instead to think more holistically about how to encourage and support the extraordinary range of voices that makes new UK music so exciting?
For that to happen, I believe we need to focus more resources on the creators themselves and recognize the needs that artist communities share instead of the differences that traditional funding models might perpetuate.
Let’s take composers first. The fate of their next piece of music often depends on an institution or a group of performers deciding to commission them. These commissioning organisations will then seek funding from public and private sources, decide on the composer’s working conditions (rehearsal time, space, presentation, marketing) perform the piece (often only once) and give some of the funds they’ve raised to the composer. Of course, many organisations and performance groups have excellent track records in nurturing composers. And we shouldn’t forget that several inspirational composers in the UK are already leading DIY scenes and creating work for their own ensembles. But, these examples aside, surely it would be better if there were more choice and more resource that would enable composers to take more control of their next career step or commission? A fund that would enable them to operate more like their peers who perform as well as write?
And what about the career path for up and coming independent pop musicians? Until 2013, when PRS for Music Foundation launched Momentum in partnership with Arts Council England, there had never been a bespoke fund for this kind of artist in England (compare this to the funding available – indirectly or otherwise- for composers working in other genres). The huge number of applications we’ve received for Momentum and early evidence of the impact it’s having demonstrates the importance of this new funding mechanism which injects much needed cash into recordings, touring, marketing and other career boosting activities. However, there is still a sense, amongst some of the brilliant artists we’ve supported, that asking for help from a funder is not what bands are supposed to do. This couldn’t be more different from the mindset of those who are more used to applying for grants and do so on a regular basis.
At PRS for Music Foundation, we’ll continue to reduce these imbalances by growing our support of talented artists whatever genre they’re working in and by providing a platform which promotes the breadth of new music in the UK. We’ll be working closely with the indie pop artists we’ve funded to evaluate how we can keep fine tuning the opportunities we offer to them. We’ll also be taking lessons from this pioneering experience to shape a new fund which will encourage composers at pivotal moments in their career to take control of their next creative venture. This will include providing money which buys them time with groups who’ll perform their work, helps pay for the recording of a piece that has only been heard in the concert hall or improves the digital profile and marketing of their work. Some basic ingredients of an independent, artist-led process.
Of course our funds for all kinds of composers and songwriters are just one part of the solution. The digital age is democratizing creation, production, distribution and consumption for all kinds of musicians. There’s also an important role that other national and international platforms for independent music could play in shaking up the way they present the unique diversity of talented artists who are making music in the UK:
• Could BBC Introducing find a way to reach out to up and coming composers as well as emerging bands?
• What about a Mercury Prize shortlist which includes an album by Gabriel Prokofiev, Anna Meredith, Oliver Coates or Mica Levi?
• Wouldn’t it be great to have more festivals and events which celebrate, with intelligent programming, the crossover and connections between artists working in different musical styles?
• Could we have more signposting between BBC Radio 3 and 6 Music?
• and could we have more blogs like The Quietus which is confident in its critical analysis of anything from grime, pop and thrash metal to experimental and avant garde?
I’m confident that this change will happen with time and it’s encouraging that that the results of the recent Warwick Commission inquiry into the Future of Cultural Value assert a more general call for an end to silos and more recognition of the synergies between the cultural and creative industries. But, for those of us who work in music and want talented artists of all backgrounds to realise their potential, let’s accelerate this change.
Let’s focus on the challenges that independent artists share rather than sticking to traditional models which accentuate difference. Let’s experiment by transferring what has worked for some artistic communities to those which have received less support. Let’s enable more of the UK’s most distinctive voices to reach audiences who, like me, are keen to discover great music whatever genre it may be.
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