Before applying for any funding, the first step is to ensure that you’re eligible. “Read the guidelines and eligibility requirements thoroughly, and understand the scope of work required to apply,” says professional grant writer Erin Kinghorn, of eEK! Productions. Kinghorn also suggests artists apply on their own initially, to learn and understand the process.
Applying on your own also helps to refine your vision for a project. “It’s one thing to talk about what you want to do, but when you put it on paper it makes it real,” says The Road Hammers’ Clayton Bellamy. “It gives you direction; so I really encourage it. Take your time, do your research, ask your friends and peers for help, for clarity. Even if you don’t get funding the first, second, or third times, you’re still learning, and building relationships.”
The application process is daunting, so the more information you have from people who understand the requirements, the better. The granting agency itself is the best starting point.
“We want to see artists get funding,” says Karina Moldovan, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Officer at FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings). “That’s what our Project Coordinators are for; to help clients navigate this process successfully. There are so many unique situations, so we encourage people to ask whatever questions they might have. Also, your plan should be really specific, with realistic, achievable goals, and not too long. There’s only so much time jurors can dedicate to one application, so get your point across quickly and professionally.
“Some people’s idea of what’s impressive in their career doesn’t always match with what the funder thinks is impressive,” adds Cat Bird of Catbird.ca, who’s been writing grant applications for 11 years. For example, having developed a relationship with an organization that sends your music out to its database, or attaches physical product/online freebies to their product is worth mentioning, but may be peripheral to your chances of success.
One thing that can increase your chances is how legitimate you appear, says Brian Hetherman, (owner of Curve Music/Cerberus Artist Management/Sonic Envy, former VP of Industry Affairs/interim General Manager of FACTOR, and former Executive Director of the Radio Starmaker Fund). “There’s got to be something from the outside world backing up what you’re trying to say; even just some quotes,” he says. “If you’re not far enough along for album or live reviews, get people in the industry to back you up and give you a legitimate quote.”
But know that there’s a line between talking yourself up legitimately, and going too far. As Hetherman says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another person on a jury say, ‘I’m not working on this project. Why is my name attached to it?’ That’s doesn’t bode well for you.”
Additionally, ensure that your music files sound good on various playback devices and work in multiple web browsers, and that your social media are up to date. And start early, says singer-songwriter Damhnait Doyle: “It’s an unbelievable amount of work; weeks of your time. Even if you’re working with your manager, or a grant writer, you still have to supply all the hard facts and information.”
Ideally, to get the most out of your interactions with agency staff, you need time to ask questions and have meaningful conversations, and if you’re hiring a grant writer, the closer to deadline the less likely they’ll be able to help. “I’ve never done more than 30 grants in a month,” Bird says, “but (then) I’m living on Red Bull and my kids are afraid to enter the room. And I don’t want to give anybody else a half-assed application because somebody called late.”
Beyond that, granting agencies’ online portals, though generally reliable, can have issues at the 11th hour, Hetherman cautions: “Because everyone who’s either halfway through, just starting their applications, or even putting the final touches on, is trying to push it through at the last minute.”
Above all, be persistent. “It’s unlikely that the first time out you’re going to get funded,” Hetherman continues. “Being unsuccessful doesn’t necessarily mean your application or project has no merit. There’s only so much money to go around. If you don’t receive funding, some agencies will provide feedback explaining why, if you ask for it, which will help next time out.”
Julian Taylor, leader of The Julian Taylor Band, has been approved for funding several times. “But I’ve also been denied several times,” he says. “I’d say don’t start with the big grants. When I was [applying] on my own, I’d start on smaller, more accessible grants. Those gave me practice in what to put down, and how to execute that. And I’ve found the applications are the blueprint for any business plan you’re trying to conceive as an artist; one you can use as your template, and build from.”
Bear in mind, too, that depending on the program you’re applying for, the cost of hiring a writer may eat in to the funding too much to make it worthwhile.
Regardless of the funder – FACTOR, The Radio Starmaker Fund, Canada Council for The Arts, or other federal, provincial or municipal agencies – they want you to succeed. “I got my first FACTOR funding 25 years ago, and I’ve dealt with different people along the way, but they’re always competent and understanding,” says Doyle. “They have to adhere to strict rules around how money is spent, but there’s compassion, and an understanding of how the industry works. I’ve been very fortunate to be accepted, but I’ve applied for things that haven’t been accepted, and that’s the way it should go. It should be nurturing new artists. But I appreciate their willingness to see artists through their careers. It’s not just a focus on what’s shiny or new. It’s a fair funding model for established and emerging artists.”
One artist for whom various funding agencies’ support has been particularly helpful is Alberta-based singer-songwriter Nuela Charles. Like Bellamy, Taylor, and Doyle, Charles has been turned down, but since starting out in 2012, the funding she has received, and the process of applying, have been integral to her career.
“It was trial and error, and speaking to other people who’ve written grants… A gradual learning curve, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can contract out for other artists if they need grant writing, and have been able to get FACTOR and Alberta Foundation for the Arts funding for a couple of bands.”
Charles’ latest record, The Grand Hustle, was nominated for a 2018 JUNO Award, in the Adult Contemporary Album of the Year category. “That record,” she says, “was actually funded by FACTOR. Without their funding, that would never have happened…
“[But] when applying for the funding, have a backup plan,” she adds. “If your goal is to create a project and you don’t get funding, have a way to still do it, and plan to do it because, I feel, you shouldn’t be dependent on funding. It’s nice to have, but still create your art.”