It was our pleasure to contribute a column to the May/June issue of nationally-distributed Canadian Musician magazine. Thanks to Andrew King for conducting the audio interview for the CM Radio podcast.
Keep scrolling to read the column below!!
The Top Ten Grant Writing Mistakes Artists Make:
Common funding pitfalls and how to avoid them
Canada has a long history of nurturing and supporting its artists. From the Governor General’s Arts Awards, to Canada Council for the Arts, to organizations like FACTOR and the Canada Music Fund, we truly are a blessed nation to have this support and patronage. Every year around $40 million in music funding is made available via a combination of industry and governmental sources, but many artists find it challenging to access these sources of funding to further their musical careers.
The following is an industry sourced list of mistakes to avoid and best practices you can integrate into your artist management toolbox to ensure you put your best foot forward and get the funding you need to reach your career goals.
Not researching thoroughly
It’s important to understand how the granting system works in Canada, which includes being aware of the major players and how all their organizational mandates vary. Knowing what types of funding are given out by each funding body will allow you to quickly target those programs you might be eligible for and are best suited to your project.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Knowing what programs are offered and when those program deadlines fall within the year is critical to planning out your funding strategy. Make sure you are aware of and hit those funding deadlines to coincide with events in your album cycle. Miss a deadline and you might have to wait another three months to as long as a year to apply again. Plan ahead, give yourself plenty of time to complete your application and always try to submit early if you can.
Pro-tip: Sign up for all the various funders’ email lists so you get notified when new projects and deadlines are announced.
Skimming the eligibility criteria
All funders publish a set of guidelines that accompany their funding applications and artists should study these carefully. Guidelines will determine if the program is a good fit for you as an artist, depending on where you are in your career and what activities you are seeking funding for. If you don’t understand or have questions about guidelines, it’s important to get clarification from a trusted source. Don’t assume you are eligible for a program until you’ve done your due diligence.
Not completing applications carefully
In addition to guidelines, failing to read and complete the actual application carefully is a huge mistake artists often make. It’s not uncommon for artists to miss required questions, sections or even whole pages of an application or make serious errors or typos. This is dangerous as you could inadvertently disqualify yourself by failing to complete the application satisfactorily. It also appears plain sloppy and unprofessional. Always have a band member or savvy friend look over your application before you submit.
Not selecting your best or strongest focus track
Selecting a focus track can be deceptively difficult; in many cases what you consider your best song might not actually be the most effective means of capturing a jury’s imagination. Songs should feature a very short intro, get to the chorus quickly and leave the listener hooked and wanting more. Quality wise, submissions should aim for as close to a “produced” product as possible, as submitting truly demo-quality recordings can leave a jury unimpressed. Like all things, there are exceptions to this rule – there is no tried and true formula for selecting focus tracks but it never hurts to get a second or third (or fourth) opinion.
Pro-tip: Throw a listening party. Invite a bunch of your friends and family over to listen to the songs and let them vote for their favorites. Also watch for nodding heads and tapping toes – all good indicators of strong focus tracks.
Not including supporting documents
Most applications will require you submit a variety of supporting documents, which can be anything from multimedia and press kits, to social media links and letters of support. Ensure you give yourself adequate time to gather these (some will require planning ahead) and supply all the assets required in the format that is specified by the program guidelines. You should aim to present your act in the most polished and professional light possible, so ensure all assets are high quality, align with your brand and strengthen your application.
Not communicating with the funder
It’s common for applicants to make assumptions about program requirements, eligibility, deadlines and a multitude of other points, and this is where mistakes are often made. In all stages of the grant application process, from research to application to completion there are times when you should be contacting the funding body to get clarification. Some examples include checking eligibility criteria that seem unclear or contradictory, making changes to your original application plans after submission or approval and requesting extensions on final reporting deadlines.
Pro-tip: Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call funders to get the straight answers. Part of being successful is building strong relationships with people in the industry that you can learn from and who will give you critical information.
Taking rejection personally
So you didn’t get the grant. Remember that it’s not a personal slight against you or your music. Committed artists will usually find a way to make their music or project happen regardless, and rejections actually present a great learning opportunity. You should follow up with your program coordinator to get jury feedback and integrate that feedback into your next application. Resist the urge to be rude or blame the funder’s representatives, it’s really not their fault and if you treat them well they will be more likely to provide you with valuable information in the future.
Not completing the grant
So you got the grant! Congratulations! In order to receive the remainder of your grant money you will need to complete your initiative and submit your report on time. You will have to remain accountable to your initial application and the goals you set out. Did you succeed in your objectives? Why or why not? Did you stay on budget? It’s important to not miss these reporting deadlines as the consequence for not reporting, or submitting poor reports can mean having to pay back the entirety of the grant and not being eligible for future funding from that organization.
Pro-tip: Ensure you save all your receipts and never pay for things in cash (if you lose your receipts you have no proof of purchase). Keep your records organized and updated weekly in spreadsheet or accounting software for easy reference at the end of your project cycle. Keeping good records during your initiative will facilitate much quicker and painless reporting!
Not saying Thank You
Receiving information, feedback or funding support from organizations requires artists be gracious and do their part to recognize the gift. This can mean putting the appropriate logos and word marks on your finished album to providing testimonials for the funder’s marketing materials to advocating for increased funding and recognition of Canada’s unique music culture. No one is entitled to funding, but everyone is given the privilege and opportunity to apply. Recognize this and support the organizations and industry that supports you!
Happy grant writing!
Rebecca is an artist and music industry professional from Vancouver, BC, who has worked with organizations such as Live Nation, Music BC Industry Association and the PEAK Performance Project. She currently runs Music Grants Canada, an education and funding consulting firm and has recently published the Canadian Grant Writing Guide for Musicians, available for digital download at ebook.musicgrantscanada.com.
 Source: Canada Music Fund, FACTOR, Radio Starmaker, MuchFACT, Canada Council and various private foundation program budgets as posted in their Annual Reports, which available on their respective websites or upon request.
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