Made in Manitoba

Getting money to make music is half the struggle, and provincial grants are there to help

Alannah Walker and Cole Woods from Cannon Bros. couldn’t afford to sit on this bench without a little help from the province. Supplied

Think of your favourite local musicians. The odds are that at some point, many of them have taken advantage of provincial grants to make their music. For some, it may have even been the only way they could do it.

“In a sense I’m thinking that grants make lots of music possible that wouldn’t be otherwise,” says Winnipeg musician Ian Neufeld La Rue, who plays with his wife Lea Neufeld as Ian La Rue and the Heartbeat City.

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Manitoba Film and Music (MFM) provided grants totaling $629,000 to Manitoba musicians. This included the funding of 54 recording projects, 53 tours and 21 marketing initiatives.

This money is not free by any means.

To begin with, the application process is rigorous. Artists must provide a marketing plan, photos, a bio and lyrics in addition to a detailed outline of their plans pertaining to the project at hand.

For a recording grant this includes song treatments, or specific plans for how a demo version of a song will be improved upon recording in the studio.

It helps to know someone that knows the process. Having that someone as the head of your label is even better.

“It is a lot of work to write them, and there’s a format to writing them,” says Alannah Walker, drummer for local pop duo Cannon Bros. “It seems like there are people who know how to do that and Greg (MacPherson of Disintegration Records) is one of them.”

Cannon Bros. received a sound recording grant earlier this year, and with it recorded a 12-song album due out in November. Walker says MacPherson wrote the majority of their grant application.

“It can be a lot of work, but that’s just part of the work of being a musician. Those grants aren’t like a lottery ticket,” says La Rue, who applied for and received a grant for a short tour in March.

Applications go through an adjudication process where juries made of industry professionals and experts decide who gets the money.

MFM cannot release the names of jury members for confidentiality reasons, but John Paul Peters, a local producer, has sat on several music grant juries at the national level and says the provincial process is probably very similar.

“For smaller demo grants, the jury mostly judges the potential of the tracks to be recorded,” Peters says in an email. “For larger album grants, the marketing plan and experience or exposure of the band are the most important features.”

One difference to note between MFM and the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings (FACTOR) is that the national system always matches applications from one province with jurors in another.

Peters, who sits on one FACTOR jury each year, says this makes for a fairer process.

Even after receiving the stamp of approval from the jury, the artist’s process is far from over. MFM requires that artists provide evidence of their expenditures throughout the process as well as semi-annual sales reports when applicable. All recording projects must work with accredited Manitoba recording studios.

It can be a lot of work, but that’s just part of the work of being a musician. Those grants aren’t like a lottery ticket.

Ian Neufeld La Rue

After the project is complete, MFM wants to know how the artist fared according to the outlines in the application.

“Applicants are required to provide follow-up reports outlining key indicators of success such as market growth, audience penetration and progress on goals and success indicators outlined in the original application,” Ginny Collins, communications and marketing director at MFM, says in an email.

It’s also important to show growth over subsequent records, if the grants are going to keep coming.

An artist applying for a grant to record their second album must prove that they recouped 20 per cent of the cost of their first album. This percentage keeps increasing until the fifth grant, which requires that the previous project broke completely even.

The amount of money received by the artist isn’t arbitrary, either. Each category of grant has a maximum amount that can be paid, but the actual amount provided equals a percentage of the artist’s budget.

La Rue says that touring grants like the one he received earlier this year are a way of paying artists fair wages.

“It’s not there to just pay people extra money. It’s there to cover you if you’re not getting paid enough as a musician,” he says. “It’s more of a system to bump up the money that you’re not quite getting enough of.”

Walker appreciates the support her band receives.

“I think we’re really lucky in Manitoba,” she says. “The system we have is really good and hopefully it stays that way. To get a federal grant from FACTOR is a lot more difficult.”

“In the scene that we’re in or on the edge of – the indie folk scene – everybody takes advantage of grants,” La Rue says. “Why wouldn’t you? It’s money and it’s there for you and it’s the government supporting arts.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 5 of The Uniter (September 29, 2011)

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