The grant and the fury

A beginner’s guide to grant writing

Nicholas Luchak

So you’re a poet songwriter, dropping Dylan-level science on your tiny but dedicated fan base in trendy coffee shops around town. Yet, you’ve never recorded a note and EarShot’s not in your vocabulary, so the notion of grant writing seems daunting.

We understand.

There’s a plethora of information available online, which musicians would be wise to review.

Roland Deschambault, artist and industry development coordinator at Manitoba Music, says beginners often start with the demo grants. 

Manitoba Film and Music offers a level 1 grant of $2000, and The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recording also offers a demo grant of $1500. Deschambault’s realistic about the difficulties of obtaining these grants.

“Even established bands can often be denied grants,” Deschambault says. “They’re not writing them properly.” 

Demo grants are intended to fund the recording of 2 - 3 songs for Manitoba solo musicians or bands, giving the artists a feel for the studio and allowing them to release music for potential fans.

In addition to a bio and flattering photo, applicants should lay out a realistic strategy spanning 18 months or longer. Knowledge of the industry is important, as record labels are wary to sign musicians with no understanding of the business.

“A proposal might say: ‘We plan to tour the west,’” Deschambault says. “For me, that doesn’t feel like enough information.”

When mapping out a game plan, applicants shouldn’t be afraid to state the obvious, even if they believe something to be common knowledge. If a band has played sold-out shows in Halifax, it should be mentioned. Surprisingly, there is no specific essay-like format that applicants must follow.

“You’re an artist, right?” Deschambault says. “Be creative.”

The proposal should detail highlights and success stories, if available. Already have radio play? How will you continue this trend? No radio play? How will you get it? And in case that plan fails, it’s wise to include a plan B. Overall, the proposal should illustrate how the artist plans to utilize the finished product they plan to produce.

In the event a proposal is rejected, feedback is not only available, but recommended. Grant juries take detailed notes. To a sensitive artiste, those notes may sting, but the artist can learn from their mistakes and improve their chances of getting approved next time. Especially if the goal is to succeed at an industry level.

Deschambault insists self-awareness is also key. Successful artists must have a realistic understanding of their skill level, and should seek the opinions of others. It’s not uncommon for established bands with more than 10 years’ experience to also apply. Applicants may potentially end up in competition with their favourite locals.

Many artists also hire grant writers, a practice Deschambault advises against. Instead, he insists that artists should write them themselves, as their grant should be their creative life plan.

“Write something you’ll be proud of two years from now,” Deschambault says. “That grant is going to be your map to success.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 14, 2015)

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