Easy money? Dirty cash? The public pound? Raising finance in the music industry

Last week, along with my co-director, Wendy Smithers, I took part in Music Tank’s Easy Money? The Convention, a one-day access to finance event for those working in music. The event was timed to coincide with the publication of Easy Money? The Definitive Guide to Funding Music Projects, written by Remi Harris who many of you might know from her time at AIM and UK Music. Between us Wendy and I covered what we used to shorthand as ‘dirty cash’ and ‘worthy money’ and everything in between, having raised money from everyone from a friend’s mum to sponsorship from Playstation. So we were like the proverbial kids in a sweetshop…

Like the guide, Easy Money? the conference was aimed at individuals and small businesses working in the industry and mainly in what they call ‘commercial’ or ‘contemporary popular’ music. And it was nothing if not ambitious in its scope, offering insights into grants, friends and family support, crowd funding, sponsorship, debt financing and investment.

Tom Robinson got the day off to a great start, sharing his own experience of accessing finance early in his career, which involved putting a £2 ‘invest in my band’ ad in The Gay Times and finding an investor who “in year two almost broke even on his two grand investment, in year three went into profit… and in year four ended up in prison for embezzlement. Turned out it wasn’t his own money he was investing.”

And that set the tone for the day which saw people generously sharing their experience and their dos and don’ts. Whether it was Wendy talking sponsorship, Sparklestreet’s Gary MacLarnan talking about brands and bands, Aluna George’s manager, Stars Redmond, talking through recent campaigns, or delegates themselves, the story was the same. Do your research, know what you want and what you are prepared to offer in exchange and ask others how they’ve done it. The whole day was an example of a truth we’ve always found as we go about our work – that people are on the whole pretty willing to be generous with what and who they know.

It’s that truth that underpins Joining the Dots, the project we’re launching in December, which has a focus on supporting game-changing ideas, sharing know-how and connecting artists, promoters, producers and others working in independent music.

JTD has as its backdrop the need that individuals and businesses working in independent music have to diversify their income streams and find new financial models – if they are to survive in music’s new ‘world order’.

Joining the Dots will do two things. Firstly it will provide seed corn funding to test potentially ‘game-changing’ business models. Secondly it will use a series of events and online ‘semesters of learning’ to increase understanding of industry issues and catalyse widespread sharing of knowledge between peers working in independent music.

With Joining the Dots we’re taking a slightly different approach to Arts Council England’s Catalyst scheme and Momentum Fund. The latter is the latest strategic intervention to come out of ACE. At the time of its launch, Arts Council CEO Alan Davey said; “It is vital that talented musicians and bands have opportunities to access the kind of support that ensures their talent can find its way and flourish.” He did however open up some controversy on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “record labels want talent to be delivered to them ready made and they’re not prepared to take a risk over a long period of time investing in talent”.

As Tom Robinson said to me at Easy Money; “There’s never been a better time for artists – with genuine talent – to get heard but that’s going to depend on us finding new modes for earning money and interacting with audiences”.

We hope that Joining the Dots can help artists, promoters and others working in independent music to find and explore those new models, the ones which might go on, as Tom Robinson said, “to underpin the way we all work for the next 60 years”.

Joining the Dots will launch in early December. To keep up to date with the latest news, sign up to our newsletter, follow us on twitter or like our Facebook page.