A guide to writing grants
How to apply for funding to help pay for your album or tour
By David McPherson
For most Canadians, April is what T.S. Eliot once called “the cruellest month.” It’s a season when many scramble to file their taxes and Mother Nature sends a torrent of tears from the sky. For Canadian musicians and SOCAN members, April marks the beginning of “grant season.”
“If you're going to apply for a project, April is a good time because everyone has a lot of money,” says Catharine Bird, a past executive director of the Songwriters Association of Canada and owner of catbird.ca – a home-based business that helps artists write grants. “If you leave your application to the end of the year, some of the programs, especially those of the arts councils, have run low on money, making the competition harder.”
Bird equates the grant-writing process to preparing an annual business plan. Musicians, she says, need to think long-term, and plan accordingly. She advises them to write a year’s calendar of all the grants for every organization (Bird offers a great link on her website), and seek help from a professional grant writer if they can afford it.
“One of the mistakes artists make is they think short-term,” Bird says. “If the deadline is tomorrow, they think, 'What can I throw together to make it happen?' as compared to thinking about the full project from the beginning to the end. When April comes around, think about what you want to do for the next year. Know the deadlines and the parameters, so you can apply early.”
Musicians also need to know what grants are appropriate for their particular genre and whether they're even eligible. If you're making music in the pop or rock genre, then FACTOR (the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings) is the place to go, while singer-songwriters, folk, jazz, or blues artists should apply for grants from The Canada Council or provincial arts organizations. The SOCAN Foundation provides touring grants for international showcases, available to the creators of all genres of music.
“There's nothing worse than spending countless hours of sleep deprivation, only to find out you're applying for the wrong grant,” says Toronto roots artist Jadea Kelly, whose 2010 record Eastbound Platform was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award. Kelly jokes that, if asked, she could write a few pages about grant applications. In the past, she’s been the recipient of FACTOR video grants, Canada Council touring grants, and showcase grants, all because she says she “wrote from the heart and explained [her] passion for music.”
Artists also need to know what they want to use the funds for: to record an album, help market a disc they’ve already mixed and mastered, or offset touring costs. It all goes back to writing a long-term plan, so you can apply for the right grants at the right time. If you are applying for funds to make a record, you need to have a clear vision of what you're going to do with this creation once it’s completed and who the intended audience is.
“The funding organizations are not going to grant you money to record the masters and then put it under your pillow and sit on it for five years,” says Bird. “You haven’t helped any culture be created.”
Joni Daniels knows a thing or two about creating culture. The co-owner of Treefort Artists – another grant-writing organization – has been in the music business since she was a teen; she promoted her first concerts at her high school and was on the crew that launched MuchMusic. Along with her business partner Chris Wardman, Daniels specializes in helping musicians in the pop/rock genre get FACTOR, Radio Starmaker, and MuchFACT grants. Like Bird and Kelly, she advises to start early.
“Timing is important because the jury process, which is how most applications are adjudicated, can take up to four months,” Daniels explains. “Ideally, you should start looking for funding six months to a year before you plan to record.”
Juries selecting projects for these types of grants are listening for radio hits and songs that will contribute to Canadian culture. Since competition is fierce, it’s critical that artists use a producer and a studio to make sure the finished submission sounds professional and not as if it was recorded on a home computer in the musician’s basement.
A final piece of advice, for musicians applying for grants, is the simple, age-old adage: never give up.
“The music granting system in this country is one of the best in the world, but the funding is limited,” says Daniels. “To make it work for you, you need to be hard-working and dedicated. And keep trying. Often, an application just barely misses being chosen. If you know it’s good, try again.”
Top seven grant-writing tips
1. Make a long-term plan
2. Research what grants you are eligible for (i.e., do your homework)
3. Apply early (grant season begins April 1; the sooner you apply, the more funds that are available)
4. Get help (either a fellow musician to mentor you, or hire a professional grant writer)
5. Read the guidelines over and over again before submitting
6. Know the deadlines
7. Don’t give up! (there are always other grants, and maybe you just need to tweak your application to get it approved the next time)