Remi Harris: Why The Music Industry Needs To Be Fluent in Funder-Speak

09 Jul 2013

Getting funding for music seems to be an obsession at the moment, with the launch of several new schemes this year alone to provide loans, investment and grants to music companies for artist development, most recently Momentum Music.

But didn’t this all used to be so simple?  Back-in-the-day (for me, that means the late 90’s, but feel free to reference the era of your choice), a band could not only sign with a major label or publisher, but also with a wide range of really tiny indie labels or managers, who could actually get an advance from an indie distributor against record sales, which would fund production and marketing costs.

I’ve started using the phrase ‘music’s intra-industry funding model’ to describe this system.

Intra-industry funding meant the ability to access funding via a wide variety of entry points all without leaving the music industry. That meant you were dealing with people who spoke the same language…who understood what ‘selling out Shepherd’s Bush Empire’ meant in a band’s trajectory, who could nod their heads sagely when you talked to them about ‘getting spot plays on Radio 1’, and who appreciated implicitly what that meant in terms of the credit or investment they could give you.  Of course, it was never easy to get funding to launch a music career, but there were ways and means of doing it.

The intra-industry funding model is still with us, but rather shriveled.  There are other ways of getting money, some of them new and promising, but now the language is awkward and unfamiliar to most of us.  We’re blagging it, trying to translate terms like ‘exit strategies’, ‘enterprise finance guarantees’, ‘outputs’, ‘perks’ and ‘pledges’…

At the start of this year, I began writing a book about funding for the music industry.  I was passionate about sharing my interest in this subject, and determined to create a reference for the thousands of companies and musicians who want to look for funding, and who would otherwise have to research this for themselves.

I’ve taken as a starting point my conversations with artists, managers, musicians, publishers and labels about getting money, interviewing the ones who are good at it – as well as talking to many funders.  The guide is going to be a simple way of understanding how it all works, and which type of funding is going to be best for you personally.

One of the most important terms I have been explaining is the ‘trade-off’ between the funder and the person receiving the funding.

There has always been a trade-off between, say, a record label and an artist, whereby the artist gives up a certain amount of control over their rights and how their music is presented, in return for the investment and expertise they get from the record label.  The dynamics of this, for good and bad, are well understood by people in the industry.  We spend a lot of time trying to get a label for artists, and then managing that relationship.

I’ve increasingly realised that if we are looking for other sources of funding, maybe we need to spend as much effort on understanding and learning funders’ language as we do on our relationships within the music industry.  You have to know who’s who in the funding world, and what they are looking to put money into.

My forthcoming guide to music funding covers six main areas: crowd-funding, borrowing, investment, grants, sponsorship and money from friends and family.

It talks about the trade-off that happens between the funder and the recipient, what it takes to attract money, and what you are expected to deliver, once you have taken the cash.  It explains the motivations of the different funders clearly, and looks at how they are aligned (or clashing) with the motivations of the artist.

So in the future, the music industry will need to be fluent in funder-speak – it’s going to be the language that enables a diverse range of entry-points for new music to break through.

Remi Harris, Music Industry Consultant and author of our forthcoming guide on music industry funding.


Sept 2013: Music Industry Funding Guide | Oct 22 2013: Access To Finance Convention 
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