The Write Stuff: Advice on Canadian Grant Writing

"I think it's really important that artists are empowered with the tools and become educated so that they can be more supported or self-managing"

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Photo by Marissa Hooi

Getting music grants in Canada is a tricky business. It can be a real struggle for artists to actually receive the funding provided by the government and affiliated government bodies. Rebecca Apostoli is well aware of this fact, and with her new book “The Canadian Grant Writing Guide for Musicians” she hopes to help artists address the matter. A performer herself, Apostoli has held positions with such organizations as Live Nation Canada, Access to Music Foundation, and the Music BC Industry Association, before becoming the founder and CEO of Music Grants Canada.

Music Grants Canada is both a funding and artist development agency, providing grant writing services designed to help artists get the funding they’re looking for. The mission statement on musicgrantscanada.com reads: “Music Grants Canada was founded in fall 2013 to support, sustain, and advocate for independent music artists and companies in Canada, and to address critical gaps in education, resources, and support for the music industry.” Apostoli is clearly passionate about her work and articulate in delivering her message: “It should speak for itself. No one else has really written the book before. It’s written for a specific audience…independent artists, small business owners, and small labels who want to get funding but have no idea how to. I think it’s really important that artists are empowered with the tools and become educated so that they can be more supported at self-managing.”

The music grant system in Canada has long been seen as structurally flawed, and with the demise of Mammoth Cave Records out of Toronto getting headlines in the media lately, the grant system in Canada has again come under fire. Serious allegations of nepotism, lack of accountability, conflicts of interest, and lack of transparency in their criteria are but some of the criticisms being lobbied at the system.

Paul Lawton, the former owner of the small label, has given voice to commonly held perceptions of the system as opaque and serving a small number of established artists within the industry, instead of assisting a wide range of artists at a grassroots level. Apostoli agrees that there are improvements that need to be made to the process. “A small number of successful indie labels have the tools to apply for and receive the lion’s share of the funding. Partially because the eligibility criteria and the jurying criteria is set up to cater to those artists that have achieved a certain level of success.”

Apostoli sympathizes with many of the arguments being made by critics. “They do have a responsibility to the community that they’re supposed to be serving to distribute the funds in a judicious and democratic manner and to be transparent about how they’re going about that. I definitely agree that the criticisms lobbied at them do have merit. I definitely see both sides of it.”

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Illustration by Connor McCabe

The other side of the story that Apostoli alludes to is the way in which artists submit proposals to the various bodies of the music grant system. On a first hand basis, she frequently sees a lack of basic knowledge of the grant process in artists’ submissions, and sees this as a part of the reason why artists struggle to receive grants. “Canada doesn’t have the same ecosystem of patronage as somewhere like the United States, which has wealthy individuals that want to invest the money. Here in Canada we hand it off to an organized body to administer patronage, which can be a lot more bureaucratic, and can seem a lot more mysterious to an artist … they often have no idea how that process works, where the money is coming from, or who gets it.” She commonly comes across proposals that have not been adequately researched, and that have weaknesses in their business plans. “They need to be well researched. They should know that you have looked at what projects have been previously funded, so that you know it fits into that organization’s mandate and you’ve actually applied to the correct program. Also, having a thoroughly researched marketing plan is important, because it shows that bands are attentive to the industry.”

A certain level of business acumen is required on the part of the artists, and Apostoli sees this as something that is often absent in their submitted grant proposals. As an artist, she’s well positioned to help proponents better understand the proposal process because she’s been there herself. “Being an artist myself, I too was inexperienced when I was younger until I was sort of forced into working in professional atmospheres to kind of get my act together … to start planning things. This book and the launching of my company has definitely been a big learning experience for me, in learning how to market my own business, do advertising, and publish a book. So I can see that really influencing how I’m going to be coaching artists.”

So whether you believe that the problem is systemic or that responsibility lies with the artists themselves (or a combination of both) the information in Apostoli’s book is helpful in understanding how to write a great proposal, and for better or worse that’s something that all artists need to know how to do.

Especially coming from someone who has been on both sides of the process, you can bet that she knows what she’s talking about. Hopefully her book will have an impact on getting more funding to artists who need it. We would all be better off for it.