The role of the Arts Council is once again in the headlines. This week, leading figures representing the music industry locked horns with senior opera figures over Arts Council funding. 

UK Music CEO Michael Dugher branded Arts Council England (ACE) “too posh for pop”, pointing out that 62% of ACE’s National Portfolio goes to opera and a further 23% goes to classical music. In contrast, only 8% goes to popular music and 7% to other genres (including jazz, folk, etc).

Hitting back in The Daily Telegraph, Michael Volpe General Director of Holland Park Opera, responded “I’ve been hearing the word ‘posh’ in relation to opera for 30 years. Very few people in opera are posh - certainly not the performers”, although Volpe conceded in the same piece “Opera companies get a lot of money, perhaps more than they ought to, and that’s an ongoing argument.” 

ACE has £1.45 billion of public funds and £860 million National Lottery funds to distribute over the next four years. Of the £368 million allocated to music, opera will receive £229 million, classical £85 million and pop £27 million.

The debate is especially timely because ACE has initiated a public conversation to help inform its strategy for the next 10 years. Given the music industry is only just returning to growth having suffered 15 years of decline, a lot is at stake. A barrier to that discussion is a fundamental misunderstanding between both sides. 

Some might argue the opera world, and the arts establishment as a whole, seem to look down on the music industry or, perhaps, hold the view that it is less deserving. Many in the music industry consider opera an irrelevance and an extravagance. 

The reality is the music industry is vastly more complex, diverse and challenging than is often understood. It is also a reality that opera is accessible through multi-tiered ticket pricing and many opera companies are addressing their own diversity issues.

What are the key issues? How can both sides better understand one another and what does a satisfactory outcome look like?


Not only is there a huge imbalance towards opera, but there is also a disproportionate amount awarded to the Royal Opera House in London specifically. During 2016 alone, the ROH received £28 million in Arts Council funding, which represents 20% of the ROH’s total income for that year. The remainder is made up of box office receipts, commercial income and other fundraising. This includes various charitable trusts and corporate backers such as Goldman Sachs. 

By way of comparison, UK Sport fulfils a similar function to the Arts Council and also relies on a combination of public money and lottery funding. It is worth noting the spread of investment across the Olympic disciplines is much more even. Of the £265 million earmarked for the Tokyo Olympic cycle, rowing receives the most with £32 million, followed by athletics (£27m), sailing (£26m), cycling (£26) and swimming (£22m). Although medals success and underlying costs are a factor, the distribution of funds is far more even when compared to arts funding for music. Equestrian was further down the list with £15m, but imagine the uproar if Equestrian took 60% of available funding at the expense of other medal winning sports.

It is hard to see how the imbalance between opera, classical and other forms of music can be justified. Moreover, if funding were to be taken away from opera and distributed more broadly, how detrimental would that be? Supposing ACE funding for the Royal Opera House is cut in half, that would represent a 10% cut in its overall income. Can the ROH be challenged to go without or make up that funding elsewhere? 


In 2013, Arts Council England supported the launch of the Momentum Music Fund, administered by the PRS Foundation. Momentum was aimed at artists existing outside the major label system, unsigned or signed to an independent, and who could demonstrable a case for £5-15,000 worth of funding to give their careers tangible momentum at a crucial point.

The scheme has been a great success. Over 270 artists have been supported by Momentum and for every £1 invested £7.46 has been generated. Recipients are truly diverse covering a broad spread of genres with a strong BAME representation, making up 49% of grantees. 

Over 3,800 artists have applied for Momentum funding since its inception. Five years after its launch demand and impact has never been greater. The recently published outline of Government's creative industries sector deal, which encourages partnerships between government and industry, mentions the Momentum Fund as an example of good practice.

The frustration is that despite this clear proof of concept, including the quality and diversity of the artists supported and the match funding & income it has leveraged there appears to be little appetite from the Arts Council to continue its involvement in such schemes. 


A key challenge is how the music industry is perceived and how it perceives itself.

Culturally, a disproportionate level of attention is afforded to a tiny minority of major artists earning vast sums at the expense of the majority who do not. This contributes to long held assumptions within the arts establishment, government and the wider public that all paths through the music industry are paved with gold. They are not. 

Within the industry itself, there has been a tradition of self-reliance. Labels and publishers, especially, pride themselves on their investment in new music. This is very true, but that investment only comes at a certain stage. Leading up to that point, artists and their managers typically funded themselves. Prior to the launch of Momentum, grant type funding for artists was very rarely considered as an option. 

Attitudes are very different when it comes to sport. Even world-class athletes such as Mo Farah continue to receive grant funding from Sport UK. In Farah’s case, this is despite considerable endorsement income and a personal net worth rumoured to be £4 million. Grant type funding in sport began in the late 90s. Twenty years later, Great Britain can look back on Olympic glory over the past three Olympic cycles in Beijing, London and Rio across a range of sports. This was no coincidence.


Leading up to the publication of the government’s Industrial Strategy (Creative Industries Sector Deal) earlier this year, there was much debate about funding. Early funding gaps were evident across the creative sector and especially so in music.

For a new artist, releasing music has never been easier: the major streaming platforms are readily accessible to any artist. The principle sources of investment remain labels and publishers although other self-release options such as Seed EIS are available. What has changed is the time it takes to reach that level. A new artist may take several years funding their own releases and live shows during that time. Few new artists have the means to do this, especially those from less affluent backgrounds. This has created very real roadblocks in the talent pipeline as the industry has shifted from CD to download to streaming. 

There is a clear deficiency in investment at the seed/ angel level. Unlike the tech world, there are very few mechanisms providing a return to the early stage investor while safeguarding the artist. An artist’s business structure, especially at an early stage, can be fluid and may not have all IP and activities sitting in one entity. Very few new artists could be considered “investment ready” in a traditional sense. 

This is why grant funding is so important. It does not require equity stakes or convertible loans. It is simple and when targeted correctly, as Momentum has proven, can be highly effective. Grant funding can play a central role in growing a sustainable talent pipeline that fits the streaming age that is now upon us and ensure the industry picks more winners. 

The disproportionate level of Arts Council funds devoted to opera does not seem fair or sustainable and it would seem this is recognized even within the world of opera. Meanwhile, the music industry has proven that grant funding can provide a significant boost to more popular genres and sustain a diverse pipeline of creative talent that works in tandem with existing commercial models. Making the numbers work is a bigger question, but there would seem to be a clear imperative to develop a fairer and more balanced approach to Arts Council funding for music.

25 Apr 2019 | Press release

AWAL launches radio show residency on

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25 Apr 2019 | Press release

Nominations announced for the The Ivors 2019

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25 Apr 2019 | Press release

BMG promotes Marian Wolf to VP, Global Writer Services & China

BMG is proud to announce the promotion ofMarian Wolf to Vice President, Global Writer Services & China. Based in Los Angeles, Wolf will now lead the day-to-day operations of BMG's Global Writer Services for the international publishing roster. He continues to...more

25 Apr 2019 | Press release

All-Party Music Group hits century mark as Lord Grade becomes 100th politician to sign up

The influential All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music (APPG) is celebrating after signing up its 100th senior politician. Former BBC and ITV chairman Lord Grade took the Westminster group of MPs and peers to the landmark.Membership of the APPG has grown by...more

25 Apr 2019 | Press release

Fierce Panda signs Desperate Journalist for publishing as part of Bucks Music Group JV

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25 Apr 2019 | Press release

We Are Scientists to commemorate the anniversary of their debut album, With Love & Squalor, with a reissue of the vinyl and a short run of shows this autumn.


25 Apr 2019 | Press release

2019 Hyundai Mercury Prize now open for entries – and 2019 dates announced

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Townsend gains German chart eligibility in D2C first

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Warner Music opens office in Peru

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

CTM buys Ross Campbell catalogue, including hit Push The Feeling On

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Brighton Music Conference has announced a Morales livestream and BBC Newsbeat broadcast from the BA1360 pod, plus Boiler Room collaboration at The Arch and BMC Beach Clean.

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Nominations announced for The Ivors 2019

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Pink Sweat$ announced as Apple Music Up Next Artist

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

AWAL Expands Artist Marketing Team To Foster Brand Partnerships For AWAL Artists And Labels

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Sony/ATV Music Publishing has signed Grammy-winning songwriter, artist and producer Mustard to a worldwide deal

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24 Apr 2019 | Press release

Ally McCrae and Sophie Paluch launch new ten-part podcast series about the secrets of music management

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23 Apr 2019 | Press release

BBC Radio 1 to tour the North East ahead of Big Weekend

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23 Apr 2019 | Press release

IMPEL names Sarah Williams as CEO

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23 Apr 2019 | Press release

Silva Screen Music Group acquires Sirocco jazz catalogue

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23 Apr 2019 | Press release

Hipgnosis acquires catalogue from Starrah

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23 Apr 2019 | Press release

Latin independent powerhouse Del Records enters into new global partnership with BMG

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22 Apr 2019 | Press release

Kobalt signs worldwide publishing deal with global DJ duo Loud Luxury

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19 Apr 2019 | Press release

Allman Betts Band sign to BMG to release debut album

The Allman Betts Band have signed a new global recording agreement with BMG to release their forthcoming debut album Down To The River. Led by Devon Allman, son of founding Allman Brothers Band keyboardist and singer, Gregg Allman, and Duane...more

18 Apr 2019 | Press release

EU Parliament green lights bot ban in first move against online ticket touting

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18 Apr 2019 | Press release

Global music community prevails in winning the rights to the .MUSIC domain extension

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18 Apr 2019 | Press release

Enjoy YouTube Music free on Google Home speakers

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18 Apr 2019 | Press release

IMS Ibiza announces full 2019 speakers: Klas Bergling (Avicii's Father), Zane Lowe & Professor Green

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18 Apr 2019 | Press release

Kobalt have signed legendary singer-songwriter and keyboardist Michael McDonald

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18 Apr 2019 | Press release

Nova Twins, And So I Watch You From Afar, Joshua Burnside and Oscar Worldpeace among the latest 21 artists to receive support from PRS Foundation’s Momentum Music Fund

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17 Apr 2019 | Press release

Blueprint Radio Starts New Podcast Division – Blueprint Pods.

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25 Apr 2019

  • Socially-conscious songs lead nominees for Ivor Novello Awards. (see News)

  • BBC to create role of Controller, BBC Pop Music. (see Media)

24 Apr 2019

  • Superstruct and Broadwick Live acquire Global festivals. (see Business)

  • IMPEL appoints Sarah Williams as CEO. (see News)

23 Apr 2019

  • Beyoncé strikes three-project deal with Netflix; Homecoming album plus Lemonade album now on streaming services. (see Digital)

18 Apr 2019

  • European Parliament bans bots that mass-purchase concert tickets. (see News)

17 Apr 2019

  • Spotify opens Research and Development hub in London. (see News)

16 Apr 2019

  • Universal reports strong Q1 results. (see Business)

  • Final adoption of the Copyright Directive approved. (see News)

15 Apr 2019

  • Hipgnosis Songs exceeds fundraising target. (see Business)

  • Amazon said to be launching a free, ad-supported music service. (see Digital)

12 Apr 2019

  • Entertainment One to acquire Audio Network. (see Business)

  • BBC Music launches on in the US. (see Media)

11 Apr 2019

  • 7digital must raise more equity to “continue as a going concern". (see Business)

  • US songwriters organisation urges songwriters to "abandon" Spotify. (see News)

  • Daniel Ek interview suggests Spotify's move away from editorial playlists. (see News)

10 Apr 2019

  • Hit songwriters slam Spotify’s attempt to lower royalties. (See News)

  • Instrumental enters partnership with Coda. (see News)

  • Broadwick Live announce major new event space in London. (see News)