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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?

THE FUNDING IMBALANCE

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? 

MOMENTUM MUSIC FUND – A CASE FOR GRANT FUNDING 

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. 

ATTITUDES TO INVESTMENT NEED TO CHANGE 

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.

THE ROAD AHEAD

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.

03 Apr 2020 | Press release

The Official Top 40 Biggest Singles and Albums of 2020 so far – end of Q1

The Weeknd's Blinding Lights takes early singles lead Viral TikTok hits from Roddy Ricch, Doja Cat and Trevor Daniel make strong impact Eminem, J Hus and BTS among biggest new albums of the year so far while Lewis Capaldi's debut continues its...more

03 Apr 2020 | Press release

Danny Howard moves to coveted 9pm slot in BBC Radio 1 Friday night schedule

BBC Radio 1 launches a new Friday night schedule which will see presenters Danny Howard, Annie Mac and Pete Tong continue to showcase the station’s premiere electronic music talent, with Howard moving to the 9-11pm show from this Friday (3rd...more

03 Apr 2020 | Press release

"Get your hit together": BMAT rolls out initiative to help music creators to maximize royalties in response to COVID-19

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03 Apr 2020 | Press release

ERA pays tribute to long-time Chairman and indie record store pioneer Paul Quirk

The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has paid tribute to former Chairman Paul Quirk who died yesterday (April 2) at home after a short battle with cancer.ERA CEO Kim Bayley said, "ERA is indebted to Paul Quirk. Not only was he...more

02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Marathon Music Group Appoints Ophelia Conheady as Head of A&R for Marathon Artists imprint

Marathon Music Group has announced the appointment of Ophelia Conheady as Head of A&R for its main label imprint, Marathon Artists. Highly regarded by both the artist community and her music industry peers, Ophelia joins the company from her previous position...more

02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Blue Raincoat Chrysalis Group appoints John Leahy as SVP Marketing and Strategy

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02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Jaguar announces a new home for undiscovered electronic music on BBC Radio 1: BBC Introducing Dance

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02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Music sector joins together to call for EU and national investment to address current crisis and promote diversity

Music is one of the first sectors hit by the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. It will also be one of the last. As borders close, venues as well as festivals suspend their activities, performances are cancelled, group activity is stopped, shops close,...more

02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Virgin EMI presents Lockdown Live

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02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Toolroom has appointed electronic music specialist Dispersion PR to handle the company's media communications

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02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Mike Smith stands down as MD of Warner Chappell UK

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02 Apr 2020 | Press release

Liverpool Sound City 'Guest House'

The urgency for Guest House came from the situation forced upon us all by the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. Guest House allows musicians to maintain desperately needed income during this difficult time and it also allows fans to get...more

01 Apr 2020 | Press release

Supporting music collectives during COVID-19: Ballantine's x Boiler Room

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01 Apr 2020 | Press release

Introducing... LiveFrom Events

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01 Apr 2020 | Press release

ARA, A2IM, MAC, NMPA, NSAI, Recording Academy, RIAA, and Sona join forces on website offering guidance, resources for music community

  Leading artist rights organizations including the Artist Rights Alliance (ARA), American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the Music Artists Coalition (MAC), National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA), Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA),...more

01 Apr 2020 | Press release

British Landlords Unite with Tenants for a Collective Response to Prevent Major Loss of Business

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01 Apr 2020 | Press release

Jason Mraz signs new global multi-recordings deal with BMG

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31 Mar 2020 | Press release

BBC's Bob Harris OBE and Mumford & Sons' Ben Lovett join the Americana Music Association UK Board

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31 Mar 2020 | Press release

AIM hosts first music business conference adapted to virtual format in response to Covid-19

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31 Mar 2020 | Press release

One Media iP Group plc reports strong set of FY19 results

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31 Mar 2020 | Press release

Beatport Presents: ReConnect, A Global Music Event

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31 Mar 2020 | Press release

SyncFloor Partners with Motor Music, Launches Motor Music SyncSite

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31 Mar 2020 | Press release

BMG appoints Dan Pounder as Co-Head of BMG Production Music

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30 Mar 2020 | Press release

Music Industry Rallies To Support Independent Music Retail With #recordstoreoftheday Campaign

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30 Mar 2020 | Press release

Hipgnosis acquires music catalogue of Richie Sambora

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30 Mar 2020 | Press release

Stay at home with 3 months free HiFi and Family from Deezer

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30 Mar 2020 | Press release

UK Music appoints Tom Watson as new UK Music Chair

UK Music has appointed former Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson as the new chair of UK Music. He succeeds outgoing chair Andy Heath CBE and will start in April at UK Music, the umbrella body for the whole of the commercial...more

30 Mar 2020 | Press release

Grassroots music venues in crisis – Music Venue Trust call to action

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30 Mar 2020 | Press release

IMPEL expands to Latin America

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30 Mar 2020 | Press release

Sentric makes Business Affairs and Data Science hires

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03 Apr 2020

  • Mike Smith stands down as Warner Chappell MD (see Business)

  • European music organisations urge increase of budgets dedicated to music (see News)

02 Apr 2020

  • Spotify and Warner Music Group announce renewed global licensing partnership (see Business)

  • Blue Raincoat appoints John Leahy; Marathon appoints Ophelia Conheady (see Business)

01 Apr 2020

  • Kobalt reports increased losses but strong revenue growth (see Business)

  • Vivendi closes sale of stake in Universal Music Group to Tencent consortium (see Business)

  • TikTok strikes short-term licensing deals with majors (see Digital)

  • Eurovision Song Contest to be broadcast in live, non-competitive format (see Media)

31 Mar 2020

  • Tom Watson appointed Chair of UK Music (see Business)

  • OCC and ERA working to expand the number of independent retailers reporting home delivery sales to the Official Charts (see News)

30 Mar 2020

  • Hipgnosis acquires Richie Sambora catalogue (see Deals)

  • PPL announces £87.6m Q1 distribution, plus additional measures to help the music community (see News)

  • MMF and FAC survey suggests £50m has been lost to the wider music economy (see Analysis)

27 Mar 2020

  • Music industry welcomes 'vital lifeline' for self-employed, but warns two month wait too long (see News)

  • Download and Isle of Wight festivals cancelled (see News)

26 Mar 2020

  • Radio 1, 6 Music to streamline schedules; Annie Mac comes off air (see Media)

  • SpotifyPRS For Music and Help Musicians launch coronavirus relief fund (see News)

25 Mar 2020

  • BMG report 10.1% revenue rise for 2019 (see Business)

  • IMPALA's Covid-19 Task Force publishes package of ten recommendations (see News)

24 Mar 2020

  • The Great Escape 2020 has been cancelled (see News)

23 Mar 2020

  • HMV closes all 120 of its UK stores due to coronavirus (see Business)

  • Kenny Rogers dies (see News)

  • Industry calls for help for self-employed (see Comment)