The Funding Applications. We know the stress these things can cause, particularly if they’re new to you. To help you out, we interviewed two musicians with a wealth of experience on both the applicant’s and the awarding panel’s side - saxophonist Nick Roth and drummer Matthew Jacobson. Both work as musicians with multiple other strands in the industry, including booking, development, and sitting on boards of management.
We’ve distilled their combined wisdom down to these 7 points:
- No mistakes
- Write it on time
- Read the guidelines
- Build that network
- Get the feedback
- Be aspirational
- Don’t get stressed by templates.
Sounds like common sense, we know, but it's elaborated a bit below, and particularly if you are new to the application processes, these points are so important to keep in mind through the whole process of writing and submitting your application.
1. No mistakes
Nick: If there’s a serious mistake in your application, from the panel’s point of view, it will automatically be excluded, because there are always going to be so many other applications which won't have those mistakes. The pressure is so high on the panels to get through everything, that there’s just no room for error. Checking through everything - developing a meticulous approach to the application writing - demands time. It’s something you’re either naturally good at, or you will have to invest the time to learn how to do it.
2. Write it on time
Nick: The first word of advice I would give to people writing an application is time. If the deadline is January 22nd, you need to start thinking about it in September, having it in the back of your mind that this is coming up, starting to build a network.
Matthew: If it's all clear in your head you can write it in a few hours the day before, but applications will always need extra information or supporting materials, or signatures from other people of memorandums of agreements. You can’t leave it until the last day to get those.
Nick: It’s the way that you use that time as well. Instead of spending all night the night before the deadline writing the whole thing, do it ten minutes a day for two months. That way you keep coming back to something, editing a little bit (the same as writing scores) but gradually, you'll see ‘it’s better this way’. That's something you don’t see when you do it all in one go.
(Caitriona adds: Don’t plan on writing anything on the day of submission. It inevitably takes the whole day just to upload the thing - Open Office will crash your computer, you will realise that when you put figures from your budget into the template the numbers stop adding up, and that’s besides the website potentially crashing or being slow because everyone is uploading at once. It’s best to assume that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. People have lost funding which they reliably got for years because of errors in the uploading of applications. Finish it the night before and allow yourself 10 times longer than you think you'll need to upload.)
3. Read the guidelines
You can see an example of the guidelines for the Music Project Award HERE for 2019, however, they do change year to year, so take it as a rough guide only.
Matthew: The Arts Council guidelines for each application are crystal clear. They go through every single question, every single paragraph. Everything you have to answer, they have a guideline on just that question. So you basically have to look and see, 'What do they want for this paragraph?', and then they tell you. Then you go through it and you take your time and you ask ‘How do I make this clear?’ but you basically just have to read through the guidelines.
Nick: You have to position your project in the context of what they’re looking for. A useful thing to do is highlight key words from the guidelines for a particular paragraph, then go back and make sure that your response contains every single one of those key words.
4. Build that network
Nick: You need to get working with other organisations - it’s having those meetings, it’s discussing proposals, it’s getting support, and that takes weeks. Letters of Support are a key part of most applications.
Matthew: You also have to remember there are so few organisations who are supporting artists, all the artists are going to the same organization, so people have a million phone calls to answer the day before a touring deadline. You have to give them a reason to support your application over someone else’s.
5. Get the feedback
Besides helping with the next application, this can be a way of catching an error that could mean your application being rejected rather than accepted.
Matthew: The amount of people I know who’ve had unsuccessful applications, and not gotten the feedback. I’ve had unsuccessful applications and I’ve asked for the feedback, and the reason they didn’t give me the funding was 100% their fault. They claimed I didn’t get the funding because I didn’t submit something that I had submitted. And I had a screenshot of where I had submitted it. They’re human as well and they make mistakes.
Double-checking can give a chance to a project that would otherwise be dismissed as ineligible!
6. Be aspirational
Nick: Don’t be afraid to be aspirational. I always see those applications as an opportunity to write something creative about a project. Nine times out of ten, even if you don’t get the funding, what you write is going to be really decent, so that’s your text for your website or for something else. You can recycle the text. Don’t be afraid to use colourful language, don’t be afraid to quote philosophers, other artists or writers, and make it interesting to read! Put yourself into it, don’t be afraid to tell stories.
7. Don’t get stressed by templates
Even when written, the actual filling in of the form is always stressful. Try to give yourself plenty of time, and know that it's the same for everyone.
Matthew: Fill it out in a separate word doc and copy it in. You’re trying to write in boxes and lines are slipping everywhere. Especially if you use Open Office... infuriating.
Nick: With supporting materials, more is better. Give them a bunch of stuff. I always say, if you’ve got the materials, give it to them. Bear in mind they won’t listen to a huge amount and there’s a limit anyway. You can only send, I think about 40 MB worth of materials.
Matthew: You can send in weblinks so if you have youtube clips you can give them. That’s a bit easier for them anyway. They just click the link and watch on youtube and see straight away what you’re all about.
(Caitriona adds: It can also be useful to have your draft copy of your application text in a GoogleDoc - if you send it to people to read through they can make comments in 'Suggesting' mode, which you can decide to use or not.
Try to square your budget with the categories on the form from the word go, or keep a careful list of what you've assigned where - it can be confusing to decide e.g. whether sending out sheet music comes under office or production costs, you'll need to have a note of which you decided.)