Music Business 101: Grant Writing

Music Business 101: Grant Writing

The business of securing funding. 

Naomi Johnson
Sydney, Australia

Music Business 101: Grant Writing

The business of securing funding. 

1. Check the Criteria

Starting off with the big picture, and even before you start thinking about your wonderful project, check the grant criteria. You want to make sure it's the right grant for you and your project, but also that you fit what the funding body is looking for. It would be a shame to start writing, then realise that you're over the age limit of 25, or that the grant is actually only open to current students. Do you fit the bill? Does your project sound like what they're looking for?

2. Read Everything

Many grants will have a document or web page that lists the eligibility criteria, the questions you'll have to answer in the application process and any supporting documentation you're going to need all in the one place. With others, you might have to search a little further. Either way, it's best to start by reading everything and making sure you've got your head round both the process and the amount of time it's going to take you. Some funding bodies will also publish lists of previous grant recipients and their projects, so why not check out past success stories while you're at it.

3. Write With Passion, and Clarity

Funding bodies want to support projects that are going to succeed, and one of the best ways to show that is to be really passionate about that success in your writing. It's great to get excited about your project – that's one of the things that will really make your application shine. Make sure, though, that you balance this with a strong fundamental plan. Is your project explained consistently? Would someone who might not have a background in music understand it as well? How about your mum/sister/uncle? Sometimes the grant assessors won't know what a Pierrot Ensemble is, so write in a way that clarifies specialist terms and ideas.

4. Word Limits are there for a Reason

This might sound like a bit of a silly one, but it's true: if the question asks for a specific number of works, that's a good indication of the level of detail the funding body wants. If you've answered a 400-word question on how you're going to give back to the community with only 50 words, then you probably need to re-think whether your project is going to meet the eligibility criteria. Because one of them is probably to do with community engagement! Within 10% of the word limit is probably a good strong answer. Remember, you want to use all the space you've got to sell your awesome idea.

5. Make the Budget Balance

Some grants will ask for a proposed budget for your project, and its imperative that budget balances. Some funding bodies won't even consider your application unless it does. Making it balance means that your total income including the grant will exactly equal your total expenditure on the project. This doesn't mean you have to know exactly how much you're going to spend on printing programs or anything, just that you've done your research about how much it is all likely to cost. You need to list everything, including performance fees, travel costs, and then smaller things like sheet music purchases if you plan to spend your grant money on that as well. On the other side of the sheet, you should also list all the assumed sources of income, things like ticket sales, donations, other grant funding. Remember that 'personal contribution' is a valid income source if it makes the budget balance!

6. Ask for Advice and Feedback

And ask for as much as possible. It's important to make sure your application says what you think it's saying, all the way from the big ideas to individual sentences and the best way to check that is with someone else's eyes. There are lots of ways to get feedback: have a coffee with a friend just to chat about your project, seek out someone who has previously got the grant and pick their brains, and finally ask someone to proofread your application. If you've got a friend who's applying for the same grant, all the better; proofreading each other's applications will probably help you see weaknesses in your own. Some funding bodies might offer feedback themselves before the application is due. If so, it's definitely asking ahead of time what they think.

7. Practice

Many say that grant writing is an art, and in some ways it's true. You need to be good at expressing your ideas clearly and passionately, showing that your brilliant project will be successful no matter what.  The first time you write a grant application it will probably feel like pulling teeth, but like any skill it improves with practice. For every application you write, whether it's successful or not, you're honing your skills for the next one. With practice, you'll become increasingly good at articulating your ideas, knowing what the funding body is looking for, and hopefully getting your fantastic projects up and running.

Flautist and writer Naomi Johnson is a versatile and inquisitive performer, with a particular interest in contemporary chamber music. She has worked with ensembles including the music box project, Ensemble Offspring, Melbourne University New Music Ensemble, Forest Collective, and as part of the Metropolis New Music Festival (Melbourne). A three-time participant in the SoundSCAPE festival (Maccagno, Italy), she has worked with composers from Australia, New Zealand the UK and the USA. Increasingly active in commissioning new works, she is a previous recipient of an ArtStart award, Creative Partnerships Australia MATCH Funding, and the University of Melbourne's Donovan-Johnson Award. Naomi holds a Masters of Music (Performance, 2014) from the University of Melbourne, and has also studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland and at the Trevor Wye Flute Studio in the UK. A keen advocate of music through the written and spoken word, Naomi has completed a grant writing internship with Garden of Ideas (UK, 2015) and a Sydney Symphony Orchestra Music Presentation Fellowship (2012). She is currently based in Sydney as a music programmer with ABC Classic FM, and remains active as a writer and blogger.