We spoke with composer and APRA AMCOS' Art Music Specialist Cameron Lam about the commissioning grant, writing a great application and being inspired by different artistic disciplines.
What is the APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund? How did it start and what is its purpose?
The Art Music Fund is a commissioning grant drawing from a pool of $100,000 to support Australian and New Zealand composers creating a new work that has a plan in place to secure multiple performances, recordings and/or broadcasts.
The Art Music Fund launched in 2016 and it has been my absolute pleasure to administer it from its inception. I believe in addition to providing important financial support to our composers in a time where funding sources are highly competed over, the fund also moves focus into long-term planning in a genre that often only gets a premiere of a work before it is shelved.
How far along in your composition career do you have to be to apply for this grant and be successful?
I spoke at the Sydney Conservatorium, Melbourne Conservatorium and Monash University last year about APRA AMCOS and the Art Music Fund, and no matter how early students were into their composition career, my advice was always the same:
You. Should. Apply.
There are a few things you’ll need for your Art Music Fund application:
- A plan – What do you want to write? What are you going to do with it? How are you going to do that?
- Presentation partners – Who have you built relationships with that will help you create and present your work? This could be performers, broadcasters, festival organisers, record labels, publishing companies, artistic directors of ensembles and venues.
- Recordings of previous work – We want to hear what you’ve done and understand how you work. If you’ve organised performances and recordings before, tell us about it.
If you don’t have these ready yet, set them as goals for future projects and funding applications.
As a young composer, what are the benefits of receiving support from APRA AMCOS?
The stability of a commission fee cannot be underestimated - having the time to just focus on creation is gold in our industry.
Recognition is another major benefit. We keep an archive of our Art Music Fund recipients and the commissioned work on our website and feature them in articles and promotional materials regarding the Fund. The Australian Music Centre (AMC) also promotes the recipients.
As a bonus, you’ll also have me as a contact point, checking in at regular intervals to see how your work and your planned presentations are progressing.
Beyond the Art Music Fund, APRA AMCOS supports composers in a multitude of ways. As well as collecting royalties on your behalf, we help you build networks and develop skills through events, panels and in conversation sessions.
Our Professional Development Awards (PDAs) are also something young composers should be across. We run these every two years, with cash and prizes up for grabs. Classical composers who have been successful in the past include 2016 Art Music Fund recipient Alexander Garsden (2013), Peter McNamara (2015), Alex Pozniak (2011) and Melody Eötvös (2009). We’ll be calling for PDA applications in March, so keep an eye out!
The Art Music Awards, which we present with the AMC, are usually held in August each year and are another way we recognise outstanding work across the composition, performance, education and presentation of Australian art music. Nominations are open now if you want to put something forward!
If you’re not already a member of APRA AMCOS member but are keen to learn more, visit our website or drop me a line.
Can you tell us about the breadth of the projects funded in 2016?
The 12 composers commissioned in 2016 cover a good amount of art music’s amazing diversity and are a mix of emerging and established talent. The full list of composers and compositions can be found here but some examples include:
- Dan Thorpe’s [false cognate] for bass flute and electric guitar/viola to be performed both locally and internationally.
- Sandy Evans’ Bridge of Dreams which fuses her jazz-based compositional language with the Indian musical structures of her co-writers to create a large-scale work for solo sax, big band, and Hindustani quartet.
- Cat Hope’s new Electric Concerto for theremin and the Decibel ensemble.
- Samuel Holloway’s new piano trio to be written for extended presentation by the NZTrio.
- Liza Lim’s new large-scale work for Klangforum Wien to be premiered this year in Germany.
If you are lucky enough to be successful in securing funding, what is the process from there?
Lots of emails from me.
Honestly though, there’s a bit of paperwork up front to get the money out to you, then it’s a matter of moving onwards with your proposed plan – writing your work, locking in your proposed performance dates and ticking things off.
I’ll be in contact pretty regularly to make sure everything’s in order. You have up to five years to acquit (depending on your proposed activities), and I’ll be on hand to walk the recipients through that process as well.
As a composer yourself, do you have any tips for young composers hoping to apply this year?
- Be brave. Make those phone calls you’re nervous about, ask the questions you need. Talk to the ensembles you love and people you admire, make plans and lock everything in – everyone’s been a young artist before too!
- Start now. This is a big application. It requires lots of thought, planning and most importantly other people’s confirmations. Don’t leave this to the last minute.
- Read the guidelines. Make sure you’re ticking all the boxes, print off a copy and write all over it - make sure you understand everything!
- Secure other funding. As a commissioning grant, the Art Music Fund only covers the costs associated with composing the work. Ensure the other costs in your plan are covered by other grants or funding sources.
- Maximise your return. The crux of the Art Music Fund is getting as much as you can out of creating a new musical work. Are you recording your piece? What more can you do with that recording? Who else could play this work?
- Proof your work. Make sure you haven’t missed sections. Spell check and get someone else to read it. Are your dates correct? Does your budget add up?
- Email me. Confused about something? Shoot me a line at That’s what I’m here for!
In your personal practice, you often collaborate with artists outside the musical form. What have you learnt about art music from collaborating with different mediums?
There are a million ways to approach any problem. When you boil it right down, a visual artist, choreographer, a filmmaker and a composer have same job: Make something new.
It is incredibly inspiring to see how an individual artist tackles a problem within their field and the innate biases of their particular medium – especially when you can empathise with how difficult the creative process is.
I’d like to think this gives me a greater appreciation for the depth and diversity of art music and its composers/sound artists. Much like differing mediums, seeing people draw from classical, jazz or electronic art practices creates incredibly unique and powerful music - which we’re very proud to be supporting.
When you were starting out on your composition journey, what do you wish you’d known about funding and money-making from your art?
- Make the most of what you get, and what you make: Utilise what you have (performances, recording, capital and time) to try and push yourself forward. Build a body of work to showcase and present yourself.
- Meet people and have interesting conversations: At gigs you love, projects you work on or run, or industry events – the people you ‘click’ with will be your network, the people who support you and can help you.
- Most of all, keep trying: Funding is highly competitive and victories in that field are hard-won and to be celebrated. But not getting funding isn’t the end, and doesn’t mean your project isn’t good – use the conversations you’ve had to build your relationships, revise and critique your application to improve, and re-apply.
Applications for the 2017 APRA AMCOS Art Music Fund close on 21 February 2017, 5pm AEDT. Submit your application here.
Main photo is of composer Dan Thorpe shot by Dennis Grauel.