Update 2: Music Network have issued a statement in response to below.

Update: Please read the following post understanding that my intentions here are to highlight that Music Network’s Recording Scheme’s process in selecting applicants leaves a lot to be desired and this post is not an attack on the competency and abilities of the judges, despite best intentions or questionable decisions. From my perspective and of others, the process looks biased and weighted towards awarding those in the field of contemporary and classical music, not “all genres” as its materials suggest and Music Network could make some simple changes as below to be more inclusive and transparent. Ultimately, this is about perception and it doesn’t look good.

Music Network announced the results of their Arts Council Music Recording Scheme for 2013 today. A total of €71,500 was awarded to musicians to fund recordings and the press release sent out defines those applicants, broadly, as: 25 classical/contemporary classical; 9 rock/pop; 5 singer songwriter/folk; 15 jazz/improvised; 12 cross-over/other.

It goes on to say that the total amount sought by applicants to this round of the scheme was €490,254.88 and “given the limitations of the fund available, the panel chose to allocate a total of €71,500 to 9 applicants.” The scheme has been running since 2006 and has given away €572,000 in grants since then. Here are its guidelines.

I thought it was worth mentioning here as has seemed to me over the years, classical and contemporary composers/musicians are often better at looking for these funds and grants than others. A lot of musicians in the fields of pop, rock, indie, electronic or niche genres aren’t even aware that such grants exist (there’s a separate Arts Council Grant taking applications for individuals now until January for example). But then some interesting facts arose as detailed below and a post with the intention of letting people know a scheme exists and can be applied for, now highlights how such a grant has a strong bias towards certain genres and a panel with a big conflict of interest.

Music Network says the scheme is:

The Arts Council Music Recording Scheme provides support for performers and composers working primarily in non-commercial genres through awarding funding for music recording. The aim of this scheme is to ensure that the work of Irish composers and performers is available other than in live performance, and to ensure that important or neglected materials of Irish music are preserved and disseminated to the highest professional standard. The scheme is open to musicians and ensembles of all genres that are of Irish nationality or resident in Ireland.

Panel bias?

What is clear: The Music Network’s Recording Scheme:

a) features a small panel taken only from representatives of the contemporary / classical world.

b) features a panel member who directly linked to 3 or the 9 successful applicants.

2013 Panel

Ciara Higgins, PR/Concerts Manager, Royal Irish Academy of Music, Artistic Director of the KBC Great Music in Irish Houses festival (Arts Council Nominee)

Bernard Clarke, writer and presenter of the contemporary music programme Nova on RTÉ lyric fm

Kate Ellis, cellist, Co-artistic Director of Crash Ensemble, co-founder of Kaleidoscope night Dublin

Sharon Rollston, Chief Executive, Music Network.

An unfairly weighted panel

This year’s panel was overwhelmingly drawn from the contemporary and classical world. There is no representation beyond those fields as defined in the panel above. It’s disappointing that the scheme encourages pop/rock/etc to enter  in its materials but doesn’t have a representative from any of those fields on the panel. Four people is too small a number to really represent “all genres” as described above,  particularly when this year’s panel overwhelming weighted towards contemporary and classical and the winners below reflect that this year.

While not all pop, rock, electronic, soul, dance music is “non-commercial” in nature, the panel should reflect the grant’s potential which it didn’t this year.

Panel member conflict of interest?

So as detailed below, Crash Ensemble were awarded money from the scheme, and their co-artistic director Kate Ellis was on the panel? So a panel member directly benefits from the grant? Not only that, she’s listed three times in total for her involvement in Yurodny Ensemble and with Judith Ring as well as Crash. So Ellis is involved in three of the nine successful applicants? WHAT? That is very poor decision making by Music Network and whoever else is in charge to let this happen. In fact, that’s downright craaaaaaazy. A brazen conflict of interest. The fact that they don’t see a problem with that, or felt the need to highlight it, without my prompting, is very disheartening.

So is there scope there for artists and bands not in the fields of contemporary and classical to apply and be successful in future? Not if Music Network’s Recording Scheme doesn’t address its blatant bias in its panel or scope.

Music Network response

Here is a response from Sharon Rollston, CEO of Music Network and 2013 panel member:

Q. It’s somewhat disappointing that the scheme encourages pop/rock/etc to enter but doesn’t have a representative from any of those fields on the panel. It’s overwhelming weighted towards contemporary and classical. Would you to care comment on this?

Rollston - “The panel composition rotates every year because it’s not possible within a panel of four to represent every genre. We aim to select people with the broadest possible musical knowledge for the panel, in order to select the best applicants, regardless of genre. We have invited FMC onto the panel for the last number of years, but it clashes with SXSW, so we had already agreed with the Arts Council to move the scheme deadline forward next year to accommodate FMC.”

Q. I’d also like to ask you why Kate Ellis a panel member, is involved in some capacity with 3 of the 9 successful applicants. Do you not see a significant conflict of interest here?

Rollston - “Where there is a conflict of interest, of course, the panel member states their interest and absents themselves from the room, as is the normal practice in adjudication panels.”

Do you not see by recruiting your panellists who are majorly defined by contemporary and classical by their jobs or endeavours, regardless of their broad knowledge, it makes the scheme looks biased towards contemporary or classical applicants as is born out by this year’s winners? Can you understand how it looks very discouraging to musicians or composers working in other genres? 

Rollston - “Applicants are not assessed on genre, but on the quality of proposals.”

While it’s good that you invited FMC to the panel, they are not the only representatives that could have been asked. Why were alternative panel members to FMC not approached in that case?  

Rollston - “FMC are the resource organisation for the indie music sector and we are and have been in discussion with them on how to work together.”

Why is the panel only limited to four when, in your own words, ” it’s not possible within a panel of four to represent every genre?” Why not have a larger panel? Surely a greater variety in the panel will result in a greater variety in successful applicants? Surely, greater transparency is beneficial for all.

 Rollston - “The panel is kept to four to keep the admin costs down so that there’s more money for the awardees.”

Also, Panellist Bernard Clarke has left a reply on Facebook about the process.


Having had lots of conversations in the last few days about all this, it seems the problem here is the culture around the adjudication of grants in Ireland. The general response I keep hearing back is “this is how everyone else does it” but that’s not a reasonable excuse. It is not acceptable to ask someone to be on a panel when there’s a the conflict of interest, even if they leave the room, just because this is how other people do it. Ireland is a small country and people know each other but still, there are better ways. A panel member shouldn’t benefit financially from the panel on the same year they sit on it. Music Network is ultimately responsible here.

This year’s successful applicants:

Kevin Brady was awarded €10,000 to record a new album with the Kevin Brady Trio and guest vocalist Norma Winstone, featuring original compositions by ensemble members, new arrangements of rarely performed Jazz standards, folk tunes, and free improvisation. The recording will be released on the Fresh Sounds New Talent record label.

William Dowdall was awarded €8,300 to record an album of music from the early 1740s, originally performed in Dublin Castle and its environs. The recording will include works by Castrucci and Tubourg, discovered through research in the National Library of Ireland, and will feature William Dowdall, flute, David Adams, harpsichord, Lisa Dowdall baroque viola, and Malachy Robinson, violone.

Mary Dullea was awarded €9,766 to record works for solo piano by seven leading contemporary Irish composers – David Fennessy: The first thing, the last thing and everything in between (2009), Ed Bennett: Gothic (2008), Grainne Mulvey: Etude No.1 (1994), Benjamin Dwyer: Homenaje a Maurice Ohana (1997/2006), Jonathan Nangle: grow quiet gradually (2008), John McLachlan: Nine (2011), and Frank Lyons: TEASE (2008).

Crash Ensemble was awarded €10,000 to record new works written for the ensemble by composers Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nico Muhly, to be released on the Bedroom Community record label. The album will feature Emily Thyne, violin, Lisa Dowdall, viola, Kate Ellis, cello, Malachy Robinson, bass, John Godfrey, electric guitar, Susan Doyle, flute, Deirdre O’Leary, clarinet, Roddy O’Keeffe, trombone, Andrew Zolinsky, piano and Owen Gunnell, percussion.

Yurodny Ensemble was awarded €7,495 to record a new album “Haivka” to be released on the Diatribe label. The album will feature Alla Zagaykevych’s new commission “Sounds of Signs” alongside new works commissioned for the Yurodni SciLens project in 2012. The recording will feature ensemble members Cora Venus Lunny, violin, Oleg Ponomarev, violin, Adrian Hart, violin/electronics, Kate Ellis, cello, Nick Roth, saxophone/sensor-augmented saxophone, Colm O’Hara, trombone/sensor-augmented trombone, Francesco Turrisi, piano/accordion/percussion, Dave Redmond, double bass and Phil MacMullan, drums, with guest vocalists Alla Zagaykevych, Iryna Klymenko, Olesya Zdorovetskaya and Susanna Karpenko.

Ronan Guilfoyle was awarded €3,000 to record a series of his new compositions, exploring the interstices between composition and improvisation. The album will feature Dave Binney, saxophone, Chris Guilfoyle, guitar, Ronan Guilfoyle, bass and Tom Rainey, drums.

Laura Hyland was awarded €6,730 to record a new album of seven original songs, together with her group Clang Sayne. The album will feature Laura Hyland, voice/guitar, Judith Ring, voice, Carolyn Goodwin, bass clarinet/voice, and Matthew Jacobson, drums/voice.

Judith Ring was awarded €9,322 to record her compositions of the last 15 years. The album will feature musicians for whom the compositions were originally conceptualised, including Kate Ellis, cello, Cora Venus Lunny, violin/viola, Michelle O’Rourke, mezzo soprano, Paul Roe, bass clarinet, Malachy Robinson, double bass, Jane O’Leary, piano

Jürgen Simpson was awarded €6,887 towards recording a feature length film score for the film “Maya” by director Mary Wycherley. Maya is the culmination of a 15 year live-performance dance project developed by choreographer Joan Davis, one of the earliest practitioners of contemporary dance in Ireland. Devoid of any dialogue, music will be central in Maya, acting as the “voice” of the film.

Notes on article updates:

This article was updated a few times since it was published. Firstly, to include the panel and the resulting questions around perception of bias and conflict of interest. Secondly, to include Music Network responses and thirdly to include a paragraph on the aftermath. As a result, the headline was edited for clarity – It first read – ‘€71,500 awarded to mostly classical and contemporary musicians in Music Network’s Recording Scheme’ before being changed to ‘Conflict of interest in awarding of Music Network’s Recording Scheme?. It now reads ‘Problems in the awarding of Music Network’s Recording Scheme’ and a final paragraph at the top explains the overall focus of the piece.

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82 Responses to “Problems in the awarding of Music Network’s Recording Scheme”

  1. Mick

    Kate Ellis also features on two more of the selected projects above meaning projects with which she is involved have benefited to the tune of €26,817, more than 33% of the total funds awarded.

  2. Martman

    According to Mick there, Kate Ellis is involved in 2 more projects, making it 5 in total. This is pretty disgraceful really.

    • Mick

      Hi, in response to above comment could I make clear my initial comment was posted prior to the article being updated to highlight Kate Ellis’ involvement in the Yurodny & Judith Ring projects. Thus I was highlighting this involvement along with the Crash connection Niall pointed out in the article in its original form.

  3. Angela Dorgan

    As an FYI. Music Network has approached FMC to be part of the panel for the past two years but their selection day has clashed with CMJ both years so we weren’t able to take up their kind offer. Also Music Network make a point of effort to make sure information on the scheme gets to us to distribute through Breakingtunes and our other networks.

    • Nialler9

      Hey Angela, Sharon Rollston addressed that above in her response. As I said, surely there are other qualified people available when you guys aren’t? And the suggestion to increase the number of people on the panel is quashed with a “we don’t have enough money to pay them all” – how much are they paying the panellists????

      If it is a scheme available to all genres, the panel chosen has to reflect that, not just be people in the same field. Especially, when one of them has a direct link to 3 of the winning projects. It’s very disheartening.

      • Angela Dorgan

        Absolutely they could have invited someone else. But i wanted to put it out there that they had approached us and it was WE couldn’t attend. ( soz, didn’t see Sharon’s response)
        I can’t really speak to the number of people on the panel as I’m not privvy to how that came about or how it’s decided…

      • Martin Fieldman

        I looked into this:
        €200 plus expenses. €400 for someone unwaged. Standard arts council fee. Not big money by any means.

  4. Ian Doyle

    And this surprises you. ???? I have been advised in the past by both the arts council and music network that “popular” music falls under the remit of FMC who are directly funded by the arts council for that purpose. Are there not simmilar Issues with regards the transparency of FMC selection process and who benifits ? I’m sure the old “leaving the room trick” is standard practice there also.

    • Nialler9

      It’s not that it’s surprising, it’s that it’s worth questioning and highlighting.

      Why have a scheme purported to be aimed at musicians from all genres if you set up the scheme so that it’s predisposed to pick music from other genres? Are you not just wasting people’s valuable time?

      Which FMC selection are you referring to? If it’s Hard Working Class Heroes, then that’s chosen by a panel of around 20 or so people (which I’ve been on in the past) and there is feedback available to all applicants. If it’s SXSW, CMJ or Canadian Music Week, it’s the festivals themselves that pick the bands primarily. That’s my understanding of how it works. There’s always room for a greater transparency in all processes so maybe FMC could spell it out too.

      • Angela Dorgan

        FMC doesn’t make any awards. The only two projects where curating or selection occurs have been outlined by Niall above. The musicfromireland funding goes to bands selected by the festivals so there is no application. eg if you get an official invite to SXSW, you qualify for funding, you don’t have to apply..that was the whole resigning behind setting it up, to make the process easier and quicker for the Artist.
        FMC receives €90,000 a year from the Arts Council. That is public information. We deliver Breakingtunes.com, Hard Working Class Heroes , Music From Ireland and The FMC Tour. I think that is really good value for taxpayer money. We are completely transparent.. Ask us anything :) (it is also worth noting that with many Arts organisations including ours, about 30% of this annual grant goes BACK to the taxpayer in VAT and prsi, not to mention the money we generate through our activities)

        • Ian

          That is value for money. And although I have never been a direct beneficiary of any of the good work FMC do, I am told by people who have that it is an aset.

          The transparency to which I refer is in your selection process of act for FMC funded initiatives. You should take your reference from how the arts councit visual arts funding process provide detailed feedback to all applicants highlighting why they were unsuccessful and why other applicants were considered to be of stronger merrit

        • brian

          to fmc person: what’s your wage from the taxpayer? And your expenses for, say, the last three years?

      • Ian

        I am discussed by the under representation of pop/rock acts as someone who put the time into putting together an application, but I’m not surprised by it. The vast majority of arts council funding for music is geared towards the classical or “formally trained”.

        I am aware of the fact that you were a panelist for FMC selection process in the past which is why I bring it up. I’m sure that in that capacity you observed situations where people with a pre stated interest had to leave the room as a result of discussions involving acts to which they had a vested interest. The panel cannot be accused of wrong doing if this happened.

        Your questioning has determined this to be the case. So while it may seem Ms Ellis is guilty of wrong doing the fact is that if she left the room or stated an interest in the 3 acts then she has done nothing wrong or inappropriate.

  5. Eoin Russell

    Clear conflict of interest. Cronyism. What ever about involvement in one “winner” but 3 to 5 of them?

  6. kDamo

    There are guidelines (not rules, mind…) for visual art grants to ensure diversity on panels. This includes different fields as well as public or community representation in many cases.

    If this system can work for similar grants in visual arts as well as larger/smaller grants, there’s no excuse. “Admin costs” seems like a blatant cop out for mismanagement of what is a closed circle.

  7. Eric Fraad

    The guidelines and instructions provided to potential Arts Council panelists are clear about conflicts of interest – if there are significant ones they should not accept. Significant rather than any, because in a small country like Dublin and a smaller one like the “serious” music biz most people would inevitably have worked with, know or have heard about some of the applicants for the award.

    All potential panel members are sent a list of applicants. If there are conflicts they are instructed to decline the invitation to sit on the panel. Furthermore the Arts Council knows who has applied and who they invite to sit on these juries.

  8. Frank

    Well done to Nialler and the gang for highlight this issue. For too long this issue has been the elephant in the room, if anyone wants to look at past awards by the Arts Councils this has been going on for years. Yet the majority of revenue generated in this country from events organised by people who receive no money from anyone, are outside of the “classical” background. The RTE orchestra is a perfect example of how money has been wasted …. musical snobbery of the highest order!

    • Suzanne

      Cronyism is alive and well sadly..but why pick on the Concert Orchestra? Perhaps because you have no interest or taste for music that involves an orchestra?
      I dont mean to be personal, but you don’t think that is a snobbery of its own? That’s a different issue surely.
      Music is music, even high art music and the Concert Orchestra is basically our national band. They play everything & with everyone (no snobbishness here) that comes to our concert hall & one of the most hard working & best music groups in the country. Just cos they have ‘classical training’ doesn’t mean anything. They play music the rest of us just bloody can’t, and it’s an incredibly dedicated artistic life. Its the question of how you value which arts and why? Entirely personal to our individual music tastes. RTE CO are wicked & deserve our support.
      They don’t just sit around playing Brahms all day, they’re actively involved in our music community, from outreach to playing new music to accompanying big visiting names, to supporting new music which otherwise might not get the opportunity to be heard. The music they play is genuinely rewarding and
      that’s my 5 cent.
      Back to the issue in hand – as someone who has a background in classical, jazz and contemporary music I too think Music Networks oblivious cronyism is incredibly off-putting. Ive a few projects coming up later in the year – wont be approaching them for funding.

  9. This is me

    Surely the fairest thing to do here would be to get the resources together to vote in a panel.
    There is enough professionals to nominate a varying panel at least.

    There is too broad a range of music to dictate who is responsible for what genres.

    Dictating that someone is an authority on a specific group of artists seems so absurd. Not taking anything away from FMC as they do fantastic work but, there is a whole group of artist who just do not fall under their “authority” but would be considered otherwise by the arts council.

  10. me

    Ultimately, how can anyone be surprised. Grants, be it a LEADER grant or arts and culture. Its run from a certain place in social hierarcy. Mrs, Rollston literally employed the same evasive maneuvers in answering your question as most politicians. She said that members with a conflict of interest absent themselves. But this literally didn’t happen, or if it did, changed totally nothing. Because one person with a hand in three pies up for nomination TOTALLY SCORED. Also.. Another wonderful cop out is the panel size versus admin costs. Well.. In county clare, when recording a song for the gathering…. 3000 taxpayer paid euros, were reserved for bottled water and sandwhiches. So would admin costs be a little lower if panelists felt that their capacity to do good and promote and encourage music on our small island was more important than the entitlement to work comfortably and be paid “appropriately”. None of these panelist’s are working in a struggling sector. To put it bluntly, everyone on that panel has their money right. Why not lower the fee (or take the panelists pay check and put it in with the grant money, they’re getting paid to listen to music. They could be doing this on a treadmill, or from their home) and have a wider panel selection. If this is for recording and media. Why not have professionals from the recording and media industry on the panel?? How can the quality of a proposal be a bigger factor than the quality of an act.. Seriously.. If this is the case. I suggest any band apply for this get a percussionist or triangle player a degree in business/marketing/event management. For reals yall.

    Unfortunately, classical music in how it has been disseminated and curated for hundreds of years has alienated itself from any type of relevancy. In other words its harmless and harmless is a good image for any organization. Now if only Joe Dolan was still alive. The hotel circuit wouldn’t know what hit it.

  11. Pat Clafferty

    Hello NIaller
    I have a letter from a few years back in response to when I first applied to the Arts Council for the possibility of funding for myself as a solo rock songwriter singer etc. To quote the response it says ” we only support Traditional and Classical forms of music…perhaps you could approach your local Credit Union with a view to a loan.” Signed Maura Eaton. Arts Council.

    When you look at how much the likes of U2 and many many others were bringing in taxes to the country none of it…none of it, was being spent on helping bands. (as above).

    In Sweden, if you wish to be in a band, you are put on ‘artists allowance’, you are given finance for instruments (for instance, you put in a request each month for things like rehearsal cost, new drum sticks, strings, leads etc), and are part of a burgeoning music scene.
    In Ireland, you pay for everything. I don’t know any long term band who have ever had rehearsal space paid for.
    It pains me to say this, but I haven’t been excited, really excited, by an Irish band in the last ten years. It is borne out by the fact that the likes of Hot Press have to resort back to putting Christy Moore, Sinead, U2, Waterboys, Horslips, and basically acts from last Century on the front cover to sell their paper.
    Oh and it’s not like I haven’t got contemporary tastes…favourite band is Deerhunter right now.

    You get what you pay for.

  12. Eileen Hogan

    Hi. Thanks for highlighting this, Nialler9. I’m attempting to analyse this scheme from the perspective of popular music-makers at the moment (for my PhD thesis). Would appreciate your views and whether my point is clear:
    Arguably, the conditions of entry implicitly exclude popular musicians from the scheme in any event. Applications are considered ineligible if ‘the proposed recording project is…for primarily profit-making purposes, i.e. the recording project is likely to make a profit without financial assistance from the Arts Council Recording Scheme, through total projected sales revenue and/or other income sources (e.g. record company/label contribution, other grant aid, cash or in-kind sponsorship, etc.)’. Furthermore, it excludes applicants whose projects ‘[focus] primarily on outcomes other than artistic (e.g. therapeutic/health related outcomes, educational outcomes, etc.). The aim of the scheme is ‘to ensure that important or neglected materials of Irish music are preserved and disseminated to the highest standard. At the same time, musicians are obliged to evidence their ‘recognised ability’. This places popular musicians in an unusual position. Although they need to evidence a track record of ‘success’, this is measured in aesthetic terms and should not evidence their potential for market success, since this would presumably disqualify them. Neither can the musicians demonstrate the broader cultural impact of their work in terms of social impact, such as community cohesion or educational outcomes, since this would also disqualify them. What popular musicians must do, then, is to demonstrate the ‘unpopularity’ of their musical output in order to potentially benefit from the scheme. This is contrary to the market-oriented valuing of popular music in official discourse and situates applicants in a Catch 22 situation whereby evidencing their (potential) popularity (measured in terms of market success) disqualifies them. The implicit requirement, then – that popular musicians should evidence their unpopularity (measured in terms of aesthetic merit with little chance of market success) – reduces the potential pool of eligible applicants to a tiny minority of proponents of, for example, experimental popular music that is judged to be of high aesthetic value. One of the few successful awardees from the popular music genre, Aoife Flynn (February 2010, €7,937), fit into this narrow category; her ‘Fresh Air’ project, hosted by DJ Donal Dineen, showcased ‘experimental sound makers’ (http://freshairfestival.wordpress.com/).

    Any advice on this little vignette would be welcome!

  13. Ex-jazzer

    It’s really sickening as an aspiring artist hoping to do different things in this city to see people who already have established, well-paid careers in the arts being handed money on the grounds of the “quality of their proposals”. In arts council terms this means, and I’ve had it explained to me a number of times by people trying to get their fingers in these pies for years; telling them what they want to hear, in exactly their terms. It helps, obviously, if you’re friends with them or have played with them in one of their (I feel like a jerk saying this but I’ve seen too many of them before to lie about how I feel about them) boring, stuffy projects. I’m sorry, I do love some of the music that comes from these groups but highly lament the lack of amazing, exciting aborted projects that were left to starve as a result. I’ve seen many gigs, listened to a lot of music, I’m no dummy.
    Thing is there’s so much good stuff happening in this city that those people have no clue about because they’re living in a cushy little bubble. And they also just don’t give a shit. I think this about so many situations where an impenetrable injustice is at force, it’s their loss. Truly progressive music will happen without their help through struggle and perseverance, passion, and shitty paid jobs serving these high rollers h’ors d’ourves and free wine at stuffy events, and they won’t have any claim over it. Here’s a link to David Lynch’s beautiful film, “The Grandmother” funded by the AFI…. amazing, beautiful and fucking weird. His first big break that brought us the rest of his truly amazing work; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwri_LafO0g

  14. me

    Sorry, just to clarify…
    This isn’t a classical vs pop music debate. This is a question of how our culture is organized and represented. I cant blame anyone for taking a job that will pay them. Like the Egyptian assassin who responded to an ad in craigs list when an irish woman wanted to put a hit on her husband. She had money… He had a wallet in need. He was qualified to do the job. The question of the moral implications fall on the women. Because had that man been requested to take out someone planning to blow up fallon and byrne.. we’d applaud, and rightly so. For me, the question is.. If the criteria for applying, and selection is so narrow, that the result is either contradict yourself, or have a totally shit product with a great marketing campaign. Then who made this up… And now that nialler has brought this to our attention. (which takes balls, cause a lot of people have responded since saying how true it is, yet Nialler is the first one to say anything.. And he didnt need his social platform to do so BTW) Should we not be demanding a change in how this grant is structured and shared to its applicants. Because, honestly.. if we had a chance to get a paycheck from the Govm’t, to participate in something totally biased and lopsided, with free lunch, and extra money floating around to make things okay in our life. Why wouldn’t we??? There are a hundred more practical ways to take a stand in our everyday lives than turning down work…

    Who devised the form… Who made the rules of entry?

  15. Ned

    Great post. It’s disgraceful. And as for the “absenting oneself from the room” crud, do they really expect us to believe that THE OTHER PANEL MEMBERS won’t feel under pressure to award stuff to the “absent” panel member. When they are sharing a room and numerous discussions with this person??

    Seriously? Any well run competition (which is what this was supposed to be) would have AS A STIPULATION that no judge would have applications before the panel.

    Totally appalling. They should all be ashamed of themselves – not just Kate Ellis.

    • Nialler9

      That Music Network don’t see the panel makeup and size as a problem says it all really. It’s common sense stuff. People need to contact them and complain or it’ll stay the same.

      • Stephen

        Well done for publicising this. It’s galling that an institution designed for fair distribution of taxpayer’s money is so brazen about distributing the money simply within the existing golden circle. There’s a sense of deja-vu about it of course.

        I would suggest that this also be publicised via the letters page of the Times/Indo etc for some broader debate.

    • Bernard Clarke

      Ned-why should I be ashamed of myself? I speak and spoke my mind at that panel then and have since. I stand over my opinions-even though some of them are unpopular with people who didn’t secure funding (people I know). I’ve been cold-shouldered since, but I don’t care who is present or absent: I believe in a project or I do not. Bernard

  16. David

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention Niall. Might be worthwhile for people to contact the ombudsman as the Arts Council now falls under their remit as of May this year and this is clearly a remarkable conflict of interest. I will certainly be doing so as I agree with your assertion that their reaction to this issue suggests that nothing will be done to rectify the situation by Music Network themselves and they don’t even seem to realise how appalling their actions have been. Contact details for the ombudsman below if anyone else feels inclined:

    Address: 18 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2.
    Phone: +353-1-639 5600
    Lo-call: 1890 223030
    Fax: +353-1-639 5674
    Email:[email protected]

  17. Kevin McNally

    First off, I agree with the general point of the original post by Niall: it’s time to see some genuinely innovative and progressive “pop” acts rewarded with support from Music Network. However, I think it’s unfair to Kate Ellis to suggest that she acted in an inappropriate way. She’s a massively talented young musician who is in constant demand from contemporary, forward-thinking acts – the kind of acts who have the savvy to apply for all kinds of grants. At the same time, she has the opportunity to help shape the direction of experimental, risk-taking music in Ireland and who wouldn’t want to have a voice in that decision? She’s certainly not part of some dodgy pact amongst classically-trained musicians to deny funding to the legions of worthwhile electro/rock/dance/pop/etc out there. (but I’m pretty sure Phil Coulter’s up to something….)
    So there needs to be reform of the way the grants are distributed, but we shouldn’t be harshly criticising one person for being part of a system which most of us agree is flawed.
    btw, I’d love to see how this debate would play out over on the Journal of Music’s website, given its historical bias for the kinds of musics which benefit most from Music Network’s grants….can we arrange an inter-blog debate?

  18. Conor B

    What a great debate, fair play for getting the ball rolling Niall. You should consider doing more journalistic pieces Niall.

    I think that the selection process of the panel is flawed as pointed out several times above. Realistically we are fighting over crumbs here. The individuals who were awarded funding each got a sizeable amount but if you were to divide €71,500 between each of the worthy applicants, how much would each applicant get? Now I’ve no way of knowing how many people applied and how many were worthy of funding but I bet it is a lot.

    But there is another point that this situation has raised. A lot of what might have traditionally been considered “commercial music” is no longer commercially viable for the vast majority of musicians. While yes, people are making money from music I think we all except that, it’s that there are less of them making a living from it and now these “commercial” musician are looking at how “non commercial” musician have survived over the years. Part of that is patronage. The idea of a patron of the arts goes back a long way. The increase of wealthy individuals commissioning art in the 15th and 16th century in Italy was a major contributing factor to the Renaissance.

    There has been some resent high profile patrons of music in Ireland lately, such as U2s partnership with music generation. This partnership is set up to encourage young people to take up an instrument and not as far as I can see to support them becoming a professional musician.

    Should we instead be asking should the government fund “non commercial” music? If the answer is yes, then why are they not doing it properly? There are been some very successful government funded music projects around the world which have helped to bring us artist like Arcade Fire, Feist and the Knife. The newly announced Momentum Scheme in the UK looks very promising as well.

    So should we leave the Music Network recording scheme to “non commercial” music and instead let an organisation like FMC run a similar scheme for “commercial” music?

    Answers on a S.A.E to http://www.nialler9.com

  19. Dweller

    I agree with Kevin. And if you knew Kate Ellis you would know that she is a person of enormous integrity, and her motives in everything she does are selfless. Exceptionally so. And she has only ever been a force for good and a champion of diversity within the music scene.

    • Nialler9

      Dweller, I’ve heard exactly that about Ellis, that’s she’s a great performer and musician doing great things but does that excuse her involvement in this process? She had to have seen (and the other judges too if there were any conflict of interest there) how it looks? That she would be a benefactor of a scheme she was on the panel of? Selfless she may have been in the judging process itself even but the fact remains she shouldn’t be on the judging panel if she’s involved in what’s being judged, room absence or no.

      • Dweller

        I’m not saying it’s ideal. The point Im trying to make is that it’s not really right that she’s being somewhat demonised in some quarters -here and elsewhere – when her intentions really do come from the right place. And the bigger issue is one of management. And, as you say, a cultural one.

  20. Nialler9

    Having had lots of conversations in the last few days about this, it seems the problem here is the culture of grant funding in Ireland, that it is acceptable to be on a panel despite the conflict of interest, in some cases, panellists not asked to leave the room. I will be following up on this myself..

    Bernard Clarke, one of this year’s panellists has left a reply on Facebook


  21. stephen quinn

    So is Bernard saying that those projects got funded because they filled their forms out better? I feel better already! Maybe they filled their forms in correctly because most of them are previous bloody winners.

    If the panel wasn’t biased, whether they think it or not, then the winners/previous winners wouldn’t stack up like they do.

  22. Mick

    Kate Ellis is a fantastic musician and, in my opinion, each of the projects with which she is involved are worthy recipients of these funds. However, given that Crash Ensemble were making such a significant application for funding she should not have taken up a place on the panel. It’s an outrageous conflict of interest and cheapens the value of these projects.

    I would be interested to know what musicians/bands within the popular/indie/electronic worlds think of how FMC manages its funds which are primarily attributed to industry showcase events. The vast majority of musicians I know have zero interest in playing to a room full of A&R men/industry heads. Also, every FMC member of staff HAD to be at CMJ & nobody could make themselves available to represent these musicians at such a significant funding allocation? Would these funds be better used if they were allocated directly to musicians/artists to enable them to get on with the business of making music/art?

  23. keith T

    What is everyone so surprised about?
    Its the usual Irish nepotism/cute horeism in action, it effects every strata of Irish life, politics, jobs for the boys, whatever. The arts council/music funding is no different.

    In my experience of trying to obtain money for musical causes, Culture ireland are the best and most helpful. The arts council are not.
    When approaching the arts council first off you can never ever get hold of anyone, an auto email arrives saying ‘I am out of the office at a lunch/meeting or am in new york and will be can in 3 weeks or am on holidays….
    The best ever was I had sent an email inquiring about a scheme, and got an email back 5 months later on the morning of the day of the deadline, with 1 line of info and saying you have 2 hours to apply. Great thanks for that.
    Another was I was told that I had applied incorrectly by post and it had to be done online, and my application would not be considered, even though on their website it said you could post it in.
    Basically any way to quash the application.

    The arts council immediately try and deter you from applying, you are immediately told if your music isn’t trad or classical, ‘That is commercial music’ it doesn’t quality for a grant.
    In the past there was a case for this, if you are doing an experimental philip glass like piece or a classical piece its highly unlikely to get funding from anywhere except an arts organisation, but with the implosion of record labels in the last ten years people simply don’t buy music anymore, and more rock/indie/dance music should be eligible for funding. The irony is one of the few things we do well in Ireland is produce ok music, if it was funded properly in a decent way like in Scandinavia it could break out properly overseas.

    Also the fact that the 4 music organisations that actually receive funding from the arts council……….FMC, HWCH, Music from Ireland and Breaking tunes is run by the 1 person! can’t be healthy? It leads to a monopoly/power trip/complacency scenario where certain groups or cliques get helped to the detriment of others. And do those organisations actually help the musicians on the ground at the coal face trying to record that album, trying to travel to that gig, trying to buy that equipment? Everyone flys off to sxsw for a party or various other industry showcases, but its very rarely it gets any bands further up the industry ladder.

    A certain Irish music journalist actually did a piece on this in the ticket about 5 – 6 years ago, saying that it was nepotism that certain organsations got funding because they had family members working for the arts council.
    what transpired? The next year the journalist was actually on the panel for HWCH. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.

    The same old favourites get funding year in year out, certain schemes you can’t even apply without being invited to.
    So I can’t apply unless asked to? but you aren’t going to ask me to. Ok great thanks again.

    If any organisation that the tax payer funds, that needs a personnel cull its the arts council.
    Whats the alternative? red bull music academy? Applying to the Guinness Arthurs day fund, getting judged by the likes of the script and hustling for votes like its the x factor?
    No thanks.

    • Nialler9

      Keith, you’re misinformed regarding FMC:

      - FMC are the are not four organisations funded by the Arts Council. FMC is funded, as Angela from FMC aboves says they receive 90k for 2 people, rent , office, phone and tax.

      HWCH, Breakingtunes and Music From Ireland are their services which they operate out of that amount of money + sponsorships and partnerships after that, like with Culture Ireland for Music From Ireland.

      “And do those organisations actually help the musicians on the ground at the coal face trying to record that album, trying to travel to that gig, trying to buy that equipment? Everyone flys off to sxsw for a party or various other industry showcases, but its very rarely it gets any bands further up the industry ladder.”

      Have you actually been into FMC or seen their website fact sheets for starters? http://firstmusiccontact.com/bandtips/index.htm

      If you’ve been in you’d be at least aware of what they do to help bands and how they are a fountain of knowledge for those people looking for advice and help.

      A lot of this anti FMC stuff comes from disgruntled bands who haven’t been selected for HWCH (as above, my external judges and festivals), I see it time and time again.

      “A certain Irish music journalist actually did a piece on this in the ticket about 5 – 6 years ago, saying that it was nepotism that certain organsations got funding because they had family members working for the arts council. what transpired? The next year the journalist was actually on the panel for HWCH. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.”

      If you’re going to criticise it would be better to name names and maybe link to the article in question if you can find it?

      • David

        I’ve been accepted for HWCH every time I’ve applied, so no bitterness on that front here. However, I would suggest that the Breaking Tunes website is a massive waste of money and that it does bands no good to have an extra profile on an Irish site when it’s enough work maintaining the ones we have on internationally popular social media. I can’t see the gain for bands on this front. I don’t think for one second that FMC have anything but genuine intentions but I do think some of the money is misspent.

        Also, on a very minor but frustrating side note all the bands who went to the Green Room on the Saturday this year were told there were no more beers despite there clearly being a fridge full of them which were apparently only for “volunteers”. Are the bands not volunteers? Many of the bands come from around the country and further afield, taking care of all of their own travel and accomodation expenses, not to mention the costs we incur week in week out to practice for things like HWCH. To be told that we are prioritised below the non music playing volunteers is a bit of a piss-take.

        As I said, I do think FMC have the best of intentions but there seems to be a lack of organisation about things and some of the funding is being wasted on needless projects.

      • Keith T

        My main gripe is the wastage of money in any way.
        However FMC is set up, its 3 sub orginisations or whatever, they hoover up ALL YHE MONEY EVERY YEAR that goes to the music side of things from the arts council/culture Ireland.
        Whether their intentions are good or not, if anyone tries to get funding for anything else they are told to go through FMC, so that in my book is a monopoly, with a small group of people holding sway. FMC get 90k a year, thats after recent Arts council cuts, what did they get in previous years? multiply this by roughly 10 years and thats hundreds of thousands of euro worth of money sloshing about.

        This could be used for so much more productive way than for actually paying for people from various showcases to fly in every year. A lot of banter, not much else.
        Of course it can be argued that various bookers, and showcase personnel see local bands, then the bands get to go to eurosonic, sxsw or wherever and the plane flights are paid for they get on the threadmill of success, thats great but how often does that actually happen thats someone breaks out this way? and does it justify all this outlay of tax payers money that could be more evenly divided up amongst the musical community.

        Heres an example, recently a good record label/musical collective in Dublin ‘Popical island’ got funding from the Arthurs day fund, it enables them to get a permanent base and a bit of breathing space financially and up the number of release a year. Why did they have to go to the arthurs day fund and hussle for votes online? Why couldn’t the arts council pay for this? they could look at their history of doing releases/making things happen and say these guys deserve some cash, thats just one example of of people are locked out of the grant money. Its locked down to the same people/orginisations year in year out, who defend it territorially so the gravy train doesn’t end.

        Spread the grant money about a bit. Stop the cosy little arrangments.

  24. Francesco Turrisi

    A lot of good issues being discussed here and I agree about many of the issues…
    but I also think some of the comments are quite extreme especially in accusing Kate Ellis and Music Network of all sort of corruption and nepotism. The commentary reminds me of how people talk about politicians and bankers during the economic boom here in Ireland. I think this is really exaggerating the issue and i am pretty sure Kate is not drinking champagne at taxpayer’s expenses at the moment.
    Anyone who has ever made a record will know that 10,000 (the maximum amount awarded) is not a lot of money and it probably won’t even cover all of the expenses for such a record…so it’s hardly “jobs for the boys”. Obviously there is a conflict of interests there, but I also believe that Crash ensemble proposal got voted because it was a very good proposal and because everybody else in the panel thought so too.

    First let’s try to be fair, having a look at the results I notice this,
    2 jazz projects awarded
    1 world music/jazz/electroacoustic (Yurodny)
    1 early music
    1 singer-songwriter (if Laura Hyland will allow me to use the term)
    2 contemporary classical music
    1 film music
    and then there is the crash ensemble record which should probably be contemporary classical but I doubt it will sound like that. The composer is mostly a producer and has worked with people like bjork and sigur ros…so i suspect it hardly qualifies as contemporary classical…does it?
    So the picture looks actually a bit more varied than some people try to depict. In fact Kate is a great example of a classical musician that has been always campaigning to broaden the horizons of the so called contemporary classical music, so it’s quite ridiculous she should be at the centre of such argument.

    I have also being part of this panel before and I can only testify of how everybody involved really really tried to be fair with every application that came in, no matter what the genre.
    One thing that I do remember though is that there were actually very few applications (something like 5) coming in from the so called pop/rock/etc world(whatever that means) and that they were competing with something like 20 applications coming from the classical contemporary world.
    So at the end of the day it’s a competition and panel members vote what they think it’s the best applications. So if something doesn’t get selected is not necessarily because nobody liked it but simply because it didn’t score high enough.
    There is also an issue which I remember from my experience and it is that unfortunately a few of the so called pop/rock/etc applications presented some technical mistakes (i.e. Mistakes in budgets, asking for money to buy recording gear). This might have been a coincidence but it kind of highlighted a problem of inexperience in writing applications coming from these fields of music.
    In fact that is an issue itself which we could discuss forever. Unfortunately the reality is that if you want to apply to the arts council you have to learn how to write an application and that is part of the system, wether you like it or not. It’s almost like learning a different part of the job and it takes time but in my experience everybody can write a successful application.
    I come from Italy and believe me there is no public money there whatsoever, so I couldn’t believe such thing as public grants existed here. When I moved here 7 years ago I started religiously applying to every possible deadline and it took me a while before I got anything, but I finally did…
    The fact that I am not even from Ireland and that I started my career from scratch when I moved here should prove that maybe the arts council is not so close minded as a lot of people make it to be.

    I actually know pretty much everybody involved in this argument: the panel, the people that got awarded, the people at music network…and also a lot of people who didn’t get awarded. And this is because Ireland is a really small country. This is also the reason why Kate’s name appeared in a few applications. She’s a very successful musician and people ask her to play all the time. I bet she didn’t even know about some of the applications that came in with her name.
    I do understand the conflict of interest though with the crash ensemble application.
    Nevertheless this happens a lot, because the arts council wants to have musicians on their panel and it’s almost inevitable that their name will appear here and there. I can guarantee also that Kate was not in the room when the applications were discussed and it is ludicrous to insinuate that people will vote in her favor just because Kate was in the room for the rest of the day. I have been in the very same scenario before and I have seen projects not getting funded even though they involved people of the panel.
    I also think that it’s a shame that so many people are accusing music network for all these issues. They also have small funding and they are a great team that work really hard at making the most out of it. Most people don’t even know that a big part of their budget is spent on music education and outreach programs.

    So I agree, there is an issue of conflict of interest, there is an issue with the fact that the panel is small and that there were no representatives of certain music scenes and maybe there is a broader issue with the whole nature of these application processes. But let’s try to be constructive instead of being destructive. The situation is very fragile at the arts council. Everybody gets cut all the time so let’s not try to make it more complicated for people that are struggling already. Maybe it’s a good time to discuss these issues in a more public way. In my experience people of the arts council were always open to questions so maybe this will trigger some public discussion of some sort that might lead to some changes in the near future.
    But please let’s stop with the criminalization of Kate Ellis and Music Network. They are both working really hard with very small resources and they are doing a great job. They have made so many amazing musical events happen in this country and, if anything we should be happy to have them…

    Francesco Turrisi

  25. Ted

    Francesco you can’t comment impartially when you play regularly with Kate and are in Yurodny.
    There is a clear conflict of interest in Kate Ellis being involved in a decision making process and a beneficiary. Forget about the not being in the room when the decision is taking place nonsense.
    However there is also another bigger issue that you have missed: if the recording scheme is for non commercial recordings why was Crash Ensemble funded to record for a commercial Icelandic based label featuring music from non Irish composers. That is actually incorrect use of funding. Why didn’t the Icelandic label fund the recording as they will be the ultimate beneficiaries of Irish money. Where are the Irish composers. Where is the non commercial aspect of being on the Bedroom Community label.
    Crash previous cd featuring an Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy was on nonesuch.

    I’ve raised this issue with my TD as it is inappropriate and misuse of public funds.

    • Francesco Turrisi

      Hi Ted,
      Of course I play with Yurodny and I am friends with Kate but this is not the reason why I posted a comment.
      As I said in my comment I agree that there is an obvious conceptual conflict of interests in crash being funded, and that should have been avoided. I don’t agree about the conflict of interests in the two other cases as I think Kate is a musician employed for these projects and for that reason she was probably not directly involved in the making of the applications.
      I am not sure what to think about your comment on the crash ensemble project as I haven’t seen the application myself and i don’t think there is a lot of detailed information out there.
      Well obviously the Irish element is that Crash ensemble is an IRISH ensemble, and whatever they do wherever in the world they will always be an IRISH ensemble.
      As I mentioned in my previous comment 10.000 can hardly cover the cost of such record…so at a guess probably the label has put some substantial contribution to this project. Usually winning applications are the ones that feature a strong external support so this might have been the case (but i’m guessing). I am also guessing the record will be made in Ireland as it is easier to move one composer than a whole ensemble…so there is another Irish element. Still guessing most of that money will be spent in an Irish studio and eventually paying some Irish musicians’ fees…
      Wether it’s commercial music or not is a different issue and I am not sure what to say as I don’t know this composer well and because it would lead to neverending futile discussions about genres. So maybe the wording in the guidelines should be discussed with the Arts Council to make more clarity.
      In conclusion (with the risk of repeating myself)
      Yes I agree there is a conflict of interest of conceptual nature.
      No I don’t think the crash ensemble application was voted because Kate was in the panel, she certainly didn’t vote for herself and she certainly didn’t convince anyone to vote for her.

  26. Ted

    “The Arts Council Music Recording Scheme provides support for performers and composers working primarily in non-commercial genres through awarding funding for music recording. The aim of this scheme is to ensure that the work of Irish composers and performers is available other than in live performance, and to ensure that important or neglected materials of Irish music are preserved and disseminated to the highest professional standard. The scheme is open to musicians and ensembles of all genres that are of Irish nationality or resident in Ireland.”

    Where is the Irish in this?

    And Music Network do not provide music education. That is provided by Music Generation. music Network get over 700k per year to put on concerts around the country which nobody attends. I’ve been at a few where there were 10 people in attendance, one place in Mayo if I recall. But as there is no financial incentive as they receive so much funding, it doesn’t matter. They say they subsidize the performances but if you take Music network out of the equation, the local promoters can approach the artists cheaper. They should focus on Irish musicians only as the Arts Council now offering a touring and dissemination award.
    music network also have that Love Live Music day which they receive money directly from the Department of Arts. This is the day where they expect musicians to hold performances for nothing while they get paid for organizing it. It is also an oxymoron to have one day devoted to music when musicians are involved in music throughout the year.

    There are loads of these organizations who staff are making a very good living< music network has maybe 4/5 staff when they are irrelevant and past their sell by date. They have been eclipsed by their off shot Music Generation. Why do the Arts council actually allow Music Network to run a recording scheme anyway.

  27. Francesco Turrisi

    Hi Ted
    Regarding your comments on Music Network.
    I actually don’t know for sure, but I think Music Network is directly involved with Music Generation…I think they are kind of running it for them…but i might be wrong…help me out people if you know more.
    I think the way Music Network concerts work is the following:
    MN invests part of the money they get from the arts council in organizing concerts.
    A list of promoters can buy gigs through them at a cheaper price
    musicians get paid more than if they would sell the gig directly to the arts centres
    So as far as I understand musicians get paid more and venues pay less…and that’s because they use the arts council money…so it seems a pretty fair process to me.
    Wether there is an a big or small audience at gigs is an entirely different issue.
    I have played and been at gigs with 10 people in the audience soooo many times, especially when they are in more remote places. Often these gigs were organized by all kinds of promoters, local or big national, sometimes much worse when they were organized by the arts centres themselves.
    So I agree this is one of the biggest issues there are in Ireland, and it is one that I find really frustrating myself…but I don’t think it’s necessarily music network’s fault.
    Everybody who organizes concerts know that it is extremely hard to do promotion from afar. This should be the job of the venues themselves, as they are the people directly involved in the community and they have the means to reach their communities.
    I have organized many tours myself in ireland and invested so much money in promotion and marketing and still had the same results.
    I am also trying to see things from the point of view of organizers and promoters though…everybody who receives funding from arts council has to apply every year and account for how they spent the money, and every year they get evaluated and very possibly cut.
    So there is this false myth that people “sit on their arse” because they have a great salary.
    I agree some people are better than others at their job, but I think it’s not convenient for anyone to have concerts for empty arts centres. It’s frustrating for the musicians, for the venue and for the promoters. It makes them look bad in the eyes of the arts council and it means they will get more cuts the following year…
    So I am not sure what the reason might be, maybe the quality of the music, maybe certain types of music shouldn’t be played in certain types of venues, maybe more should be done to educate young people to become the future audiences…i don’t know the answer.
    But I don’t think it’s music network’s fault, i think it’s a much bigger problem that touches many more people and organizations

  28. pat1

    Look back over the music funding on the arts council site, its seems there are a few of the same individuals who have received substantial amounts every year?
    What do they produce? is it so artistic and niche that we never hear of it? Why isn’t there documentation online that is accessible by the public of where and how the TAX PAYERS money was spent? Who is monitoring this outside of the panels on these councils?

    • Micheal

      I presume you can access these accounts of how and where individuals spent their grants?
      I too would like a look? Is there a link on the music network site that shows these details,
      expenditure,receipts,fees,purchases etc?

  29. Ted

    To put it succinctly:
    Kate Ellis should not have been on the panel and a beneficiary of that panels decisions, either in Crash or anything else. ( she is getting a salary from Crash, a payment to sit on the adjudication panel and then another pay day from Crash, Yurodny and recording Judith Ring’s music).
    Someone else in the country from outside the classical/contemporary field should have sat on the panel. In future and if there is future funding, The panel should also be widened in scope and numbers.
    Sharon Rollston as CEO should do the honorable thing and resign as should the current board. Music Network are recipients of public funds and this is a fiasco and they and their CEO must bear responsibility for their decisions.
    The Crash Ensemble award should be revoked and given to one of the deserving rock and pop acts. I presume the other applicants were scored.

    The arts council should crap this scheme and look at other ways of distributing the recording funds in a much fairer and equitable fashion across all genres of music. the DEIS award(for traditional music) was distributed by Music Network but it now back with the Arts Council. Maybe they should take the recording grant back as well.

  30. Micheal

    Calling for resignations at this stage is a little premature I think, but there is a need for an investigation into the operations of the Arts Council including MN with regard how they are monitored. A proper response from them would be welcomed. Questions such as; what is an artistic endeavor and when/why is it judged commercial and so not eligible for funding is too vague to continue in light of present austerity within Ireland. What metrics are used to evaluate work and applications, are they published,freely available.
    Also these panels, how are they selected, what is the criteria to sit in on one. Should there be at least one public member sitting who displays sufficient knowledge in the discipline,in the interests of transparency and best practice.

  31. Fiona Kelly

    Thank you Niall for providing the forum for this discussion. Firstly, I don’t think I would feel able to comment as freely if I were living and freelancing in Ireland (in the non-commercial/Arts Council dependent sphere), and I feel this is why there is not more debate over this issue. I applied for the award and was unsuccessful. Funding applications are not my forte and Music Network obviously have a clear idea of what they are looking for in this award. I did not fit the model and I completely accept that. I have requested feedback but have not yet received a reply to my email.

    Looking back at previous successful applicants quite a few of the same names and ensembles reappear. To quote Bernard Clarke, applicants “misread, ignored, overlooked or misunderstood the terms”. Surely these factors alert the organization to the need to be clearer or to provide assistance with proposal writing – or to change the title/criteria of the scheme to more accurately reflect the awards made. This quote on twitter sums it up well -

    “@sleepthieves: @Nialler9 there is a self fulfilling expectation of failure in applying that puts many acts off even trying, IMO”

    Applicants/awardees serving as panelists is simply absurd – especially when so many applications are received for such a limited amount of money. The selection process of the panel has to change – it is clear that there is unfair representation and an arrogance about how this award is judged. Why is there not an independent judge from outside of Ireland? Have there been in the past? What about some of the many Irish musicians who work abroad serving on the panel?

  32. Ian Doyle

    Just following up on this as I see you got a mention in the Sunday Times. It would appear that the official response from the arts council is that Kate left the room and as such was not in breach of any arts council policy. 

    While I agree that there are issues regarding genera bias i would go further and state that there needs to be an overhaul of all public spending across all music funding platforms including FMC. (and no I am not a former failed applicant for HWCH) 

    I also think that your treatment of Kate Ellis is shameful and you should strongly consider issuing a formal public apology to her for any distress your comments caused. 

    I don’t know Kate but if I did I would be advising her to contact a solicitor as she has a strong case for liable. 

    • Nialler9

      Ian, all I did with regards Kate is point out that she was on the panel, and joined the dots. I didn’t slander Kate personally in any way here. I pointed out that it was a bad decision on her part as a professional, no matter how you cut it, to be on a panel when she was a benefactor in the same year.

      I’ve been sent Kate a message about all this and talked to her manager on the phone over the weekend. I understand she’s distraught and that is most regrettable. I hope that people take away that the system that allowed Kate to be on the panel is at fault, Music Network and Arts Council let this happen. All I did was point out how bad it looks for all involved.

      People who have had dealings with these kinds of grants and funds keep telling me that’s how they operate (leaving the room when a conflict arises) in Ireland but that is just not acceptable. I know Ireland is a small country and people are going to know each other but the current system is not acceptable if it allows a project a panellist is involved in to benefit in the same year. It’s like a judge of the Mercury Prize having some involvement in the winning project – people would be up in arms if that happened.

      • Ian Doyle

        Was there an apology in there somewhere ??? I don’t think so. Regrettable just dont cut it. And yes you are correct you are not guilty of slander. Deformation of character though is something entirely different.

        Also how can you be an advocate for reform and defend one publicly funded group while condemning another. They all play by the same arts council rules and have the same process which are open to and have been abused in the same way?

        If you are a true advocate for reform then turn your critical pen towards all publicly funded groups regardless of your personal friendships.

    • Mike

      Iano – where’s you’re conflict of interest buddy!? You smoochin the panel or wha!? Gerrup!!

  33. Telegram Sam

    Just saw this mentioned in the Sunday Times.

    As many people have mentioned above Kate Ellis is a lovely talented person, and its unfortunate that her name is being bandied about. Pick any other year and it could have been someone else.

    But it is ludicrous she is allowed to be on a panel and benefitting from said panel, and good on you Niall for having a say. The problem is these grant and art orgs have been allowed to rest on their laurels for too long, What happens is it gets too closed, especially in the classical field and a small circle of the same people do get access each year. Don’t blame Kate Ellis, I’m sure she is approached because she is very good at that she does, blame the civil servants that are in charge of these boards and have been too slack or pampered to do their jobs properly.

    But bear in mind that the music network has traditionally given grants to orchestral and classical music, why should it suddenly change? If FMC get funding for the indie music sector surely they should be the ones giving out grants to this type of musician? Why isn’t some of their money used to start a new fund that pop/rock/indie acts and indie labels can apply for funding through?

    The downside of this may be that every 2 bit shi*ehawk band in the country would be applying for it and it may be impractical, and how would it be judged? Would favouritism and cronyism still be an issue with a similar narrow collection of individuals dictating who gets the funding and who doesn’t?

    who knows but If this new fund was introduced and handled correctly and impartially wouldn’t it be benefical? With money going directly to bands to help with touring and recording, all expenses accounted for.

    Also U2 have introduced that 5m fund to help with kids getting interested in music in schools, which is great. The more cynical would say this Is to deflect from their publishing arm moving to Holland. Why don’t U2 match that amount, or divert some of the original amount to pay for young bands to tour and record as above?

    On a closing note there was a jazz, experimental record label (the name escapes me, but had the word black in it….) that was awarded about 250k in the late 90s or early 00′s. This was one of the biggest awards ever given out by the arts council for music. This label never released any material at all in any shape or form. The arts council never asked for the money back. This still remains a mystery why someone was allowed to get 250k of taxpayers money for doing precisely nothing…..kind of sums up the whole grant culture in this country.

  34. Vinny

    As a general principle, and with no reference to this particular panel/board, it is unwise and an example of faulty process, for a panellist/board member to have any connection to or involvement in any candidate, request or application for membership/aid/assistance etc.,- it leads to a perception of bias and lack of rigour and transparency in the whole effort where in fact that may not be the case……

  35. captain a / eoghan

    Although in general I think it’s all very wrong, its Interesting RE: ”Where there is a conflict of interest, of course, the panel member states their interest and absents themselves from the room, as is the normal practice in adjudication panels.”

    Would this imply that only 3 people judged the projects that Kate Ellis was involved in, or is a substitute judge brought in? It must have had to happen a few times- Did that leave Kate Ellis on the panel when judging her competitors for the funding, or was she absent for everything related to her category?

    One of my favourite pieces of music Journalism in a while. I’ve always thought there should be articles like this all the time. Will be interesting to see other Journos landing late to the party.

    Also, Music Networks can probably expect record applicants.

  36. Kevin

    Just a point. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t. The chairperson of Music Network is Peter Finnegan. His wife, Aibhlin McCrann is an Arts Council Board member. Fergus Sheil also sits on the board of music network. He is an ex music officer at the Arts Council. So not too surprised about the arts council concurring with Music Network’s official response. In fact I’d say after their handling of this unsavory business, Music Network may receive an increase in their Arts Council funding.

  37. T Sheehy

    Arrived here from Jim Carroll’s blog. It’s a major problem you ‘ve hit on.

    I’m very much afraid that this is how things work. An analysis of Irish Film Board decision-making over the nine year period to the end of last year would show many similar samples of potential conflict of interest with much larger amounts of money at stake.

    Assurances about procedures – persons leaving the room, not getting paperwork etc – are, I think, not really about the prevention of potential conflicts, it is rather a set of protocols to protect the image of the decision-making body from accusations of partisan decision-making. It has been described to me as an aspect of organisational ‘risk management’.

    Since funding is a competitive process it is clear that no interested individual should be party to a process in which they have a stake, or connections to applicants who are competing against others for limited resources. For decision makers it’s not just the projects to which they have a connection, it’s also the projects in which they do not have an interest that are looking for scarce funding at the same time – projects that they can vote against.

    In the case of the IFB there was one notable case where the CEO, the Chair and a Board member all had significant connections to a project that was approved for 500,000. One can only assume that the three individuals concerned had no role in approving the funding, processing the paperwork, or denying competing project(s) (in which they had no interest, and could therefore vote on) funding during the same period or funding round.

  38. Belle Tower

    Another small point in respect of Music Networks heavy leaning towards classical music , despite their protestations to the contrary – each year they hold an end-of-year gala concert in a grand venue ( St Patricks Hall, Christchurch etc…) . This is and has always been, a classical artist, with perhaps a bunch of jazzers or trad-heads in the foyer playing through the drinks reception. It relegates other musics to a lesser role. Wouldnt it be good to see this reversed?

  39. Eamon Bode

    I suppose that this is exactly how I always imagined that arts funding worked.

    But what I would like clarification on is exactly what constitutes commercial music? I have been trying to make money from my music(unsuccessfully!) for the last 2 years. How is an artist supposed to survive(especially when their genre isn’t valued or of interest to those who assign arts funding) if they don’t attempt to be commercially viable?

    What I would like to know is, if I am thousands in debt and have dedicated years of my life to producing art, do I exclude myself from funding from the arts council if I put my music up on itunes and try to sell it to recoup something of all the time and money I have invested? Is there a line there where I either must take a priest-like vow to ignore all commercial interests and never test the quality my art in the public market, hoping that I can get funding from people who have basically zero track record in funding my genre, or otherwise be ostracized by the tax-funded arts patrons into the cold reality of a commercial market dominated by cut-throat global labels who mainly push simplistic sensational music on the disposable incomes of gullible children?

    In other words, does trying to sustain myself from my work exclude me from arts council funding? Can somebody please tell me what ‘commercial music’ is exactly? Because it seems to me that there are only artists making or losing different amounts of money from their work – so means testing I could understand. Classical music, for example, is commercial – quite the industry in fact. From my experience classical musicians are the ones who are most likely to be paid for playing music. One of these funded jazz musicians could very well be making a good income sessioning while a techno-dj might be slogging away, doing wonderful new things and pushing the boundaries of his genre, getting the very occasional paid gig or online sale and be deemed ‘commercial’ although he is considerably poorer and in more need of support.

    So can somebody please tell me what exactly the arts council mean by ‘commercial music’?

  40. Liam

    I agree with the last comment about commerciality. You would be very surprised about the funding provided by the arts council to music organisations particularly in relation to staff.
    The Arts Council also fund the production of RTE Lyric fm cd releases which are commercial. It seems strange for the Arts Council to fund another public sector organisation already in receipt of public subsidy and the licence fee. Plus why then is there another funding scheme to fund the work of Irish composers and Irish musicians.
    But in relation to Music Network funding, I can’t see how the funding to Crash Ensemble for a commercial label in Iceland/US to record non Irish composers was funded. That doesn’t seem correct. Why didn’t the label fund the recording themselves. How does that decision further Irish music? Surely an Irish band would have been a better choice

  41. Blaise

    If there are any journalists still reading this:

    Why don’t you do an FOI on the arts council? I suspect it might look a lot like the FAS debacle….It would interesting to see if this situation wasn’t replicated across most grants. It’s a simple question too: the names of those sitting on panels in the last 5 years and cross reference that with the grantees.

  42. Jack

    Excellent reporting, Niall.

    Spooky parallels with the situation in the Dublin Docklands Authority where 2 members of Anglo-Irish Bank sat on the board but ‘stepped into the corridor’ to avoid any semblance of a conflict of interest when decisions beneficial to their bank were being adjudicated upon – rather missing the point, somewhat!

    Another example that comes to mind is the ludicrous situation in the National Song Contest on RTE a few years ago when 4 of the 5 ‘mentors’ invited to select and groom acts for Eurovision were allowed to select their own musical compositions or add their names to the artist’s own efforts.thus guaranteeing a potential jackpot in the event of overall victory or international hit and at one swipe excluding virtually every other writer in the country. Some of these people had almost no track record in musical composition, and the end results were appalling, but hey, let’s not get carried away and suggest their might have been a potential conflict of interest!

    Official Ireland at work…

  43. Paddy Groenland

    I’ve been watching this unfold with much fascination. It’s always a surprise to me when debate actually results in real action, and at the least MN need to change the panel system which it seems will happen. Hooray for discussion! It’s so important to question these processes, but also for perspective to realise that it’s a privilege to live in a country that offers such awards.

    I applied this year and didn’t get the award. So of course anything I say can be chalked up to being a sore loser, in fact that’s why I refrained from commenting thus far. I have talked to musicians about this in the last week, and, it’s true that most are afraid to say what they think for fear of being ‘marked’, and with good cause as musicians here can be a protective bunch.

    Having applied for multiple awards over the past few years (unsuccessfully) and by following the winners of these awards, I feel that Music Network are a conservative organisation (when it comes to programming and funding) that apply a corporate model to funding. The people who stick it out, who have the most experience of being within the small pool of previously successful applicants, and who apply regularly, tend to get the funding. In a sense this is fair, however, their guidelines for this award are vague while being so specific at the same time that only a few applicants tend to understand what it is they want to hear.

    MN don’t want to make the ‘wrong’ choice, I get this, but which must be very easy to confuse with the ‘risky’ choice. I think all of the funded projects this year are worthy of being funded (I’d listen to each one of the funded CDs), and of course I think mine was also worthy, but an award for a group like mine and presumably others’, would propel us to a position where we could quite possibly have an opportunities to play overseas, one that eludes us from not having a high quality recording. I’m not convinced that this recording award really wants my band to do that well, as previous comments have referenced re: commerciality. Isn’t all music un-commercial if it is not primarily created to finance itself? Of course we want some level of commerciality as otherwise we will have 1000CDs sitting at home, as it often goes with the beneficiaries of this award. But of course I would say that. I will say that it is an unenviable position to be in to have to make the call to award and reject such applications, and yet a privilege.

    More importantly, I have since been privately advised by someone who has served on another similar panel that my application had very little chance without either containing a:

    a) musician who has been previously funded by MN
    b) reference from said individual

    Now, this may be chalked off as hearsay, but it is consistent with more than one other anecdote which I have heard, without going into excessive detail or potential slander. Obviously, nowhere in the guidelines is this referred to. I’d love to hear from any previous panelists about how many successful applications contain references from those who are not directly involved in the application. This totally contradicts the concept of having an impartial panel and such a practice should be discouraged. It was argued to me by this person that “well, it’s such a small scene that if we don’t know the applicant then it’s hard to trust them”…very frustrating to hear that as both the artistic merit and the potential feasibility should be apparent in the application without the need for personal experience. Perhaps this was an isolated event as it was for a different type of award, but I doubt it as it betrays a certain arrogance that would come with being chosen as a panelist.

    Furthermore, the criteria to be on the artistic half of the panel, if you are a musician, appears to be that you should have won a few previous awards from said organisation… seems to be asking for trouble. The overall impression is the MN don’t look very far afield, perhaps they don’t know where to look or what to look for. Probably they want others to tell them what that is, but if so these people should not be part of the applications.

    In fact the board is never totally impartial as it is human nature to help out your buddies and those who you admire, whether they are in the room or not, but this is public money we are talking about. Like many musicians here I’m a fan of both Ellis & Clarke, and their reputations should never have been allowed the opportunity to be questioned, MN should have stood up for/excused them in their statement as they were put in an unfair position. Why not get someone from the UK or oversees who has the expertise and experience to choose the winners on a completely unbiased artistic basis, and the admin people from MN/otherwise can focus on the potential feasibility of the projects?

    So, MN in short; please make the rules extremely clear, the panel size larger and more varied, aim for complete transparency, and aim to widen the potential net of awardees even though it might seem like a risk.

  44. Han-earl Park

    Great article. Anyway, I’m a little late to this discussion (hazards of being out of the country), but I’ll add a couple of potential questions:

    In addition to the argument about Music Network’s narrow and/or biased stylistic/idiomatic range, the particular member in question strongly suggests a regional chauvinism. Does Music Network’s Recording Scheme adequately represent non-Dublin-centric musics and musicians?

    Regardless of Ellis’, or any panel member’s, involvement in the specific successful application, it’d be interesting to see what the broader network connections are (teacher-student relations, etc.). Is there a kind of cultural nepotism beyond a simple conflict of (personal) interest?

    And beyond whether there was a panel member whose work was disproportionately rewarded, I’d also like to know whether every application had to meet the same standards. I ask, as despite requiring distribution and marketing plans, some self-released, ostensibly limited distribution, recordings have been funded in the past.


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