Last week, I wrote a contentious post which criticised Music Network for how it runs its Music Recording Scheme, because its panel included a member who had ties with a winning applicant and because of the perception of unfair weighting towards the contemporary and classical world in its panel selection.
“Music Network operates to the highest standards of governance and transparency and takes its responsibility in the disbursement of public funds very seriously.
Where a perceived conflict of interest arises in the Arts Council Music Recording Scheme, we adhere to an agreed protocol that removes the person in question from the decision making process.
However, we acknowledge that there is an issue of perception in this process, and we will review the panel selection procedure to ensure that panel members have no direct associations with applications in the future.
Important issues have been raised that Music Network will reflect on carefully and any operational changes necessary will be made.”
That’s a promising development and exactly the kind of acknowledgement I wanted to see since these issues came to light last week.
Since my first post last week, I’ve had many people contact me privately and anonymously detailing other issues about the awarding of Music Network’s and Arts Council grants in general. These people are afraid to speak publicly for various reasons: the scene is small/ they don’t want to hurt their chances of future funding etc but that’s a different issue. A lot of the correspondence was concerned with how some musicians have been awarded grants multiple times in the past and have been recipients of other awards from Arts Council etc. Go through the list of awardees and you will see the usual suspects pop up time and time again.
Personally, I’ve no problem with a musician receiving funding for their projects in multiple years or from different grants. This is a hustle for cash and you can’t blame the musicians for applying. The original reason I wrote about this in the first place was to highlight that such grants exist.
It’s also understandable why those who contacted me were annoyed. It seems that some of those people were previous unsuccessful applicants who have seen the winners and given up assuming it was a closed circle. Going over the last several years of successful applicants, which is publicly available it’s clear why. Eamonn Quinn of Louth Contemporary Music Society received €10,000 each year from 2008 to 2012. Francesco Turrisi has been awarded €28,358 across five successful applications in the Recording Scheme, the Music Capital Scheme and the Performance and Touring Awards Grants. Those are three examples. It’s easy to see why someone might perceive it to be a closed circle.
I’m not saying any of these applicants were corrupt or unprofessional in their dealings. What I’m asking is: why is it the same people who are awarded repeatedly? It’s been suggested that a lot of the applicants outside of the field of contemporary/classical were not good at filling in the forms. Is it a case that these successful applicants are simply the best at filling in the forms by the process? Were there not enough well-worded applications from fresh applicants to receive funding instead, contemporary, classical or otherwise?
If so what can be done to help new applicants in that regard? Generally speaking, those with an academic musical background are more familiar with how to apply for these kinds of grants. As Jim suggested, sometimes, the knowledge of what the panel is looking for is knowledge enough. And if you sit on the panel, then you’ll have an advantageous insight into what the panel and process looks for.
Should there be a limit on how much or how many successful applications one single musician or act can have? Is that something that people would like to see? If you apply and get funding one year, should you be exempt from applying the next? I’d be interested in knowing what people think about that. Of course, art isn’t easy to place into single fund years, lots of these things require funding every year – which is clearly why Louth Contemporary Music Society was applying each year.
That gets us to the larger issue. There must have been non-commercial musical projects deserving of funding who have not filled in the form to the standard expected? What can we do to change that? Is setting up an informational website that gives detailed advice from those more familiar with applying for grants a worthwhile endeavour? What can we do to help potential applicants?
A call for full transparency
I hope that Music Network will apply the same acknowledgements as above about their process needing to change in future to any panel selection for Performance and Touring Award, Recording Scheme and Music Capital Scheme. I also hope that they let people know about these changes.
I would also call for Music Network to source new panellists every year and not just rely on FMC as they stated last week to represent “the indie sector” (FMC have yet to actually have a representative on the panel in any year). Panels need a clearer representation for all genres of music, from all sides of music. Maybe establish a rule that if you’ve been on a panel in the last two years then you must wait three years before appearing on it again or similar?
I’m asking for Music Network to publish the list of panel members for its awards for each year, going forward and in the past.
I’m also asking that Music Network detail the process in full: are applications removed before they get to the panel stage, and if so what is the reasoning? How many applications do the judges deliberate on? How do they define non-commercial music?
In response to the above calls, Music Network says:
As you know, we’ll be reviewing the operation of the Music Recording and similar award schemes. In this regard, we are taking on board the many concerns expressed over the past few days and can assure you that they, along with the questions and suggestions from your email, will be taken into account.
The only way to face this criticism is to be as transparent as possible. It’s best for the artists, the judges, the organisations, the taxpayers and the music.
This article was edited, upon request, on November 28th to remove the name of a successful awardee who took issue with their name being mentioned.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.