Depending on where you live, grants can literally make or break your career. I live in Canada, where grants are abundant and in high demand. Having written several successful grant applications for myself and for other artists, grant writing seemed liked a relevant and worthwhile topic to discuss.
You may have heard this from others, but I will tell you right now: grant applications are long, tedious, and stressful. However, I find the organization required to complete a grant application very beneficial. For example, when I’m developing a marketing plan for other musicians, I often notice things or have ideas that would have otherwise been missed.
Further, when you’re applying for grants, you’ll end up needing a bunch of things that you probably should have anyways! A registered business name, business bank account, marketing plan, promo photos, videos, demos, bios, and so on. Applying forces you to get your act together, which is ultimately beneficial to your career.
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Know What Is Available To You As A DIY Grant Writer
Sometimes grants are easy to find, and sometimes they’re not. Here's a resource to get you started: GrantSpace.
When you’ve found a grant that seems relevant to you, read over all of the guidelines. The last thing you want is for your grant to be denied on a technicality.
Grant Writers: Are They A Good Idea?
Generally speaking, a grant written by the artist will be more genuine and enthusiastic than one written by a third party.
I’ve talked to several jurors and organizations that say they can usually tell when something is written by a grant writer. Sometimes, writers just have a general format and fill in the blanks with your artist name. This is easy to spot and feels careless and tacky.
Remember that nobody cares about your act’s success more than you do. For that reason alone it's worth learning to write grants.
However, DIY grant writing also saves you a great deal of money. It’s pretty standard to charge a $500 flat fee for grant writing, and it’s also typical to see grant writers taking up to 15% of the grant as their fee – sometimes in addition to their flat rate.
With that in mind, for your first grant, hiring a writer can take a lot of pressure off. Writing also takes up a great deal of time (a full application takes between 10 – 15 hours), so if you can’t afford to spend the time, you may have to spend the money.
I also totally recommend getting a grant writer or someone who has previously received funding to look over your application. Trust me, you’ve probably missed something.
What Are Funding Organizations Looking For?
A standard rubric for judging a grant would look something like this:
- Lyrical/musical content: your music needs to be great. Typically, you’ll be asked to submit lyrics along with demos, so both arrangement and lyrical content are considered. The sonic quality of your demo is usually not a factor.
- Marketing plan: they are looking for a well thought out, detailed, realistic, and concise marketing plan. I'll be sharing more about this a little later.
- Presentation: a sharp presentation absolutely helps your case. I get into some design tips later on.
- Team: often one of the hardest things to get right, having a great team of people helping you out is huge when it comes to getting grants. The first time I applied for funding, it was turned on this basis alone. I reapplied a few months later after securing a publicist, a non-exclusive booking agent, and a basic distribution deal. This application was successful.
Developing A Marketing Plan When Grant Writing As A Musician Or Artist
Marketing plans are the single biggest project you’ll have to complete for your grant application. Mine are usually 10-15 pages long and thousands of words in depth. Chances are people won't be reading the whole thing, but you still have to write it!
Marketing plans become more manageable if you break them down into chunks. Here is my usual outline, in order of appearance:
- Intro: here I include a handsome cover page and a table of contents. I also usually put some press quotes in here to sell the band before even getting into the details.
- Macro objectives: big, overarching goals. These usually start obvious and specific (e.g. Tunnel Vision will record a 11 song LP at Rockstar Studio), then a little more general (e.g. the band will expand their touring markets into Europe and the southern States), and then very broad (e.g. the band hopes to become financially independent and full-time musicians).
- Timeline: this is a very specific overview of your timeline. Obviously things can change and you won’t be held to the dates you set, but you should have a start and end time for pre-production, tracking, mixing, printing, release, touring, etc.
- Release info: include details about your wider release – North American and worldwide. I also include local details; where the release show will be held, what are your goals for attendance, etc.
- Team: include everyone. From graphic design to production, anyone that is helping you or working for you is part of the team. While it helps to have “big names” here, the truth is that the more names you include, the better. Juries like to see that you have help.
- Touring strategy: fairly self-explanatory – detail your touring plans and marketing strategy.
- Target audience: I usually use Facebook Insights and other free audience analysis for this section. Grab charts and graphs off of Facebook and Google. Anecdotal evidence from show attendance is also fine.
- Social media: always mention social media and spend time describing how you use it. Jurors love to see that you have a unique approach to social media.
- Promotional strategy: here I discuss marketing campaigns, whether it’s with a publicity company or DIY. Get into details. This is also where you can stand apart from the crowd by talking about your unique guerrilla marketing tactics!
- Biographies: include your full band biographies. Unless it’s specifically asked for, I do not include personal band member biographies because no one really cares. The notable exception is if a certain band member has some reputable awards or prior success.
- Past and upcoming shows: I include a well-organized list of shows that have occurred in the last 12 months, and all future dates for the next 12 months. I sometimes include planned dates that are not confirmed.
- Anything else that is relevant or requested.
A parting note on the subject of marketing plans: brevity is key.
Jurors are reading through upwards of 20 applications. Make yours easy to read! If you can make something into a bullet point, do it. Use lists. Do not use a bunch of frivolous language. Keep it to the essentials and keep it truthful and efficient.
Presentation is often taken into consideration, but even if it’s not it certainly doesn’t hurt to look better than everybody else. Here are a few tips:
- It’s very aesthetically pleasing to see two columns with a 1 pt gutter size. Notice that most magazines and newspapers use columns.
- Summary boxes. I usually make these a different colour, and then just sum up (in bullet points) what was said on that page.
- Sometimes, the eyes need a break. I include promo pics of the band, relevant graphs, charts, album art, and pictures of the studio.
- Cohesive font. Always keep your font cohesive. It looks weird to have three different fonts all over the page.
- Use italics and bold. If there is key information, italicize or bold it.
The Devil In The Details
Finally, where a lot of people get caught is in the piddly little details. It helps to go through the guidelines and make a list of everything you could possibly need. Then, check things off and keep it all in a tidy folder – either on your computer or in real life.
Something that I always include are letters of support. Get them from radio DJs, managers, labels, booking agents, publicists, promoters, literally anyone in the industry. It is standard practice to give them a template that they can just copy, paste, and sign. Some will prefer to write their own.
It’s always useful to have someone you trust look the application over for typos, missing elements, etc. Then, submit it promptly and wait! It can take a long time for these to come through, so be patient.
Lastly, it sounds cliche, but don’t give up. I can’t count the number of times artists have been denied their first time and approved the second time. Sometimes the reasons are political or financial, and sometimes the funders just want to see how committed you are. Either way, ask for feedback on your application and give it another shot.