Working towards a fairer music industry

Intercultural Youth Scotland (David Chukwujekwu)

Creative Scotland was established in 2010 to support the arts, screen and creative industries across the country. Primarily, the organisation does this is by distributing funding from the Scottish Government and The National Lottery to help develop projects at local and national level in a similar way to Arts Council England.

One of their internal projects, the Youth Music Initiative, looks to facilitate  access to high-quality music-making opportunities for young people aged 0-25 years, particularly for those that would not normally have the chance to participate.

We spoke to Morag Macdonald to learn more about the programme and the correlation between music making and future employment and what they look for in funding applications.

What are the main aims and objectives of Creative Scotland?

Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland. It’s slightly broader than Arts Council England but we don’t support public libraries or museums like they do. It works on behalf of everyone who works, lives or visits here, and that we distribute funding from the Scottish Government and The National Lottery. Creative Scotland is a funding, advocacy and development body, so like the Arts Council England, people in Scotland really see us as one of the big funders. In Scotland, everything feels quite local and so we really try to develop and foster relationships across the country.

We have three main funding routes. One of them is our Regularly Funded Organisations which is generally for larger organisations and offers multi-year funding. The second is our Open Fund which is a fund that both individuals and organisations can apply to, and it can support research and development for anything from an album to a festival and you can apply for between £1k to £100k. And the third funding route is targeted, which is usually when the government or another organisation gives us funding for a specific purpose.

Can you tell us about your role as Youth Music Initiative manager and what that entails?

There’s three of us, and I manage the programme. We sit within a wider creative learning team and my job involves a lot of overseeing. We talk to the government a lot as it’s a programme that they fund annually so we are constantly having conversations with them to evidence the benefit of the programme. We also sit on a lot of strategic groups, working in partnerships with other organisations and giving funding support and help with applications.

My day-to-day ranges from speaking to someone who is applying for the first time all the way up to having conversations with the government. We also work closely with the education sector to discuss how the YMI programme fits into the school curriculum. We also have an annual report that we produce which looks at the outcomes and impact that our funding has.

Photo credit: Intercultural Youth Scotland (David Chukwujekwu)

Tell us more about the Youth Music Initiative programme.

The Youth Music Initiative has been running since 2003, and it came off the back of a government report called What’s Going On Now? which looked at youth music making in Scotland. It highlighted the disparities between provisions for young people depending on where you live, and in response to the report the government set up a fund which currently has a £9million annual budget with the aim to provide everyone with access to music making. 

There’s a few strands to the fund. The Formal Fund, which is where every local authority in Scotland is allocated a set amount of money to provide at least one year of music making to every child in Scotland. The other strand of funding supports projects that happen outside of school or mainstream school settings. The Access Fund supports activity in any genre or type of music making offering grants of between £5k-£30k for up to one year’s delivery. Many of the projects we support though this fund receive continued funding for years. We usually have a Strengthening Fund, which has been paused this year due to Covid-19, aims to improve the youth music sector infrastructure and the services that organisers offer such as training, conferences and events – anything that’s not directly working with young people.

What link is there between early stages music making and building a career in the music industries?

We look at it in terms of the softer skills benefit around it. So our funding is based more around the development of confidence, skills, interest and awareness, as a lot of young people aren’t actually aware of the opportunities around music that aren’t being a musician.

How much does a young person’s cultural or socio economic background influence their access into music making and career opportunities?

We hear from teachers that young people themselves say they don’t identify with some of the music opportunities which are offered to them in school. Now they’re saying “this isn’t for us” so we want to work alongside those young people to meet their needs. In the funding we give out there has to be a clear implication that the initiative is led by the young people so that it’s not a case of “oh this is a deprived area, let’s give them this” but rather asking what they want or need. They tend to be the most successful projects. Music Plus is a good example of a mentorship programme where young people step forward themselves for mentoring and they completely guide what that might be, whether that's DJing, producing, singing or songwriting. Then from that they’re matched with a professional in that area that can help them, rather than saying “in Glasgow, we’re doing this next month” and trying to find the people who are interested.

How can people apply for Youth Music Initiative funding and can you give us some examples of the types of projects you have supported in the past?

Anyone can apply, as an individual or an organisation. It’s usually a twelve- week turnaround from when the deadline for an application closes to when we announce the successful applicants. There’s roughly a one in three chance of getting funding, which is competitive but not unachievable.

In terms of national projects, we fund the Scottish Brass Band Association who are a voluntary led organisation. They work with very localised brass bands, a lot of whom are in deprived areas and mining towns, and we give them funding to support start up bands and help cover costs of instruments and spaces. Then at the other end of the scale we have a project working within a secure school for young people with social and emotional needs and that involves a lot of one-to-one mentoring. There’s a great example of a project like this which at the end put on a festival where the young people were involved in putting it together. We also fund Scottish Music Centre which has an initiative that funds young people’s first touring opportunities, which is a programme that Lewis Capaldi came out of. We also fund a project that tours around Scotland setting up sound systems with young people. So it’s quite diverse.

Creative Scotland also has a Nurturing Talent Fund, managed by Young Scot which aims to support the creative ideas and ambitions of young people age 11 – 24.

How is funding split between Scotland regionally?

The local authority funding is split based on a format that was made a while ago that looks at the number of people in an area, but there’s still some disparities within it because some areas have boomed in population while others have decreased. In terms of our open access funding we tend to fund a lot of projects in the major cities, where deprivation levels are higher. We do get people saying “we get no funding over here” but when you break it down per head of a population, some places actually get more funding than they think. Saying that, our funding tends to end up either centrally based or going out to the really rural places, so I think there is an area in between that we don’t receive as many applications from, and so we’re trying to find new ways of targeting people in those areas.

What advice would you give to someone applying for funding for the first time?

Talk to every funder before you apply. If your application is unsuccessful, ask to see your assessment or for feedback and then build on your application from there. If you’re unsuccessful, don’t take a no for a permanent no, just ask about what you can do better next time. Sometimes it’s just a case of there were loads of great applicants or we didn’t have enough money. If you’re not sure of something or don’t understand a question, then ask! It’s well within your right to ask questions and from that you can get a clear idea of the level of detail that’s expected and the specifics of wording. A really clear, detailed budget is also important.

Ultimately it is public funding so we have to be sure that the money is going to the right places, meaning we have to give it to the applications that are strongest and show a clear sense of budget, child protection policy, etc.  Good ideas are important, but it’s vital that an application seems like a good, safe investment.  Sometimes I’ll read an application and think “this is amazing!” but then it’ll fall short in the areas that we need in order to confidently fund it. Being denied funding once can put someone off from applying again even though their idea was great, and so we are constantly trying to keep conversations going with people to encourage them to reassess and reapply.

Finally, what impact has COVID-19 had on your work and have you seen any positives during this time?

It’s really varied across the types of organisations we work with. Those that rely on external income from ticket sales or a shop or a café are in a really difficult situation compared to art forms that are already heavily subsidised by public funding. In terms of the youth projects, it’s really interesting to see that the ones that have built long term and meaningful relationships with people (usually grassroots) have been able to carry on, and going from face-to-face to video calls has been easier because their audience wants to maintain a connection and sense of community. Some of the bigger projects don’t have that as much. Even though the bigger organisations might have better facilities, actually when you talk to people, often they find the relationships and people more important than the big shiny spaces. It’s been really challenging but I think in a strange way it has brought the arts to the forefront of people’s minds. 

The impact of webinars and online courses has been great, so there are bits to celebrate in there amongst the tougher aspects. We know that access is still a big issue particularly in deprived communities, and it’s been great to see some organisations try to tackle it by doing things like sending out SIM cards to families.