PMOI DIY Guide To: Music Fundraising

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A few months ago, I was chatting to fellow blogger Kenny Fresh of FRSH SLCTS about the whole blogging thing, and he asked my thoughts on it and where it was all heading. I told him that for me personally, blogging no longer felt like it was enough - I was frustrated by the transient nature of blogging, and the (sometimes) negative impact the more powerful blogs can have on artists. I started blogging because I was an event promoter and music PR who was excited about music and wanted a place to share it with my friends, but it quickly transpired that I had other skills I could use to help the artists I have covered over the years and I still do. That conversation really stayed with me, and over the coming months you can expect to find new PMOI resources and workshops launching - more info on that soon.

There is a big infrastructure gap for many emerging and independent artists - it's hard to find management and booking agents willing to take you on if you don't have a label deal almost on the table, so artists end up taking on all of those roles themselves. It's not easy, and one of the things that can really help with artist development is funding. A couple of grand to help record your EP, make a video, pay a PR company and cover rehearsal space can make a huge difference, but so many people feel unsure or intimidated by the process. I have worked as a fundraiser years ago so I have some experience, but it took the encouragement of my friend Noah to get me to start applying for funding for PMOI. I've been lucky enough to receive support from the BBC Performing Arts Fund (though the urban music scheme no longer exists) and most recently the PRS Foundation. I've found them to be lovely, knowledgeable, extremely helpful people and I am eternally grateful to them.

I've written this guide to encourage other people to apply for funding, but I would also encourage anyone who is thinking of applying but is unsure to get in touch with funding organisations directly and to ask for their advice - they are only too happy to give it.

*Since this post will go live on the eve of the first deadline for the heavily publicized new PRSF Momentum Music Award, I would also add a note about that here. Over 2000 applications have been started for only 8 places in this quarter. I would highly recommend you either wait for the next quarter, or apply to the PRSF Individuals or Women Make Music schemes (for which application numbers are expected to drop), and in addition to the recently simplified Arts Council Grants for the Arts Scheme. 


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405tv Session: Rowdy Superstar (+ Friends) - "Breathe"


Rowdy Superstar is a force of nature. Most artists when asked to perform a live session grab their band, rather than assembling Eska and a small choir to perform an acappella version of their single. In a week. I love this version of "Breathe", one of the real stand out tracks from Rowdy's debut album "Battery". The layers of voices punctuate the underlying emotion the original production doesn't make so immediately obvious, Rowdy sounds heartfelt and passionate yet plaintive, and the body percussion really drives the intensity of the situation home. Beautiful.

ESKA "English Skies" @ Queen Elizabeth Hall 07.05.12

What do Tupac's hologram, Grace Jones and Eska have in common? They're the three things that kept me awake after Eska's live performance at The Queen Elizabeth Hall on 7th May.

Before I say anything else, please only watch the video above up until the performance ends at 7.41 mins. It's taken from a funding showcase where a first draft of the show was essentially pitched in order to be developed further. There is a certain way things are done in the world of fundraising, so it was necessary for Eska and her collaborators to politely discuss their plans and ideas for the work. In the real world she would have gotten up at the end and said "after that performance do you need any more proof this show will be amazing?? No, thought not. Pow!", slammed the piano shut and sashayed off stage. Struan and Simon would have walked on with two large leather briefcases and whispered "you heard her, now make it rain", whereupon the funders would have sprayed them with £50s. Well, at least that's how it would work if someone died and left me in charge of the Arts Council.

So back to Tupac's hologram. What the version in the video above lacked was the amazing 80 piece Goldsmith's Vocal Ensemble in attendance at the QEH. "Vocal Ensemble" sounds like a fancy way of saying "choir", however the word choir for many of us evokes freezing cold school halls at lunch time, droning along (what's a harmony?), wishing Whoopie Goldberg would burst in dressed as a nun and  sort it out. Or something. In fact GVE is much like my childhood fantasy version of a choir, but with added choreography, acting, really interesting songs and vocal arrangements, and Tom Herbert from The Invisible. Vocal Ensemble it is then. The overwhelming response at the end of the show (through stifled sobs) was "OMG Eska should always have a choir, why doesn't she?!" from very enthusiastic people who have clearly not thought through the logistics of taking 80+ people anywhere. Do you see where I'm going with the hologram yet? 80 power cables rather than 80 people - make it rain Arts Council, make it rain.

Being an icon in the making must be a terrible burden. You can't just show up to performances in a nice dress with a backing track and a line check, hoping for the best. You have a legacy to create and protect, and whilst Eska is a lovely person, she has done more than her fair share of paying dues. The atmosphere before the show began was buzzing, electric and hungry - hundreds of die hard fans praying that Eska was finally about to step on to the big stage her star deserves. I looked around and did the head count before the lights went down, not a spare seat, and a good percentage of the audience were well known musicians. There was also a woman who had the audacity to dress up like Grace Jones just because she looked like her. (Turns out it was Grace Jones, and yes I am going for an eye test). Perhaps icons recognise each other.

The music that night was beyond my descriptive abilities. Flawless is an over used word but there were none. It was beautiful, classy, and emotional in the extreme. There were so many occasions I was totally overwhelmed I couldn't pick one, all I can say is that I was very grateful to be there. A teary-eyed Mara Caryle clasped my arm on the way out, asked if I was OK and suggested we set up a support group for "survivors of Eska at the QEH". I think perhaps we might be better off setting up a group for those who weren't there that night. If you are one of those people, I strongly suggest  you add "seeing Eska's English Skies Song Cycle live" to your bucket list.

Are We Finally Ready for Neneh Cherry?

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Last week I stumbled across (OK obsessively hunted down) a grainy VHS rip of "The Rise of Neneh Cherry" (link to pt.1-3). Visually it could have been 2010, a beautiful young mixed race woman walking down the street in a pair of Nike Delta Force Highs, a  skin-tight black lycra dress you would be forgiven for assuming came from American Apparel, and huge *gold* Ridley Road Market special door knocker earrings. Almost 20 years later Neneh Cherry's signature look became more of a uniform than a blue print in East London, but it's perhaps  not so much what she was wearing as much as what she was doing whilst wearing it that lead to her status as team mascot for my generation. If you don't read the rest of this article please watch part 3 of the "documentary" to see Neneh recording vocals and shadow boxing whilst heavily pregnant, then handling her biz on an 80s brick mobile in the car and doing the running man with a newborn strapped to her chest. Talk about a role model.

The 1988 hit Buffalo Stance (where has the time gone??!) will probably always be Cherry's best known track, and from what I can see online (yes, more stalking) she's still really proud of it, however I wonder if it may have partially obscured who she really was as an artist at that point. The daughter of jazz musician Don Cherry, the young Neneh had already lived in Sweden, New York and London, dropped out of school age 14, been in post punk and dub bands, and was itching to work with Ornette Coleman to "push herself musically". She must have scared the life out of label execs at the height of the Kylie/ Bros/ Bananarama Smash Hits late 80s. I was very young back then so it's unlikely I thought of Neneh as a trailblazer, a pioneer or a renegade, but I can distinctly remember thinking she was somehow different to the other pop stars - and that I wanted to be her.

More music followed in the 90s, and plenty of collaborations unbefitting a beautiful brown girl who's meant to be jumping up and down in cycling shorts on Top of The Pops. Pregnant. With some weird dancing cowboy clown people. And a cameraman on stage... sorry, I digress. To pick a few from the enormous list, Neneh went on to work with Gang Starr, Michael Stipe (REM), Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Bernard Butler (Suede), Tricky, Pulp, Gorillaz, Groove Armada and a Grammy nominated song with Youssou N'Dour "7 Seconds" (her second Grammy nom, she lost best new artist to fraudulent front act Milli Vanilli in 1990, which must have been galling). Today she would probably have been signed to XL, curating the Meltdown Festival and with a pedigree like that be in some sense on par with Damon Albarn (for better or worse). Yet when you bring up the name Neneh Cherry today most people still say "ahh, I loved Buffalo Stance!".

Which brings us on to today, and a brand new collaboration with  Swedish jazz trio The Thing, covering music by Suicide, Martina Topley-Bird, Mats Gustaffson, The Stooges, MF Doom, Ornette Coleman and of course Don Cherry (the group took their name The Thing from the title of a Don Cherry song). In 2012 covering a track outside of your usual musical sphere is an affordable and pretty standard marketing tool (a collaboration is even better), but it is pretty much mandatory for the current generation of young black women terrified of being labelled as "soul" (which for some in the music press is apparently a black hole of boring from which ye shall never escape). Actually to be on the safe side you'd better get some tattoos, shave at least part of your head and say you're really in to minimal techno and K-pop for good measure.

So Neneh Cherry's return as a veteran experimental pop star may not be greeted with full recognition for all of the doors her Nike high tops helped kick down, but the after effects have contributed to a rich and diverse musical community awaiting her return as a beloved and respected monarch.

Neneh Cherry & The Thing “The Cherry Thing” will be released on 18th June 2012. 

The Real Point of Music Blogging

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The vast majority of music bloggers I know do it because they love it. [/wpcol_1third] [wpcol_2third_end id="" class="" style=""]

I just came across a list on Mashable entitled "Top 5 Tips for Aspiring Music Bloggers", and I have to say I felt that it missed the point. The article's stance largely assumes that people think music blogging is a "job", one that you must be exceptionally knowledgeable to do before starting, that people who want to be music bloggers start out wanting to write for other blogs and get paid for it, that it is about being an authority on a niche subject, and that you shouldn't be too negative. (Read More) [/wpcol_2third_end]

The article is full of quotes from lots of men who run well respected music blogs that (apparently) make money. I only know one person who makes decent money from their music blog, it has become an organisation, and it has been running for 11 years. The vast majority of music bloggers I know do it because they love it, because the new video from so and so keeps them up at 4am, and they want to share it with people. It's a great feeling when someone says you've made their day, they enjoyed a live show you recommended, you've filled up their iPod with music they love, or they want to debate something you've commented on, and for most of us that's the payoff.

Personally, I believe that blogging is a great opportunity to change the way things work culturally. Journalism fits neatly with everything in the Mashable list above, but blogging is not journalism, it's self publishing - no editor, no stakeholders, no real rules, anyone can do it, you have ultimate freedom to write what you like, and that's the point (if you don't like it, don't read it). In my experience, back in the day, when there were lots of music magazines, record shops, DJs had to have vinyl, record labels were rolling in it etc etc, a lot of the gatekeepers to the music world seemed (often but not always) to be the kind of guys who felt the need to patronizingly "school you", not share something. I used to call them Music Fascists.

Put Me On It started because of that. I used to feel too uncomfortable and intimidated to go in to record shops. It felt like I didn't speak the same nerdy language so I stayed away. Then a few years ago I got a laptop, and it was like a whole new world opened up - I got really excited and decided to share my journey with my friends and anyone else who cared to read my blog, and invited them to share with me. This is not a space where I try to impress anyone with my knowledge or make lots of money, this is a space where I share music I'm honestly excited about and inspired by, and I write with my friends in mind. It seems to have paid off since now I work as a consultant for record labels and companies who want to communicate more directly with their audiences online (though I can't tell you how much this annoys the Music Fascists).

I believe music blogging is a unique opportunity for anyone who wants to share music they're passionate about and interested by, to be really honest about it, to support the artists they believe in, to positively impact the music industry, and to inspire the people around them - the more of that the better. I think it's sad when bloggers don't fully take up that opportunity, and they're motivated by traffic stats, being seen as "up to date", or heaven forbid "cool". Those things negatively impact on the way music is made, audiences abilities to sift through all the rubbish, and they devalue all of the quality that is out there. If you want to blog for the right reasons and you have something interesting to say you need no validation -  and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

When you strip everything but love and passion from the equation, I believe music blogging is an opportunity for a democratic cultural revolution, not a job.


Goodbye Amy

[wpcol_1third id="" class="" style=""] Amy Winehouse by Hedi Slminane[/wpcol_1third] [wpcol_2third_end id="" class="" style=""]

"I'm not surprised" was the resounding conclusion on Twitter. I was.

- Without going in to specifics I've spent most of my life around addiction, and it's a long time since I was amazed by the toxic volumes people can put in to their bodies and survive, the terrifyingly dangerous situations they can stumble through unscathed, and the heartfelt promises to stop they can't keep. The point at which most of us would have found shocking or surprising was probably a road bump long since passed. By the time someone actually does go too far, they've usually gone further than we can possibly imagine. - Like a lot of Londoners, I met Amy Winehouse once. It was years ago with my sister in Kentish town, she started pointing and saying to her boyfriend "look, those two are so pre-eeyy" as if we were puppies she'd like to take home. Not quite sure what to say we just told her we were fans of her album at the time "Frank" and ducked out of the way. I remember thinking how strange it was that she was Amy Winehouse, yet she seemed insecure. The stories about her hadn't reached our ears at that point, we were just impressed by her brave, honest (and funny) songwriting, not to mention that voice. - Fast forward to last night as I watched people blame Amy, the people around her for not intervening, the media for their callousness - the list was endless and totally understandable, but wrong all the same. Addiction is a disease, and it often ends up killing its victims. It's hard to sympathise with because the outward appearance is that the addict doesn't care and it's their fault for not trying hard enough. Apart from the mental side of it, the physical experience can be a similar urge to needing to eat when you're starving or drink when you're parched - for those who blame Amy I hope they ask themselves if they would be strong enough to suppress an urge that severe every single day. For those who feel her family should have intervened further, short of tying someone up and never letting them out again there's nothing you can really do to stop them. You just have to watch the person you love kill themselves slowly in front of you, and it's every bit as painful for you as it is for them. As for the media, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable for their behaviour before someone dies, not just blame them afterwards. - I keep seeing talk of how Amy Winehouse will forever be as defined by her addiction as she is by her music. I beg to differ. I think that is up to us. I choose to remember Amy for her inspirational yet down to earth songwriting, how her music got me through sad times or made me laugh out loud, her incredibly special voice, and how she opened the door for talented female artists who don't fit the mould, and don't hold back.



Watching The Riots

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[wpcol_2third_end id="" class="" style=""]My heart sank as I watched Owen Jones attempt to take to task an apoplectic and ill-informed David Starkey doing a fantastic impression of a racist on Newsnight this week as they discussed the London riots. Grateful as I was for the gesture, Jones's inability to think quickly of an effective and undeniably long list of positive contributions black culture has made in Britain was almost as sad as Starkey's shrieks of "Rap? You glorify rap?!" (Read more)[/wpcol_2third_end]

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In September 2007 I was working on the opening performance of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre - a desperately needed arts center in the heart of Tottenham dedicated to diversity, built by architect David Adjaye to commemorate the late Tottenham MP and community leader Bernie Grant. My daring boss tried to push the name of the devised piece of musical theatre created by a cast of 35 young people with London's finest directors, rappers, vocalists and songwriters past the board. We promptly had to do damage limitation on thousands of flyers and "RIOT" became "GRIOT". Her hopes to transform the negative connotations of the history of that word in that area associated with that MP from violence to joy and creativity were quickly dashed. The performance was a success as were many of our creative projects dedicated to diversity and cross-artform collaboration, but less than a year later most of us were made redundant. The official line to the press was that we lost our funding. The real story was much more heartbreaking, as issues of governance, ulterior motives and financial mismanagement reduced the dreams we worked ourselves to the bone for to virtually nothing in under a year. Three years later and Tottenham was once again on fire.

I watched last week's events unfold to a soundtrack of Watch The Throne, Jay Z and Kanye West's new collaborative album released in the same time frame as the riots. My initital reaction was utter revulsion, as on first listen I picked up on talk of watches, cars and shoes - themes of materialism, a word hurled at the looters of London like mud. Several listens later and I stand on the opposite side of that fence, but also with a greater understanding for the politicians, historians and anyone else whose limited perception of hip hop is that of a superficial, dark and frightening caricature. Subtlety can be hard to pick out on a first listen, even with open ears.
Starkey's issues with the language of urban youth culture provided a sharp reminder that in Britain, a country with shockingly low social mobility, class is still a huge issue. In the US things are different, and money talks much louder than "the right" pronunciation, lineage and schooling - it generally brings with it a level of acceptance harder to obtain on these shores. I am privately educated (as with David Lammy when I speak you might not know my origin with your eyes closed), but that made little difference in my time as an arts fundraiser as I was probed by the well-to-do for information about my presumed absent black father or possible adoption, neither of which was the case.
Watch The Throne certainly has the familiar and almost obligatory sprinkling of club tracks and boastful lux-life references which help guarantee its success on US radio, but a more careful listen reveals a tale of the American dream. Jay Z is still talking about how he has escaped a poor upbringing, absentee father and dealing crack, whilst Kanye is still talking about the difficult effects his hard won superstar life has had on him (in particular his current pre-occupation with being disliked and labeled a racist), but that he's still fighting for it. Hiding or layering the depth of meaning is an intentional device rappers often apply, but many of this album's underlying themes are overtly aspirational.


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"The streets raised me,
Pardon my bad manners,
I got my liberty chopping grams up.
Street justice,
I pray God understands us
I pledge allegiance to all the scramblers
This is the star spangled banner"
- Jay-Z (Made in America)

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At the end of 2009 Matthew Herbert remarked to Paul Morley in the Guardian that it would be difficult to tell what was happening in the world through listening to pop music over the past decade. That might be true of pop music but that's not exactly the case with much of hip hop and grime. They both come littered with references to popular culture placing them explicitly in time, and they are also often the autobiographical experiences of the writer. This is the political voice of many young people, positive or negative, it is a view of the world through their eyes and mouths. The tired argument so often made that hip hop is causing violence is quite frankly arse about face, since songwriting generally involves finding inspiration in what you know - the music is the product of experience not the other way round. Apparently because it's not written up in a shiny report (Standard English of course) it cost a shady quango thousands to produce it's not worth listening to seriously.
Whilst I take issue with the way the riots and associated issues are being dealt with by our government and much of the media, it has made one thing abundantly clear to me. We are in dire need of a "British Dream". The inspirational American ethos, the very benchmark of their culture, that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth" sounds pretty good. Ours might need to be a bit more cynical with clauses regarding crippling humility and the weather, but surely anything's better than "The Big Society" - not even David Cameron's old pal Rhymefest could write a song about that.



Why We Didn't Just Book A DJ

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There was a lot of sleeping on sofas, last minute line ups and minor emergencies, and we ended up giving the artists every penny we made on the door, but it was more than worth it. [/wpcol_1third]

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I was surfing Myspace one night (it was October 2007), and one of my favorite rapper/ producers Kev Brown sent out an update saying that he was in London. It turned out his show had been cancelled and he and half the Low Budget crew were sleeping on Tranqill's floor. Virtually hyperventilating I called some friends with a live night called Lookout! and demanded they change the line up at the last minute. Two days later and Low Budget were rapping and making beats live on stage at Favela Chic. (Read more)[/wpcol_2third_end]


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The guys asked me to stay on and help programme, and through Myspace we managed to book Muhsinah, Ty, Blu and Ta'Raach, Stacey Epps, Eric Lau and Rahel, Fatima and lots of other artists with Alexander Nut and Cavalry as our resident DJs. There was a lot of sleeping on sofas, last minute line ups and minor emergencies, and we ended up giving the artists every penny we made on the door, but it was more than worth it. We were one of many similar live promoters at the time - Deviation which I also ended up working on, Doctors Orders at Herbal, Cargo and the Jazz Cafe were all putting on great live line ups of independent and emerging talent.


Fast forward to 2011, and things look pretty different. London has become one of the major cities in Europe international artists find it hardest to book a show in. Georgia Anne Muldrow, Taylor McFerrin, Blu and Exile, Cody Chesnutt, Mia Doi Todd, and many other great performers have all been on tour in Europe in the past year with no London date (not to mention the live talent based here). Generally venues and promoters are booking safe-bet big name artists slightly past their prime for lower fees, crowd pulling electronic producer-DJs who can just show up with a laptop (no backline, band members or tour manager required), or in the case of Cargo music so bad people have to get drunk to numb the pain.


I wasn't going to do another live night. It's hard and scary - you lie awake worrying about the sound system, ticket sales, flight prices and last minute cancellations. I convinced myself everyone must be happy enough with DJ sets and old school rappers. Then I saw Quadron perform at the Queens Head in May. The band were truly incredible - I will never forget that show as long as I live, but because it was a bit random and last minute there was only a tiny fraction of the familiar faces I knew would have felt the same way in the audience. I refuse to believe that the hundreds of Londoners downloading, blogging, tweeting and ranting on about amazing new music don't want to see it live. So I resolved to call my dear friend Eric Lau and ask for his help, and later this afternoon I'm going to go and hand in a deposit I can't afford to the venue for our first event.


It would be so easy to sit here and just blog, but this blog started in the first place because of the live events I was involved in, because I wanted to do something active to support the musicians whose work I love so much. I didn't know anything about anything, I was just passionate; so if you can offer an artist you love and want to see perform in London a spare room, a cheap flight hook up, a rehearsal space, or you justbuy your tickets in advance, we would really appreciate your help.


Amelia Ideh