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Jess talks us through how to “prepare for answering questions, adding up budgets and developing your great ideas,” when applying for an Arts Council England (ACE) Project Grant. Many of these ideas will be applicable to other types of funding too.

Funding is a great resource that’s available to almost anyone working on creative and exciting projects, but it can seem like a daunting pile of questions and difficult budgets. It’s not just about big organisations or bands with thousands of fans – smaller projects aimed at impacting specific groups are just as likely to get funding.

That said, it can be difficult to know where to start, so here’s some advice to help you prepare for answering questions, adding up budgets and developing your great ideas.

Find out what's available, and who and what are eligible

Almost anyone can apply for a project grant, individuals (aged 18+) and organisations with a UK bank account can submit an application. As for the amounts, Arts Council England split their project funding in two: applications for £1k - 15k, and applications for £15k - £100k.

As you can imagine, the application for the lower range is less detailed which can make it easier to manage, and the turnaround in terms of submitting your application and receiving a decision is just 6 weeks. Another requirement is that 85% of your activities have to be in England (so no international tours, sorry folks) and it can’t be purely promotional activity.

All applications must have a creative outcome, but you can involve more than one discipline (music and video for example). In general, they cover a really broad range of activity, so whatever your creative idea is, as long as you’re working to engage audiences in England with creativity and culture, you can move forward. The good news is engagement online is totally fine, and it’s especially important at the moment.

How to make your idea into a fundable project

So you know what you want to achieve, but you’re not sure how to make it into a fundable project? When the career of a musician is varied and incorporates so many skills, it can be difficult to break up your work into individual, fundable sections.

Plan your projects far in advance and identify specific elements of your work which you really need financial help with. It could be recording, promotion, collaborations or anything else – the main thing is to identify the help you’ll need and why.

All projects need a start date and end date, so work out a chunk of time, identify what you’d like to achieve in that time and what support you’ll need to make it happen. Making a quick timeline is the start of every great project idea.

Once you’ve got it worked out, head over to the Arts Council's very handy ‘is my project ready’ quiz, in order to identify any areas you might be missing.

Answering the questions on your funding application

On first read, funding questions can seem somewhat confusing – it’s okay, it’s not just you! Before you start answering, spend some time thinking about what your project aims are (e.g. to create a new body of work to inspire audiences) and how you’re going to achieve them (e.g. by recording, mixing and mastering a new album).

Then read the questions carefully, making bullet point notes for anything you think of right away. This will give you a foundation to start building your application. Leave yourself enough time so you can do your application in stages so you don’t get overwhelmed by it.

young woman getting information on her smartphone
They say that anyone should be able to pick up your application and run your project for you from your application. Photo: Shutterstock

It seems obvious but the best advice is simply “make sure you’re answering the question”. If a question has multiple parts, check that you’ve covered each part. If questions seem similar to each other, work out what you’re going to say for each one so you’re not repeating yourself.

Be specific, give detail on the people and partners involved – you might not think it’s important to mention the specific name of someone who is mastering your work, but it shows that you have it planned and all the ideas are in place, therefore you’ll be able to complete your project.

Most of all, remember most applications are read quickly, so be concise – there’s no extra points for long answers! Don’t be afraid to break up your answers – bullet points are fine – and lead with the most impressive and interesting parts of what you do (e.g. don’t start the question about your past work by talking about how you first played piano when you were 5).

Additional support for those with access needs

Lots of funders (including Arts Council England) understand that many applicants have access needs. If you think you might need help completing your application, there are lots of options available, including easy read guidance, costs to cover support workers, audio versions of the application and more.

Creating a detailed project budget

Budgets are the bit that many applicants really dread, but they don’t have to be that difficult. First off, look at your timeline and identify all the outgoings you’ll have in that time and identify the income you predict you’ll get (including the grant you’re applying for). The outgoings and income should be equal to one another. If they’re equal then the project is not making a profit or a deficit – that’s what you’re aiming for.

You are not allowed to make a profit on your project, which simply means that your expenditure must equal the income over the project timescale. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make a profit on individual items (e.g. records) or that you cannot keep selling your product after the project timeline ends.

A few tips to creating a detailed project budget

  • Do your research. Don’t just guess how much your PR campaign might cost - make sure you ask
  • Talk to others about what they’re contributing. If you’re working with someone else e.g. a label, distributor etc. ask what elements they’re covering so you can demonstrate the costs in your application. Otherwise it might just look like no one’s paying for that recording session
  • Equipment can be covered but you have to show a real need for it, don’t just throw in a Fender because you want one
  • Be realistic. Use the information about income you already have to make a judgement on the future
  • Make sure everything is included – if you talk about having PR in your application but there’s nothing allocated for it in the budget, then the project won’t add up
  • Pay appropriate rates for services and people e.g., if engaging musicians on the project use Union rates (as a minimum).

Let someone else try to understand your application

They say that anyone should be able to pick up your application and run your project for you. It should have all the detail and information necessary for a complete understanding of how you’ll complete the work.

So before you send it off, why not have someone who doesn’t know your project read your application and then ask them some questions about it to see how well you’ve outlined it? Make sure you’re communicating your plans clearly and effectively to ensure you have the best chance possible of securing funding.

How funding applications are assessed

It can be really useful to think about how your application is going to be assessed to ensure you’re highlighting the most relevant information. Arts Council England assesses each application based on four criteria: Quality, Public engagement, Finance and Management.

So you need to look at what makes your project high quality (collaborating with others, experimenting in new areas, pushing yourself to achieve something new), who is going to engage with it and why. It’s really key to be able to say who your project is aimed at, and what else they might like. Where will you find them? Having your finances add up and showing that you’ll be able to manage the project is also key.

It’s important to make sure you’re being honest too – don’t think that those assessing your application won’t go on your social media, Spotify pages etc. If they want to get a better idea of what you do, they might look online. Remember the person assessing your application might not be a music specialist, so don’t assume specialised industry knowledge.

Remember, if you’re unsuccessful for funding anywhere, you can almost always ask for feedback. It’s really important you do because it could be that you just missed out, and it’s well worth applying again in the next round, or it could be there’s something straightforward letting your application down that can quickly be changed. It can be disheartening to be rejected, but it doesn’t mean your project isn’t a good idea.

Finding funding opportunities

Arts Council England aren’t the only ones who fund music projects. Other leading funders include PRS Foundation and Help Musicians, and although there’s different criteria for each one, lots of the advice here can be used to answer their applications too.

Each funding body has a variety of different funds, covering everything from taking time out to learn a new skill to specific funds for producers and writers.

You can find out which ones work for you using the Help Musicians Funding Wizard. Make sure you follow all these organisations on social media too, it’ll help you remember when all these funds are accepting applications, and might even inspire you to develop that project you’ve always wanted to do.

Good luck!

Photo ofJess Partridge
Thanks to

Jess Partridge

Jess Partridge is a founder and editor of new music group In Stereo, and provides advice for musicians applying for Arts Council England (ACE) Developing Your Creative Practice Fund.

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