Friday, 16 December 2011

Observations From An Arts Council Of Wales Consultation

Time for something new. While we over here usually just muck about posting comments on a 6-track shuffle on the mp3 player or blathering on about our favourite records, when the opportunity came about to sit in on a public consultation for the Arts Council of Wales' draft proposal for Funding for Music Industry development....well, you just have to, don't you?

The proposal is being jointly developed between the arts council and Welsh Music Federation (WMF), an organisation dedicated to helping organisation and people involved in music, funded solely by the Welsh government. Having already branched out to include international showcases at SXSW it has also been instrumental in bringing world music conference WOMEX to Cardiff in 2013, it has now instigated an investigation into the live music scene in Wales with a view to identifying and potentially solving problems inherent in the scheme of things at present and will provide a key role in dispersing money once the scheme gets under way.

I'm not going to discuss the document itself as such – it can be found here ( doesn't especially constitute a vast amount of reading. I personally found it to be a surprisingly wide-ranging and comprehensive long term strategy, and most of my questions were addressed during the meeting. Those that weren't will be dealt with below. Instead I'm going to discuss the points made during the 90 minute consultation itself.

Given the current economic situation, there's a lot to admire about the creation of this proposal. The first is that it exists at all. The second is that its creators are prepared to venture out and talk to people 'on the ground' to gauge reaction and seek improvements. The third is that it's truly a Wales-wide venture, taking in cities across the South as well as pockets of activity in the North, such as the consultation I attended in Caernarfon. The ACoW from the outset has made it clear that this is to be a collaborative process between the industry and itself, and is actively encouraging the industry stakeholders – whatever they may be and however their interests may differ – to talk amongst themselves on the matter as well, in order to find a cohesive and comprehensive development package for the area. The body itself described the proposal during the meeting as an 'industry-led project focussed on music'.

With the Welsh being fiercely proud of its culture and identity (or parochial and small minded, depending on your point of view), the two most immediate issues of the meeting concerned Internationality and language. There appeared to be some element of contention of what exactly constituted an international outlook, with some people present suggesting it should constitute the rest of Britain, while others thought it more appropriate to attribute it to a global outlook (a suggestion was made for the two ideas to become in effect two separate levels of consideration). It was acknowledged that being truly international presented a wealth of new opportunities not only for artists and the production of records, but also for distribution and and marketing opportunities and formed a key component of any future long-term plans. This was matched with an element of caution, citing the market saturation of the Welsh literature market, where Welsh language books are being produced at far greater quantities than shops can ever hope to stock them, never mind sell. The mood in the room suggested that exposure for the Welsh music industry needed to be matched with sustainability in the long term, and suggestions were made regarding tie-ins for marketing and distribution solutions between the literature and music sectors.

The topic of language proved a complex and divisive topic, with the main point of contention being that at no point is it mentioned in the proposal. Delegates were quick to point out that language shouldn't interfere with the aims and objectives of the draft, and that it didn't want two separate systems to exist. One point that drew unanimous agreement was that language would inevitably form a central point relating to marketability and that the promotional needs for those end products would need to be altered accordingly. The ability to identify and address the issues and concerns to the choice of language an individual or organisation chooses during their application process will form a part of the selection process. It was noted – perhaps somewhat worryingly – that irrespective of language, the ability for small independent labels to get airplay of any sort was especially troublesome.

The attribution of funds to local, traditional forms of music also drew a strong reaction, with mentions of financial quotas to be created in order to ensure they get a fair say. ACoW and the WMF appeared reluctant to set these on the grounds that they didn't want to have to turn away projects based on the fact that a quota had been met, and likewise having to accept second rate projects in order to meet them. However, The discussion did bring up the possibility of greater links between local and traditional forms of music and the tourism industry.

A major problem for the industry at Wales at present is the aid given to the training of managers. Artists and organisations at present can receive training and development aid, but those wishing to provide a similar role freelance get no help whatsoever. It was acknowledged that this was an issue at the heart of the ACoW as a whole, rather than the proposal specifically. Talk also turned to giving musicians some form of business guidance to help them achieve the greatest amount possible with whatever financial assistance they receive – it was noted that for many young musicians it would be the first time they'd have come into money and guidance on spending to help deliver the greatest benefits may actually reward the Council in the long run if that project became successful.

ACoW are making it clear that they expect value for money for their investments, and have no qualms in stating that their ideal scenario would be for a project in which they've invested a modest amount delivers, whereby they can demand acknowledgement. They're keen on projects that will recycle the money given, allowing it to be used by other elements of the Welsh industry (for instance, an artist given money for recording would use it in a Welsh studio, rather than an English one) in the hope that in the long term, such continued investment will raise overall standards. Industry experts will sit in on panel discussion in order to ensure value for money is gained (tour managers can look at an artist's budget and suggest areas for improvement, etc). Investing in a label with a repertoire will provide better value than investing in a single artist. They're also clear in how they advertise it – not as a free for all to claim for a new synth etc but as something far more cohesive – and the high quality they will expect from applicants (talk of spending weeks, if not months, and a great deal of energy on the most competent, creative, and potentially viable submissions).

On the whole the document, I feel, touches upon most of the key points in the industry and identifies its current shortcomings well. If those involved take on board the concerns of those in the consultations and the process is as collaborative throughout the industry works as planned then I fail to see how, providing the submissions are up to scratch, the proposal can fail. Good luck to them. Granted to many there will be doubts concerning the lack of true 'grass roots' backing, but having been this afternoon it's easy to see how that isn't possible. There will be limited funds available and you can be seen to be giving them out left right and centre to every new band that started last week who may record a bunch of demos and then split up.

As always though, things are always going to be left out during a 90 minute consultation and what I'd like clarification about are the following:

What constitutes a 'strong track record'? What is the minimum required to be classed as having one?

When it talks about empowering promoters, is it talking purely of large-scale entities such as national opera companies – for example – or independent promoters that may be perfectly adept at their work but put on gigs to 200 people, if that?

When talking of giving financial aid to refurbish and improve venues, again what is exactly meant? A pub backroom? A dedicated small gig venue (such as Leeds' Brudenell)? A 1000-capacity venue etc.

These are but 3 small areas of clarification on what is, as I said, actually quite a detailed document. If you've any queries about it, then do as I'll be doing in due course and contact the people behind it via the means listed in the proposal that's linked on here, by 25th January.


  1. This is interesting - especially in light of

    I remember you saying at the time you were the youngest person in the room by about 15 years - is there a degree of older generations trying to second-guess what the younger generation who are possibly more likely to go gigging etc want? Or was it more focused, as you say, on large-scale events such as national opera?

  2. Yeah, the strike got literally one sentence of passing mention at the start of the meeting. No elaboration, nothing. Truly staggering.

    15 years may have been some exaggeration, but it was by quite a margin. What you have to appreciate is that we're not just talking about end products such as records or events - we're talking the sector as a whole. So when you start talking marketing, distribution, commissioning, recording/rehearsal spaces, labels, artists, promoters and venues age doesn't really matter all that much. I'd say that lot covers pretty much the entire age spectrum. I don't think 'second guessing' comes into it at all.

    As I just said, it's not focussed on live events. I'd hope that they'll be sensible on deciding the levels they want to help, though I still want clarification on the 2points mentioned at the end of my piece.