Pennies From Heaven
Hissy Fit's Matthew Hiscock writes about the obstacles facing electronic musicians when it comes to grants
Matthew Hiscock - March 19, 2012
Canada is pretty good at supporting its artists. There is lots of funding for artists, managers, distributors, labels, event promoters and other organizations. In my job as a grant-writer, I’ve seen the lot. The trouble is that while this infrastructure is great at what it does, it’s nonetheless heavily biased in favour of album-oriented rock/pop bands. As an electronic music maker and DJ, it’s impossible not to notice that bias.
There are four main things that make it harder for us:
1) We make singles, not albums
While individual artists might make albums of entirely dance music, the business, and dance music culture in general is nonetheless based around singles.
Unfortunately, most granting agencies don’t want to see that you’ve released a bunch of EPs. The FACTOR Tour Support program, an indispensable pillar of the mainstream music industry, requires “a commercially released, professionally manufactured sound recording, containing a bar code, catalogue number and a minimum of six tracks or 20 minutes of recorded material”. While singles are gaining some legitimacy for certain grants, the album still rules.
2) We almost exclusively play larger markets
Most up-and-coming bands can patch together a tour of cities and college towns. Dave Bidini’s On A Cold Road is a fascinating look into the Canadian rock touring circuit. On the other hand, just go ahead and try and book a Canadian tour west of Toronto for most MUTEK acts - it’s pretty much one gig per province.
3) We only play Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
The FACTOR Tour Support program requires a minimum of eight live dates, with “no extensive breaks between dates”. So if the stars align and you manage to book a tour of live gigs in Montreal-Burlington (Vermont)-Boston-NYC for Thursday thru Sunday, then Philadelphia-Washington-Cleveland-Detroit for the following Thursday thru Sunday, you’d probably be ok.
Realistically, though, that’s not how these things go. Typically we go for gigs on Friday and Saturday, then get back on that bus, train or plane. Friday in Boston, Saturday in NYC, then back to Montreal.
I know artists who get Greyhound passes for a few weeks and spend the entire duration of it on the road, sleeping at the houses of their promoters. They nonetheless still only play a couple of gigs a week and fail to qualify for grants, when a rock band can play a show almost every night.
4) DJs don’t count!
This one goes pretty deep. A band or individual artist who does an album of covers can apply for a Tour Support grant, but a dj who plays other people’s music can’t.
Why is that? Both are interpreting the work of others. It’s not unusual for a dj to radically alter the source record by changing the pitch, filtering it, layering it with one or more records, etc.. A band that does covers, on the other hand, can play them note-for-note and still qualify for funding.
Live, non-DJ sets where we recreate our own productions - the type for which MUTEK is known - can get a foot in the door at granting agencies. Nonetheless, how significant is the difference to the audience between me a) playing a live set of all my own tracks in Ableton Live, arranging them on the fly and b) me playing a DJ set using those same tracks.
Is a Hissy Fit live set inherently more valuable than a Hissy Fit DJ set? To bookers it’s more novel, but not more valuable. Increasingly I’m being asked to do “hybrid sets” within Ableton Live, where I’m arranging my tracks on the fly and mixing them in with tracks from other artists. I’d wager that this is the future for what we do, but into which category would it fall?
A possible solution...
Funding bodies like FACTOR, Starmaker, Canada Council, etc, do excellent work, and they’re an essential part of the Canadian music industry, but perhaps we need a separate dance music equivalent to compliment them.
MUTEK artists don’t need $25k for an album and another $25k for promotion. We just need a few thousand to pay for mastering on a few songs, a small run of 12” singles, and postage to send them around the world. We don’t need to do big tours with a crew of eight, stacks of amps and a PA; just let one person play Friday and Saturday in NY and Boston then come home. These are small things, drops in the bucket compared to the money Starmaker is typically asked for.
Mainly what we need, though, is for funding agencies to realize that djs are capable of being the artistic equal of a rock band.
Matthew will be releasing an album’s worth of material as Hissy Fit in the coming six weeks, in the form of “a bunch of EPs”: specifically 6 (non-grant-eligible!) two-track EPs, one per week. Grab the first one at http://www.itshissy.com and like the Hissy Fit Facebook page to keep up-to-date.