Public Funding for Popular Musicians: What is it good for? The case of Momentum

Gable, Olivia (2019). Public Funding for Popular Musicians: What is it good for? The case of Momentum. PhD thesis The Open University.



In 2013, Arts Council England (ACE) deviated from its tradition of predominantly supporting ‘high’ or prestigious art by launching the Momentum music fund for popular musicians. Momentum is administered by PRS Foundation (PRSF) and provides grants of £5,000-15,000 to popular musicians for recording, touring and marketing costs. ACE created Momentum amidst a political environment that emphasised narrow understandings of value, focusing on economic value or the ability to improve social issues. Simultaneously, the music industries have undergone unprecedented changes since the creation of the internet and digital technology, altering cultural workers’ practices. My research therefore aimed to develop a nuanced understanding of value at the intersection of public funding and the popular music market through the case of Momentum. This multi-perspective research drew upon ethnographic interviews with funded musicians, semi-structured interviews with artist managers, PRSF and ACE staff, observations of assessment panels, analysis of documents and quantitative analysis of application data. Here, I show that ACE and PRSF valued Momentum in terms of priorities of funding talent, excellence and increased diversity. ACE derived value from association with funding popular musicians, and PRSF integrated diversity priorities throughout Momentum’s assessment process, which bled into other PRSF funds. Artist managers were investigated as cultural intermediaries, both in helping musicians secure funding and through pivotal roles in artist development. For popular musicians, value was linked to their identities as independent or unsigned musicians, their definitions of success and whether they considered music their profession. The findings of this research present a starting point for analysing the value of funding for popular musicians, a largely unexplored area of research. As arts funding remains under threat of cuts, the findings of this research will be highly relevant to public funders and to PRSF, the Music Managers Forum, popular musicians and professionals working with them.

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