When Michelle Joly won a B.C. Music Fund grant in March, she thought she was going to get half the money needed to complete her $11,000 project to record an album.
Then she found out the fund was only going to provide her with a third of the needed money: $4,138.
Joly is one of 107 musicians in B.C. who are feeling the strain on Creative B.C.’s $15-million music fund, which is proving to be spread thin in its second year. The provincial initiative unilaterally lowered the proportion it would pay per project due to the high volume of applicants.
“There are more musicians in this area that are applying for grants because they don’t have money,” said Joly.
More than just the performers are noticing the change.
“I think they know they kind of messed up on this one,” said Kaj Faich-Nielsen, chief studio engineer at Blue Light Studio. Faich-Nielsen will be recording Joly’s album along with 27 other grant projects.
Blue Light Studio has doubled its revenue over the last year, and Faich-Nielsen says between $80,000 to $100,000 of its increased revenue came from the Creative B.C. grant program.
He said that kind of support has been a huge for B.C. musicians, but this year’s change has made it more difficult for some of the artists he works with.
Struggling to get the cash together
Joly started her album project with Blue Light Studio shortly after receiving grant confirmation in March, but she has been struggling to earn the money to pay for the project in advance. The grant money is only paid once the project is complete.
The soul and roots singer and guitarist works seven-day weeks “gigging,” hosting karaoke, giving music lessons, and delivering flowers. Most days, Joly works over eight hours, often working jobs back-to-back.
Joly said that because of the lowered budget she is not able to make the kind of album she envisioned when she applied for the grant.
“This album is going to be mostly solo and acoustic because $4,138 isn’t actually a lot of money,” said Joly. High Vancouver studio rental prices mean that songs with extra instrumentals and musicians often cost over $1,500 per track, especially for solo artists like Joly.
Joly was making $6,000 to $7,000 every month as a musician and teacher in Red Deer, Alta. But she has struggled to make a comparable salary since moving to Vancouver five years ago. Even with a booking agent, she’s still making under $3,000 every month from music.
“When I moved here, I noticed that some of the gigs never paid you anything and I got extremely depressed and frustrated.”
Creative B.C. aims to fund diverse group of artists
Creative B.C. said that the grant program aims to foster a productive local music scene. It even funds marketing projects so musicians can get more attention for their work in eastern Canada.
With the Careers of B.C. Artists program that Joly falls under, Creative B.C. aims to increase and sustain economic activity and profit potential for the province’s musicians.
“Applicants needed to show a clear plan for what they were requesting funding for and how that marketing asset would be used to build their careers,” said Creative B.C. in an emailed statement.
“The B.C. Music Fund aimed to support artists of all career levels.”
Creative B.C. statements indicate the program aims to fund a variety of musicians at different points in their careers, from solo artists like Joly, to established B.C. groups like The Boom Booms, Current Swell and Mother Mother.
Marketing money helps groups pitch outside B.C.
The Boom Booms, an alt-soul band, received a $20,000 marketing grant from Creative B.C. this year. Band members are encouraged by the province’s outpouring of money into local music, but they too saw their grant reduced because of its over-subscription.
But Sean Ross, the group’s lead singer, said he finds B.C.’s music scene is isolated — so much so that the group seriously discussed moving east.
“We felt that the investments we were making were kind of petering out. We felt like we were kind of ignored by the east.”
Big distances in the west difficult to manage for musicians
Folk-rock singer David Newberry, another B.C. Music Fund winner, moved to Toronto over two years ago. Newberry found Vancouver a difficult place to grow as a musician.
“There is a bit of a low ceiling [in Vancouver], and I think that has to do with geography,” said Newberry. “The next closest gig outside of Vancouver is Calgary and that’s a day and a half of driving.”
His grant win is in partnership with B.C. musician JP Maurice. The grant must be spent in B.C., so the funding will pay producers, guest musicians and album art from the province.
In Toronto, Newberry has a big city as a home base, and he’s surrounded by over 20 substantial cities — meaning more potential gig opportunities — within half a day’s drive.
“I recently did a two-week tour, and I slept in my own bed probably half of the nights,” said Newberry. “You can’t pull that off in Vancouver.”