Every year, the much awaited Mercury Prize nominations stimulate a passionate debate which usually centres around alternative lists of the albums that various music journalists think should be nominated, the pros and cons of the token jazz slot, the impact the prize has/will have on selected artists' careers and whether it really reflects the extraordinary breadth of music being created in the UK.
No list of award nominees can ever be perfect but this year's is particularly interesting because it highlights a change that's become more visible over the past few years: the bold and determined way that many songwriters and artists are taking control of their own creative path; taking more time, following a new direction or tapping into resources which give them more independence and opportunities to develop.
At PRS for Music Foundation, we know that this is the case because, apart from the fact that 75% of the artists are signed to Indie labels, 50% of this year's Mercury nominees recently received funding from us in support of the next stage in their career. This funding enabled them to record a new album, take their first steps into new international territories or try out a new creative collaboration. And to succeed amongst the thousands of applications we receive, they had to be extremely clear and focussed about what they, as an independent songwriter or band, wanted to achieve.
Amongst the six acts we've funded from this year's list, Ghostpoet talks about appreciating support from our Arts Council England backed Momentum Music Fund for his nominated album because it gave him the opportunity to think more about the creative process and what he was trying to accomplish with this record. Following an 18 month break from music, singer-songwriter ESKA sought funding from our Women Make Music scheme to undertake an otherwise difficult-to-finance tour which became a prelude to the long awaited debut album which has been shortlisted for this prize. Jamie xx benefited from an opportunity supported by us and other patrons to work alone on a ballet score for Manchester International Festival's Tree of Codes which sparked things for the album. And SOAK benefitted from what she describes as a "rites of passage" showcase at SXSW in Austin funded by PRS Foundation and BBC Introducing (another reason why we should all be backing the #LetItBeeb campaign to preserve the crucial role BBC music is playing in this complex web of industry interdependencies).
It's not the first time that people we've funded have been selected for the Mercury and other industry prizes (our grantees have historically represented around 30% of the acts selected for this list). However, it does feel like this year's results indicate a growing appetite amongst artists and their teams for reducing dependence on any single resource or way of working. This sits alongside increased recognition amongst development agencies and funders that our contribution is needed if we want to keep stimulating the breadth of music creativity in the UK.
What does this mean for any budding songwriter or band inspired by awards like the Mercury? Of course, this is proof that money is tight otherwise a new range of investors and curators wouldn't be needed. But this pressure is also generating choice and more routes of progression for artists across the UK who might not otherwise be picked up via traditional industry routes.
So if one analysis of this year's shortlist suggested that it "offers no sense of a prevalent trend in British Music", I would say that if you look behind the music itself, it's a bold reminder of how much the industry is still changing, a celebration of artists who are doing it their way and a sign that new approaches and public-private partnerships are being welcomed as one way of sustaining the impact and distinctive edge of music made in the UK.