The role of the creative producer as catalyst for new ideas, supporter of artist development and facilitator between artist and audience is regularly acknowledged across most of the performing arts. Along with curators of visual art, support for these behind-the-scenes risk takers has become more available over the past 10 years including bespoke placements and learning opportunities led by BAC, Watershed, Spill Festival, the Society of London Theatres and Jerwood Charitable Foundation which was amongst the first to champion producers through a book entitled Alchemists of the Impossible. But what about producers of music led events, which help composers, songwriters and performers to push the boundaries of their work, reach new audiences and collaborate with creators from other art forms? How often do we hear about them and the challenges of sustaining an independent career?
One of the challenges here is that "producing" in music is normally associated with the recording process as celebrated by last week's episode of BBC4's Music Moguls series. Nile Rodgers' definition of the record producer as "part creator part psychologist" who masters the art of collaboration and negotiation demonstrates that live music producers may have a lot in common with their recording studio equivalents but are not as well known or understood. Whilst various record producers are becoming stars in their own right, producers of live music events tend to be under the radar mavericks, driving innovation from within a venue or festival or working independently on the edges of different artforms, new platforms and curatorial frames. They may also be overlooked because a large proportion of gigs or tours are simply booked and promoted rather than being based on a close working relationship between artists and creative producer, who work together to come up with something that would have been unimaginable without mutual trust and a shared vision.
The new fellowship PRS for Music Foundation is presenting in collaboration with the Arts Foundation Awards later this week, strives to support and raise awareness of these unsung practitioners whilst celebrating their imagination and impact on the sector. The achievements of those shortlisted for this award speak for themselves:
Laura Ducesschi - part-time producer for Brighton Dome and Festival is perhaps best known for coming up with the concept for Live Transmission: Joy Division Reworked which she developed with Scanner, Heritage Orchestra and Matt Watkins to create a critically acclaimed audio-visual experience which toured the UK and went on to sell out the Sydney Opera House and tour Europe
Edinburgh based Suzy Glass specialises in digital and sited projects including Hannah Tuuliki's Away with the Birds which explores the mimesis of birds in gaelic song and Yann Seznec's Currents which won the Sonic Art Category of the British Composer Awards in 2015
John Stevens works independently and with Qu Junctions in Bristol to produce, curate and dream up ways of making music as alive and enthralling as possible. This includes grass roots strategies for artist and audience development with small capacity venues like Bristol's The Cube and co-producing unusual tours such as Shangaan Electro Dance Workshops (2013)
Kate Whitley - producer, pianist and composer began her producing career with Gabriel Prokofiev's Non Classical organisation and went on to launch the critically acclaimed and British Composer Award-winning Multi Story Orchestra and concert series in a disused car park in Peckham
The winner of our fellowship will receive a bursary of £10k which they can use in any way that will help them advance their practice. Based on our experience of leading the producer development programme New Music Plus... we know that the one challenge common to all producers is justifying investment in the time it takes to research and develop new ideas, projects and ambitions. Our bursary will help one producer to achieve this. I hope that the stories of all four shortlisted producers will inspire wider recognition of theirs and other producers' unique talent; a talent which deserves more support and encouragement if we want ambitious, boundary-pushing new music projects to be enjoyed by audiences from every part of the UK.
The winner of the Arts Foundation's Producers of Live Music fellowship supported by the PRS for Music Foundation will be announced on Thursday 28th January. For more information on PRS for Music Foundation's support of producers see www.prsformusicfoundation.com