Last night, we organised an event in Parliament with the UK's Minister of Culture and Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, to celebrate ten years of the International Showcase Fund. This initiative supports England based artists to take their first steps into new markets overseas. Like programmes run by music export offices in other parts of the world, the UK's International Showcase Fund supports travel, accommodation, visa costs and per diems of emerging talent ready to showcase their music at one of the industry's major meeting points, such as SXSW in Austin, and CMJ in New York. In the UK, this popular and much needed resource is supported by the public and private sector, bringing together the government's Trade & Investment department with Arts Council England, other music industry bodies and PRS for Music Foundation - a specialist development agency which manages the fund, ensuring broad reach and a user-friendly application process.
To mark our 10 year milestone, we commissioned an independent report to demonstrate the fund's impact over the past 3 years. The results confirmed our expectations - that investment in showcasing for musicians at a pivotal stage in their career delivers an array of tangible creative and business outcomes for the artists and companies involved, that the return on relatively small amounts of seed funding is high and that none of the artists would have been able to afford their career-changing trip without this financial help.
As we prepared for our celebration in Westminster, news of a different kind was breaking on the other side of the world - that funding for Sounds Australia which supports Australian artists to showcase overseas, had been cut without warning. This has provoked over 6000 people to sign a petition on change.org whilst high profile artists like Courtney Barnett and those who have benefited from Sounds Australia's funding are calling on governmental officials to change their minds.
As I've been writing this blog, Arts Council of Australia have stepped in andconfirmed 4 years of funding for this popular music export agency. However, the lion share of Sounds Australia's support comes from the Ministry of Culture and this remains unconfirmed. As a contribution to this debate and to reiterate the findings of our independent evaluation, here are ten arguments for investing in showcases based on the ten years experience of our fund in the UK:
1. Compared to other funds for arts and creative industries, showcasing doesn't cost much and generates high levels of return on investment - every £1 invested in the UK artists interviewed for our report generated £8.90 (that's nearly 900% ROI).
2. Music contributes hugely to the economy and to exports - artists supported by our showcase fund generated an additional £4m for the UK economy .
3. It's not just about economic impact - sharing a platform with other artists from across the world also supports musicians' creative development resulting in new collaborations and understanding of audiences outside of the artists' home country.
4. The majority of artists supported to showcase overseas come back with some form of tangible outcome - 89% of our showcase fund recipients secured deals with international labels and agents booking international tours and festivals, increasing media coverage and doubling their footprint on digital platforms.
5. Thanks to their unrivalled power to work across cultural borders, musicians are our greatest ambassadors, contributing to their nation's reputation and cultural influence on a global stage. Can any country afford for their music not to be represented at major international events?
6. We shouldn't forget the benefits for music fans: the international flow of talent is important to audiences at home and overseas who are eager to discover new talent; musicians interviewed for our report doubled their live and online audiences thanks to their international showcase.
7. It's not just about the money - organisations who run funds for showcasing often provide extra advice, support, networks and mentoring which is really important for musicians who have never attended these large -and sometimes daunting- industry events.
8. Public investment in showcasing ensures a level playing field for export-ready artists. The diverse, independent artists we've funded through our scheme have told us they wouldn't have been able to attend without our support
9. Seed funding for those first steps into new territories contribute to the music industry's longer term global success - the artists interviewed for our report include Everything Everything, Kate Tempest and grime collective The Square whose international careers have soared since they attended showcases in North America.
10. Funding for new exporters gives musicians a chance to progress towards a more sustainable career whilst retaining control over the way they break into new markets. In the words of Manchester band Everything Everything who attended CMJ in 2010, "The whole thing is a chain reaction. Our current success wouldn't have happened otherwise." If crucial elements of the talent pipeline are removed artists won't realise their potential.
The International Showcase Fund is supported by PRS for Music Foundation, Arts Council England, UKTI, British Underground, Musicians' Union and from today, PledgeMusic becoming an additional partner.