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  • Writer's pictureMatt Errington

SMB Talk To... CEO of PRS Foundation, Joe Frankland.

PRS Foundation is the UK’s leading charitable funder of new music talent and artist development. Since 2000, they have awarded an astonishing £35m to over 7300 projects. We spoke to the CEO of PRS Foundation, Joe Frankland, to discover more about the important work being undertaken, and how they’ve been able to provide support during the pandemic.

PRS Foundation have long been a beacon of hope and opportunity for the most talented music creators and promising music businesses. Could you summarise the vision and objectives of PRS Foundation? PRS Foundation is the UKs leading charitable funder of new music and talent development. We believe that all talented music creators should be able to create innovative and exceptional music, to develop sustainable careers and to reach audiences internationally. We achieve this by investing directly in exciting, diverse creators at crucial stages, and through our support for pioneering organisations and talent development experts who enable those working in any genre, at any career level and anywhere in the UK to fulfil their potential.

A combination of open, accessible programmes and targeted schemes enable us to address talent pipeline and inclusivity gaps, and we want to do more to connect music creators with organisations and industry partners to fast-track career progression, constantly championing grantees and finding ways to add value to our grants programmes.

Could you tell us about the amazing work PRS Foundation have been leading during these difficult times and what are your expectations, hopes and plans for recovery?

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the music creator community as well as on venues, festivals, promoters and other organisations we support. One third of our grants support international activity and those schemes were first hit

with the cancellation of huge events such as SXSW. Our flexible and adaptive approach there has been applied elsewhere and while we’re still in the middle of a storm in terms of music creator and organisations’ livelihoods, we’re proud that we have been able to keep the vast majority of our schemes going and to stick to deadlines as best as possible. We passionately believe in the importance of project funding to support the creation and performance of new music, and have adapted programmes to meet the changing needs of our existing grantees and current applicants.

Now is the perfect time for the biggest players in music and arts funding to think strategically about what creators need and what we want the music sector to look like in the years to come.

Alongside maintaining our existing programmes, we contributed to the PRS for Music and PRS Members’ Fund’s Emergency Relief Fund which supports the immediate financial hardship needs of songwriter and composer members. And with support from Spotify’s COVID-19 Music Relief Project, we created the Sustaining Creativity Fund to support UK based music creators facing professional hardship in order for them to sustain their careers and their creativity. That has helped almost 200 exciting and diverse creators to do what they do best, and our third deadline was a response to Black Lives Matter conversations, supporting the immediate needs of Black music creators who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and face many other barriers to sustaining careers.

The relief needs are far from over of course, and we are working very closely with our funding partners and the industry because we know PRS Foundation’s key role will be a recovery role – supporting applicants to build back better. Something that’s crucial to us is ensuring that a broad range of creators overcome the challenges and working to ensure that the music industry of the future is more inclusive, more accessible and more supportive of talent. We have been doing this through our Keychange programme which represents under-represented genders globally, and we are developing a new programme to power up Black music creators and executives, addressing systemic racism within the UK music sector. Our models of project funding, industry co-investment and collaboration with the full music community will help in our push for meaningful change. Now is the perfect time for the biggest players in music and arts funding to think strategically about what creators need and what we want the music sector to look like in the years to come.

I’ve taught students, artists and entrepreneurs that weren’t aware of the important support PRS Foundation provide. Could you outline some initiatives and programmes that they should know about?

We run between 15-20 schemes and several funding deadlines each year, designing our programmes so that there’s a suitable deadline for any creator or organisation looking to support music creator development.

Some schemes focus on supporting creators at specific career levels (e.g. the Steve Reid Innovation Award which supports early career talent). Some target different areas of inclusivity (e.g. Women Make Music, The Oram Awards). And we have ‘next level’ schemes for those at crucial career tipping points (e.g. the PPL Momentum Music Fund for artists, The Composers’ Fund or our Hitmaker fund for songwriters and producers). lists all opportunities and more often than not, The Open Fund is the best place to start as we run three deadlines per year which support all career levels, all genres and those based anywhere in the UK.

What do you perceive to be the most pressing challenges, and the most exciting opportunities for the music industry in the future?

Although Covid-19 presents the most obvious challenge in terms of economic impact and sustainability, I perceive systemic inequality and prejudice as the most pressing challenge for the music industry. The Black Lives Matter movement has thrown light on the experiences of Black creatives and the many complex barriers faced by the Black music community. We must all move beyond statements of solidarity and work together to be the change, and we’re exciting about developing our new programme and the positive conversations we are having.

It’s not a competition between challenges though! The reality is that unless we act decisively, Covid-19’s impact is going to exacerbate existing inequalities, and the results will be disastrous for under-represented groups. So, we have to seize the opportunity to develop a “new normal” that works for many more creatives and will result in much more exciting new music in the UK reaching audiences worldwide.

The Black Lives Matter movement has thrown light on the experiences of Black creatives and the many complex barriers faced by the Black music community. We must all move beyond statements of solidarity and work together to be the change

I’m an industry professional of 20 years and I grew up in Durham. I felt I had to relocate to London to forge a career in the business. I know that you previously worked at the forefront of talent development at Generator in the North East. I’m interested to know about your thoughts on music industry growth outside of London. Is there anything that can be done to support the business of music outside of the capital?

Although I’m not originally from the North East, a decade of being a part of the scene there and working for a great organisation like Generator very much informs my outlook and approach to talent development. Relocating to London is a reality for some but I very much see that changing. Artists like Sam Fender (whose manager is based in the same coastal town) prove that you don’t have to relocate and can be part of something much bigger by staying put. The issue we have is that the infrastructure is not readily accessible to creatives outside London or other metropolitan hubs. Generator’s support of both creatives and businesses is one of the solutions.

As a funder, we need to do more to spread our support further afield, and my focus is on strategic interventions that will enable creatives to access all the support they need without relocating. We’re doing so through the PPL Momentum Accelerator programme in Yorkshire and Liverpool City Region, and we do so through our Talent Development Partner network of 49 organisations around the UK.

And of course one huge positive from the long lockdown period is that companies are learning to work in new ways which I believe means there will be a lot less reliance on being in London. Let’s face it, it costs a small fortune to get a train from Newcastle to London regularly so the growth of virtual meetings, virtual conferences, webinars, etc. means those based outside the Capital can access the London-based industry more easily, and those of us based here can more effectively reach out to everyone else.


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