If PRS Foundation was a record label, it would have one of the best A&R departments in the business.
At last year’s Mercury Prize with Free Now, nine of the 12 shortlisted artists had previously been funded by the Foundation, as have four of the last five winners. Indeed, since it was created in 2000, PRS Foundation has handed out more than £44 million to over 8,500 songwriters, composers, performers and music organisations, including huge names such as Little Simz, Sam Fender, Wolf Alice, Dave, Glass Animals, Roopa Panesar and AJ Tracey.
And the good news is, the Foundation will now be unearthing the next generations of talent too, having signed a new multi-year funding agreement with PRS for Music. The agreement leaves room for potential year-on-year increases from 2024, with the Foundation also able to raise funds from other sources.
‘The new agreement gives us longer-term sustainability,’ says Joe Frankland, CEO of PRS Foundation. ‘But it also allows the Foundation a slightly new model so we can build on previous successes, attract more money from elsewhere and continue to do what the Foundation does best. We’re in a really good place to build on a strong relationship with PRS and support as many creators and organisations that support creators as possible.’
Michelle Escoffery, President of PRS for Music’s Members Council hails the deal for offering ‘stability’ and allowing the Foundation to ‘plan ahead’. The new agreement was reached after a review by the PRS Members’ Council, to secure the Foundation’s ongoing activities and nurture new music.
‘The work that the Foundation do is vital,’ she adds. ‘Creativity is not free.’
'We’ve been very keen to make sure funding is both flexible for those different needs and responsive to gaps within the talent development pipeline.’
Nor are many other things these days – and the range of funding available through PRS Foundation is increasingly important as Britain’s cost-of-living crisis bites.
‘We’ve had a huge increase in demand for funding since the pandemic,’ Joe confirms. ‘And we’ve been very keen to make sure funding is both flexible for those different needs and responsive to gaps within the talent development pipeline.’
Help is available for the rising cost of playing live through many PRS Foundation grants, including The Open Fund for Music Creators and the PPL Momentum Music Fund, while Joe notes that increased international costs caused by Brexit and the recent hike in US visa prices can also fall under the remit of PRS Foundation’s International Showcase Fund, although he would rather funds were spent on less bureaucratic pursuits.
‘We work very closely with various trade associations to push against such restrictions coming in,’ he says. ‘Because, frankly, we don’t want music creators having to use such a large proportion of the grant they receive from us on administrative costs rather than vital things like travel and accommodation.’
Fortunately, the Foundation also has a long history of enabling creators to do more imaginative things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
Artist, producer and musician Ssegawa-Ssekintu Kiwanuka aka Love Ssega – the original frontman of Clean Bandit – received Momentum Music funding to make his 2017 Emancipation EP, which led to worldwide attention – something he believes would have been difficult to achieve without PRS Foundation help.
‘I wanted to do the EP independently and to get on with it but if I didn’t get that money I’d probably have had to go to a label and say, “Can you help me put this out?”’ he says. ‘It would’ve slowed down my progress. There are a lot of artists stuck in the pipeline and I didn’t want that to be me.’
Without label backing, Ssega also says the PRS Foundation endorsement was crucial in persuading other musicians he was worth working with. ‘It was a pat on the back that made mastering engineers be like, “Cool” – and that’s what you need as an artist.’
Meanwhile, singer-songwriter and TV/film music composer Tawiah, whose latest album Ertha is out now, used PPL Momentum Music funding to help create an immersive live show to launch her debut record, Starts Again, at The Albany in south east London.
‘I was able to put on literally the show of my dreams,’ she says. ‘A full band, dancers, projection, the whole shebang; which I would not have been able to do without funding.’
Indeed, Tawiah credits PRS Foundation with helping at several crucial points in her career. She first received Women Make Music funding when she was starting out and later used a POWER UP grant that allowed her to take up the opportunity to tour with Michael Kiwanuka, paying essential travel and accommodation costs. The funding has also enabled Tawiah to develop a show and secure a booking in India later this year, and she even met her film/TV agent, Harriet Moss of Manners McDade, through the Keychange initiative.
‘One of the reasons for applying was knowing I could tap into a network of like-minded people within the industry – and that’s important,’ Tawiah notes. ‘Every pot has helped elevate my career, step by step, and I’ve met some awesome people.’
'PRS is raising the talent pool and the level at which we’re doing things in the UK – surely that’s good for everyone?’
Love Ssega also completed a Musician In Residence placement in China before the pandemic. ‘The good thing with PRS Foundation is – and I didn’t realise this when I was applying – they really do watch your career,’ he says. ‘They see what’s going on and they continue to support. PRS is raising the talent pool and the level at which we’re doing things in the UK – surely that’s good for everyone?’
‘The team together with our network of industry advisers look at it holistically and think about a music creator’s journey, when does the songwriter or composer need support in their career?’ confirms Joe Frankland. ‘How do you pick the right people at the right time for small grants that make a big difference?’
All parties agree that, with resources being squeezed across the industry, and UK artists struggling to break out internationally, more assistance from the government would help everyone. But Michelle Escoffery believes many politicians have a rose-tinted view of life for music creators.
‘They think it’s glamorous,’ she shrugs. ‘Most people think that, if you’re in this industry, all you’re doing is going to parties, doing shows and meeting other celebrities – and that’s really not it! What about working for months and sometimes years creating a body of work? What about having to go out and tour and not seeing your family for months on end? That is the reality of being a music creator and that is why these funds are so important.’
And Joe Frankland believes the wider music industry beyond PRS for Music needs to step up. ‘The main difficulty we’ve had in the last few years is only being able to support between 5% and 10% of music creators applying for funding,’ he says. ‘If we could support 15-20%, it would be very impactful for the sector. The biggest players in music should be investing in the grassroots and doing it strategically through our programmes and other charitable funds and foundations.’
'What both PRS and PRS Foundation are good at is spotting talent. And spotting when they are making waves and are on that tipping point and when we should support them to get there.’
For now though, with funding secured and the future for the PRS Foundation looking bright, Joe pledges a ‘reshaping and streamlining of programmes to ensure they thrive and survive’.
And, of course, the backing for UK music’s best and brightest hopes should continue to produce winners from every region and every genre.
‘What both PRS and PRS Foundation are good at is spotting talent,’ says Michelle Escoffery, also on the PRS Foundation Board of Trustees. ‘And spotting when they are making waves and are on that tipping point and when we should support them to get there.’
‘We’re not thinking about the commercial success in the same way a record company would,’ says Joe Frankland. ‘But the track record is very strong.’
So yes, Britain’s got talent – and the PRS Foundation is backing it all the way.