by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Granted & r & & r & Back in the way back, rich people would find an artist they liked and bankroll homey. This was called patronage. There'd sometimes be a return on investment -- first pick of a painter's paintings -- but it was usually philanthropy for all the same reasons it happens today: good nature, fame, guilt, money laundering, whatever. Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Beethoven were hooked up thusly.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I need free money. Friends and I are working on a little extra-Inlander writing thing that's going to take a ton of cheddar to pull off. There are no loans for speculative artistry and it's not the kind of project we can bankroll ourselves. So we're angling for the patronage of the 21st century: artists' grants.
There are a lot of grants for documentary filmmakers and poets and sculptors and a few for journalistic endeavors. Weird thing though: as far as I can tell, there's exactly one grant available for people creating pop music (Google "ASCAP grant").
Other countries (Canada, Australia, most of Scandinavia) subsidize their pop bands. Remember the Hives' Veni Vidi Vicious? That was the Finnish government. Like Arcade Fire? Thank Canada. Other nations do it to increase their cultural footprint worldwide. America doesn't because our cultural footprint is already massive.
That thinking though -- at least regarding pop -- may change. The reason there are so many grants for poets and sculptors is that there usually ain't a lot of money in that kind of work, even for big names. As a society, though, we've deemed these things culturally important, so we -- through government funds and private nonprofits -- give people money to keep the art coming. Even playwrights who might make bank once their play hits Broadway often get grants to help them live while they write the thing.
In coming years, as there becomes less and less money to be made from music itself, and therefore fewer labels looking to offer upfront money to untested bands, look for people -- maybe even non-pros set up by record labels -- to start helping bands get their first record done. In the meantime, apply for that ASCAP thing and get a little money to record your magnum opus.