It’s no secret that music videos are one of the best tools for artists to promote their music. It’s also no secret they cost a lot of money to make. From renting expensive cameras to finding set space, not to mention paying production assistants, caterers and renting any other unknowns, the price tag is often higher than most musicians can afford on their own. To help stimulate the growth of homegrown talent, the Canadian government has created numerous video funding grant programs like Factor Canada and Ontario Media Development Corporation to help provide financial assistance to young creatives. However for new artists looking to make the step to a visual medium, not knowing how to put together a proper video budget can result in applicants losing out on their shot for funding without knowing why. “We get a lot of applicants that just throw these hail mary passes applying for video budgets with no structure or anything behind it,” says Associate Director of marketing and strategy for MuchFact, Gregg Stewart. “In order for these videos to be financially profitable and worth funding we have to feel confident that the artist has a real a plan in place [for the video].”
Launched in 1984 along with MuchMusic as part of the Canadian Radio Telecomission Commission’s mandate that the then 24-hour music channel assist in funding videos by Canadian artists, MuchFact (originally named VideoFact) was created. Helping launch the music video careers of prominent Canadian artists like Celine Dion and k.d. lang, MuchFact is a privatized non profit organization independently funded by Bell Media that provides resources such as digital tools, online music videos, music videos, and content packages for artists.
However, Stewart believes that a better understanding between artists and the committee should create and foster unique content across multiple genres, regardless of an artists stature. We spoke to Stewart in order to understand the decision process, how video funding works, and how artists can best to get the attention of jurors.
Noisey: So, I’m a new artist walk me through how the committee process works and how videos are chosen for funding?Gregg Stewart: In general, it’s helpful for any jury to have more information for your video to help make a decision. Our jury is comprised of nine people with a chairman acting as a judge. The judge doesn’t vote but he polices the committee and makes sure everything is on track to give everybody their due time and diligence for each of these treatments. From there we have four buckets that people can apply for [like online music video, digital tools, music video, content packaging]. Say there are 150 applicants, we go through all of them first to make our picks, then go over it again to make sure we haven’t missed anyone and then start the decision making process for the categories. We then read through the treatments themselves and look at photos, listen to the music, look at the production companies and directors that are associated with the project, and see if they’ll be able to turn out something cool. Basically, we’re trying to determine if the video is a good fit and if it's plausible budget wise. We also look at the artist themselves and talk to industry insiders and listeners to see if things are starting to happen on their side. Are we hearing about the artist or song on the East Coast or is it only on the West Coast? So, democratically we make these selections and have representatives from across the country representing all genres and demographics who put forth what idea or artist would be the best decision. Altogether that process takes about four weeks and soon after we award successful applicants.
Let’s entertain for a second that you have two artists: one is really big in Canada but internationally he’s not well known, and then another who is big in those foreign markets, but not so well received in Canada. Who does funding go to?
It’s never pitting one against the other. Sometimes we can have 450 applications in one round and others as little as 150 applications. The last round for video applications in fact was the smallest round I’ve ever seen with only around 150 applications or so. Regardless, the dollar value still exists and if we have say, $550,000 it has to be divvied up, so as you can imagine if there’s only a 150 then there’s more money to go around. If an artist is getting massive spins, has a huge following and there’s a buzz behind them, then we take that into account. We also look at who is the support structure behind them, has anyone heard of this artist, is there a single on the radio? If not radio, is there something happening online? On the other hand it could come down to "is this an established artist that we’ve got to buy into because you’ve heard their name before?" It’s really just weighing those factors against the other and seeing what sticks. What I’m personally looking for when I vote is “do I want this to live on in broadcast television and countdowns and is it a good return on investments for us.”
But to answer your question nobody outweighs the other person in a vote—it’s still democratic. Each of the individual categories allow me to look at different levels of artists very differently. Online videos which go up to $10,000 take up a lesser tier of money, so that’s where I can take more risks for newcomers. For example, Jazz Cartier is going to be submitting for the next round and things are really moving for him right now, so we’re definitely looking at him. Even yesterday we got the final video in from this talented kid out of Mississauga named John Rivers who is amazing, but I didn’t hear of him until his video actually showed up. But whether the artist is new or established, there has to be a structure behind what they give to us. I think for an artist to be successful on any level there has to be a game plan, whether its a video, putting out a single, or going out on tour. To be successful you have to know what’s next.
So, say a Drake wants funding from you guys. He’s Canadian, can’t he receive it?
Drake’s not allowed to apply because he’s signed through Young Money and Warner. Although Warner, Universal and Sony all have Canadian branches, they’re still owned and operated by a multinational operation that’s based out of the United States or United Kingdom. For example, XL recordings/Beggars group called the other day inquiring about applying for a new Canadian artist they have and I had to tell them they couldn’t apply because they’re based out of the UK. But yeah all that’s part of the mandate we received from the CRTC.
But didn’t you guys fund Majid Jordan’s “A Place Like This ”?
OVO Sound [the label they’re signed to] is a Canadian company and they’re eligible for it because they are also an independent company. And personally we would want to support their video because we also want to spend money on something that we know we’re going to get back.
In terms of independent artist who may have a small fanbase, do you offer promotional efforts beyond the funding of the video and trailers such as placement on Much or social networking support?
We want to play them. We helped fund them, we created them, so we want to do something with them. The reason they got funded in the beginning wasn’t a fluke. Our new video with Lowell, for instance, we don't want to leave it up to her fan base to blow it up because we want to be partners and help spread the word on it. We’ve actually started doing what we call, MuchSpecific where we did a behind the scenes featurette for the video. But that’s also due to [Independent recording publisher] Arts & Crafts; her management team reaching out to us in advance of us funding the video and asking what can be done to further interest in this video. They’re the experts in A&Ring so it's their job to convince us that this is something that people care about and feed us the statistics and the ammunition needed for us to make the decision for funding. And of course, if we like the concept the idea is that they would also do the promotion on their end. At the same time in this day and age it’s much better if promotion for the video comes from the artists’ mouth. It’s far more impactful if Taylor Swift, 5 Seconds of Summer, Majid Jordan whomever it is saying go here and check this out rather than the media company.
What are some of the issues you’ve seen with MuchFact and what are the improvements you are making going forward?This year we’ve continued to get out there and do an education for the industry from labels, artists, management, and agencies alike to tell them more about our organization. I think for the longest time MuchFact was really like The Wizard of Oz to the industry. Nobody knew what was behind the curtain and how and why decisions were being made but we’re doing a better job educating people in and around the industry. I also think in the past artists were afraid to apply because it’s like “I got a great song but I don’t know why it didn't get picked by the committee.” But now we’re willing to get on the phone and work with them to better their product and help them pick a better path. For a lot of people when you give them the opportunity to apply between $5,000 or $50,000, most people are going to go after the $50,000 grant, but when they don't get it they’re all pissed off and don't understand. So, what we’ve started to do is call them up so we can work with and advise alternative options. It’s like, we’re really digging the song but you’re a brand new artist with a small number of YouTube views or Twitter followers, and your director is straight out of art school. Maybe you should go the online video route and cultivate a bigger presence and then apply for the bigger budgets.
You’ve mentioned the likes of bands doing creative videos like Young Empires using Facebook connect. How are you expanding your video content for creative types in the industry?
If you look online you’ll see in each of the categories it says the word, other. For us that's important because who knows what the next thing is going to be and we don't want to confine anybody. If you have this killer idea for a video like bringing an album cover to life based on Instagram or its a stop motion video we want to release that video. We want to be a part of that. It’s amazing that there are a million things like that out there that I don't know about but these directors and creative types on the production side of things are living and breathing it. MuchFact works on the media side of things so we’re looking to partner with these directors and have them bring these ideas. There’s an Arkells one coming I’ve only seen some stills of it but it's a “choose your own adventure” if you watch it online. We don't know if they’re going to stick, but you don't know if you don’t try. There will always be a demand for traditional music videos, but at the same time I don't know what traditional videos really are anymore because everything is pushing the boundaries these days. It’s more about cutting through and what's going to make your idea viral and shareable online.
Jabbari Weekes got a grant to run his twitter - @DaysandWeekes