In September last year, Help Musicians UK launched the Transmission Fund, which allows musicians to grow through funding career development opportunities such as short courses, workshops or one-to-one coaching sessions. We funded Bex Burch to return to western Ghana where she had previously spent three years living, farming and learning with the Dagaare tribe.
As a percussionist, Bex was enthralled by Dagaare’s rhythmic traditions and principles. The people she met there gave her the name, ‘Vula Viel’, which means Good is Good. It is now the name of her three-piece jazz band featuring Jim Hart (drums) and Ruth Goller (bass). Together they produce some of the most exciting new jazz music on the London scene, all inspired by Bex’s experiences with the Dagaare people.
We caught up with Bex after her trip, and she gave us her thoughts on money and funding when you're a musician.
How do you balance what you want to do vs. money?
Balance, or a series of imbalances, is very important. When we play, make music, share it at gigs and on a record, I give something. I give everything that I can. Now I'm writing my own music I put something only I can put into our music. Relationships are made of imbalance. We go for coffee and you buy me a drink, there is an imbalance which I feel. It's not manipulation or game playing, but wonderful. Tomorrow I'll write you an email about how grateful I am about our meeting and we'll go for another cuppa or eat together and exchange compliments. If there was balance between us we may stop meeting, but giving a bit more means there's momentum to meet and push the scale back the other way. If musicians give, which good music does, and you go to a gig or listen online, you receive, you take something. The imbalance is a good thing of course and a healthy relationship means you give back, you pay for a ticket, you buy the album (important to know that Bandcamp or iTunes downloads pay the artist much more than streaming) rather than ignore that nagging feeling when you stream for little or no money. That nagging feeling is the pull to right an imbalance. It feels good to receive, but it feels better to receive and give.
Since starting Vula Viel I've been in the position to pay my musicians, something very important. And that's driven me to ask enough to cover that and also pay myself for gigs. I want to share my music with as many people as possible, but for this 'relationship' to work, I ask for money. I work hard on learning about and doing what I need to do for the business side of music-making to be successful. This included in the last couple of years working with my first agent, Peter Conway and now Sam Gill of Diplomats of Sound, who have built up our performance fees from door splits to something which makes touring sustainable. As we start to work with a sound engineer and visuals, this needs to increase again to cover those costs. Currently I am talking to music labels to put out a new record. This part of the industry has famously been suffering from the streaming culture, but I still believe that the imbalance of taking music for free when we stream and ignoring the knowledge that musicians don't get money will correct itself eventually. Right now, I'm preparing to put out a record which I am proud of both musically and visually, something for those who choose to give their money, something that when they open it and hold in their hands and put it on the record player, will mean they receive more than they expected.
It's not about balancing between the music and the money, as what I do is all about making money, and I work hard to make sure that I receive enough money so that I feel an imbalance too. I need and welcome getting paid for my music.
Why is funding like Transmission so important?
Transmission Fund is a unique way of receiving that exchange. HMUK understand and put their money into the exchange I am talking about above, by focusing on the creative input of musicians. This fund gives money to correct the imbalance musicians feel when they create. We put so much into the development of our art, and yes it leads to something we can sell tickets or records for, but Transmission Fund supports the creativity without the need for the business side. Musicians today have to do both, and I don't know any who feel self-pity about that. But when Transmission Fund supported me in the being, in the searching for those pieces of music with which to make something good, when you did that, it gave me the simplicity of just being a musician. Usually to get paid, I have to be a musician, a business woman, a manager, PR, promotor, I go to music expos, I work to be able to tell others in the industry that I am proud of my music, I keep telling people, even though I have ten rejections for every success. Transmission Fund lets me rest from these new jobs I've found myself in, and become a better musician.
Top tips for funding
I asked a dear friend and elder for advice, the beautiful Agya Koo Nimo, he said, "Don't make what is already there, make something that isn't there yet." That is the core for funding. Make great music. Work hard. You'll know if you've been lazy. Hold yourself accountable. And then for funding, just keep going. If you have the music right, there'll be ten rejections but that one acceptance is worth it.
Find out more about what you can do with the Transmission Fund.