Securing the future of new music

11 November 2022

Sonia Stevenson, Head of Music Patron, reflects on Arts Council England’s NPO cuts and their impact 

Imagine a world with no music. Unthinkable! Now imagine a world with no new music. On the face of this might sound fine, but soon enough you find yourself listening to the same music going round and round and round. New music gives us richness and spice, it makes us sit up and really listen, it reflects who we are today and provides an essential creative response and cultural dimension to the times in which we live.  

Which makes the situation facing the new music sector all the more worrying. 

Last Friday (4th Nov 2022), Arts Council England (ACE) announced its National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) for 2023-2026.  

ACE’s decision was never going to be an easy one. They have stated that this was the most competitive round to date with over 1700 organisations applying to join. But the way the axe has fallen has potentially worrying consequences for composers and all those behind new music.  

Significant cuts to a range of new music organisations have come as a huge blow. These include:

I’m encouraged to see a number of new, wonderful organisations joining the portfolio, including: Manchester Collective, The Multi-Story Orchestra, Contemporary Music for All, Chineke! Foundation and many others. 

We don’t yet know the full extent or impact of what this all means. A lot of questions are being asked, and it will take time for organisations to re-think their strategies and plan their way forward. But I think it’s clear that there will be an impact on new music and arguably, a disproportionate one. 

Here at Music Patron we have been so shocked by this news. But it has also brought home to us how fragile the ecology of support is for composers and how under threat it is. Music Patron, which is still just a few months old, exists to connect patrons (music lovers giving £10+ per month) with composers and provide a source of income which is independent from the funding decisions of policymakers and funders. In the light of these decisions, this feels more urgently needed than ever before. 

It’s not as if it wasn’t needed already! A survey jointly commissioned by the Ivors Academy and Sound and Music in March 2021 showed that 28% of composers considered abandoning their career during the pandemic, and 53% of composers earn less than £10,000 per year from composition work. Earlier this year, PRS announced it would be reducing funding to the PRS Foundation – a vital source of funding for composers and music creators – by 60%. The way music is brought to us doesn’t help: it takes 500,000 monthly Spotify streams for an artist to make minimum wage

What does all this mean for new music and its creators? Fundamentally, it means fewer people will be empowered to compose, to develop as artists, and to create new music for audiences. But it also changes the character of that music, as composers have fewer opportunities to take risks and innovate, and the type of person able to sustain a career as a composer becomes much more limited. 

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of all of this, but we believe there is hope. Composers and creators are resilient and more driven to make new work than ever before.  And similarly, the organisations that support and champion new music continue to be committed to putting them first.  Audiences/listeners will still be drawn to hear exciting new music and sound. 

What we need is to come together, shout about the value of new music and explore creative, new solutions. We believe Music Patron has real potential to be a game-changing way to ensure composers can continue to create, while giving music lovers the unique opportunity to connect with composers and be part of their creative world. But it won’t be the only solution. We are open to all ideas and conversations about the landscape of new music and its future. 

Ultimately, our thoughts go out to our colleagues across the sector who are affected, we stand in solidarity and we remain committed to ensuring that composers can continue to create. 

Our ears are open. Let’s talk. 

[email protected] 

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