The process of grant application seems to be a mysterious one for many jazz musicians.
While I can’t help you with the process itself, I thought maybe I can help you understand how these things are done and what goes on behind the closed door and how best to approach it. It might not help with producing the result you desire (you’ll see why as you read on) but it will hopefully take some stress out of it.
I have sat on a number of grant adjudication panels at this point. When I was asked to do so for the very first time maybe about 10 years ago, I was really scared and nervous. I felt like I didn’t know enough and I didn’t have enough experience and I wasn’t expert enough. On that particular panel, it turned out that I knew more than anyone else in the room; not only about the music itself but also about budgeting and other logistical stuff. I also felt that I listened better than others in the room. After all, that’s what I do for living. And I thought to myself, “WTF.” I had been doing what I’m doing long enough to know that I didn’t know much and I needed to know more. I realized during that panel meeting that I am an expert in the field not because I have expert knowledge but mostly by comparison.
I was hoping that this is not the norm.
Well, it happens more than I like. I know that each foundation do their best to gather panelists that are appropriate for their grant programs but I suppose that is not such an easy task. I do sympathize. But man. Some of the comments made during these panel meetings were… highly suspect.
Another thing is that each grant program has very specific criteria that ties panelists hands. One of my favorites is, and this happens fairly often, to be asked to judge the application solely on its merits and not bring in your previous knowledge of the applicants. I understand why they do that but it frustrates me very much. I have read/listened to applications from artists who I know to be totally worthy yet their applications do not communicate their strength, beauty, nor soulfulness. I had to cut them and it hurt me so.
The process of adjudication itself is not ideal. Panelists are asked to read ridiculous amount of application in a very short amount of time prior to the meeting, if the written application is involved. Not always the case but when this happens it is really stressful. I once received a FedEx package that contained a book that was a copy of all the applications, which measure at about 6 inches in thickness. It was so heavy, too. I know that each applicant poured over their narrative to the best of their abilities and I need to read each word very carefully, yet, it is not quite possible in the amount of time allocated and also panelists are not really paid adequately. I have to make living first so then the adjudication work tends to go to the bottom end of the list.
Sometimes, I would have an access to work samples prior to the panel meeting but sometimes not. So then what ends up happening is that you sit in a room with other panelist and listen to a work sample after another for 6 - 8 hours straight and we sometimes do that 2 days in a row. It just not humanly possible to make “fair” assessment in that setting. Yes, I mean we do try. We really do. But our senses are so relative and they don’t respond well to fatigue. Also, when your sample is being listened to affects our judgements. It shouldn’t but it does. Was yours listened first thing in the morning when our ears were fresh and we didn’t have anything to compare to? Or was it scored right after lunch and after we had a better idea of the baseline? Maybe it was listened to when we all got the second wind and felt badly about the harsh scoring you did an hour ago. You see how despite the best efforts on panelists part, so many elements affect our judgements and ultimately the outcome.
You will get the panel feedback if you ask but it is also not helpful in that foundations usually hire different set of panelists each year. Panel A thought that you should do this but then panel B would not even notice the change you made or worse case, totally disagree. It’s a crapshoot.
Each foundation has their own goals and own agendas, which might align with yours or not. They might want to support more women or more people of color. They might have geographical restrictions or age limit or whatever. Some of the criteria are so arbitrary and it’s not worth your time to be upset about it.
I guess I’m writing all of this to say that grant application outcome does not define you as an artist. Not at all. It just says that (if you get it) you are a type of artist that they want to support, which is neither good nor bad. It just is. And the process, with the best of intentions, is not perfect.
I can make a few suggestions, though:
Keep your narrative super clear and simple. Bullets points are always welcomed in that it makes reading the ideas and proposals so much easier. You don’t have to use difficult words. Point of your narrative is to communicate your ideas. The simpler, the better. Clarity, clarity, clarity.
Mind the quality. When you listen to samples after samples in a meeting room, good quality samples are so welcomed because it is such relief for tired ears. It’s entirely possible that panelists confuse that for the quality of its contents. Lol. Do you know what I mean?
Pick something that develops very quickly. Often times, they allocate about 5 minutes of listening time for each sample but then we really listen like 2 minutes and half tops. If the track has a long intro, edit it out.
I get your urge to include a slow sample but unless you can submit multiple samples, I won’t recommend it. Very few panelists can fairly listen to tracks like that. I’m sorry.
Also, unlike the narratives, I would avoid simple tunes if you can. I don’t know why but many people don’t get that it’s harder to write simple good things.
If they provide you a space to write about each work sample, create and guide the listening experience for the panelists by your words so that you set them up for a reaction you want them to have listening to your music. Context helps greatly.
You should take the application seriously but not so seriously. Like I said, you are not defined by this.
It is entirely possible that I confused you further but maybe it might have helped some. It’s a great thing that there are foundations out there that want to support jazz and other creative music. Their support is so appreciated and much needed. They are doing their best to create the process that is as fair as possible but like anything else, there are ways to approach it. This post is my two cents on that and my intention is to be helpful. Money is always better than no money but if you don’t get it, most likely it’s not you. So don’t dwell on that and keep applying.