FOCUS ACTS is the name of the generously endowed support program that the FEDERAL CHANCELLERY (BKA) and AUSTRIAN MUSIC EXPORT (AME) have been awarding every year since 2015. The support comes as a tour subsidy which is intended to enable selected domestic acts to increasingly accept concert invitations abroad, thus paving the way towards an international career. In 2020 seven acts will benefit from the program, including ANGER, DAVID HELBOCK, FRIEDBERG, MOLLY, MY UGLY CLEMENTINE, PAULS JETS and PRINZ GRIZZLEY. We asked the artists what they expected from the award and which kind of opportunities it will open up for them.
The chance to make a name for oneself on an international level
Which acts aren’t dreaming of a great international career? And although many have the potential to make it abroad, it is often difficult to accept invitations to international gigs. Especially at the beginning of a career the offered fee is often barely enough to cover the musicians’ travel expenses. Even festival appearances are sometimes difficult to manage. Many up-and-coming acts therefore accept foreign tours into which they invest more than they actually earn. In order to counteract this precarious situation the Federal Chancellery (BKA) supports musicians with a total budget of EUR 30,000 per year of the support program FOCUS ACTS. The declared aim is to increase the visibility of Austrian musicians abroad and to enlarge the domestic market which is often too small for a career as professional musician, with the international one. From the perspective of the Federal Chancellery the initiative is an important contribution to the establishment and expansion of international networks. In the meantime the funding scheme has established itself and receives numerous submissions every year.
“The FOCUS ACTS program helps young artists with their first major foreign tours which in many cases are not feasible at cost-covering level. The funding covers at least part of the travel costs incurred and thus reduces the economic risks of the musicians. In combination with a catalogue of measures offered by Austrian Music Export, the program offers young musicians the opportunity to perform abroad in order to gain experience and find their audience,” says Tatjana Domany of the Austrian Music Fund, summarizing the support program.
At the same time the musicians are supported by Austrian Music Export with competent advice on their going-international-projects. “For some years now, there has been a large number of young domestic acts from all contemporary genres who have been fascinating at events organized by us and at national and international showcase festivals and subsequently have been booked by international festivals and clubs. However, these performances often do not cover the costs, as only established acts are well paid. This is exactly where the FOCUS ACTS program comes in. It creates the financial prerequisites for young musicians to be able to carry out as many international performances as possible and to gain experience and find their audience so that they can move up into the league of well-paid acts in the coming years,” explains Franz Hergovich (Austrian Music Export).
In the course of a call for entries, this year too artists on the threshold of an international career were identified. Anger, My Ugly Clementine, Molly, Paul’s Jets, Friedberg, Prinz Grizzley and David Helbock, a total of seven acts from pop, rock, electronic, folk or jazz were awarded grants from EUR 2500 to EUR 5000. With the exception of the newly founded band My Ugly Clementine, all the acts have already performed at international festivals. In 2020, it should be easier for them to accept booking requests from abroad and thus make their music known beyond the country’s borders.
“Our home is the world!” (Paul’s Jets)
PAULS JETS make it clear that especially at the beginning of a career one needs to accept a lot regarding concert opportunities abroad. “Up to now we had to turn over every Euro and save at every turn. And sometimes the fun suffered as well.” The ensemble around band leader Paul Buschnegg, founded in 2018, made it to the top of the charts within a very short time with songs like “Üben Üben Üben”. Musikexpress calls them the next big band after Wanda and Bilderbuch, FM4 sees them as heirs of Ja, Panik. Fact is, the combination of quirky lyrics and catchy, uplifting melodies is truly exciting.
Just like the Viennese trio, Chris Comper too is hoping that from now he won’t have to “turn over every euro twice”. He sees the support as “recognition of the last few years during which I invested a lot of time, money and work to be present abroad”. The musician, performing under the stage name of PRINZ GRIZZLEY a mixture of Blues, Americana and Country, considers it “very important to face the international comparison in order to move ahead and to constantly work on yourself,” and adds soberly, “also in order to realize that nobody is waiting for you out there and that you have to roll up your sleeves if you want to play internationally”. The musician from Vorarlberg has already performed at major festivals, including the SXSW in Austin, Texas and the Americanafest in Nashville, Tennessee.
ANGER too have played numerous gigs abroad. The Dream-Pop duo of Nora Pider and Julian Angerer emphasizes how important an international presence is to them: “Our music is mostly in English. We see ourselves as Europeans. Anyone who wants to should be able to listen to our music and be inspired by it. According to our Spotify annual report, our music is heard in over 70 countries. Of course we want to go there as well! It never was our goal to conquer only the German market, but to be successful internationally. This year they received the XA-Award, the music export prize. The fact that they also have the necessary means now to do foreign performances encourages the duo. “We have some bigger festivals on schedule. Of course, we can’t reveal everything yet, but in January we will be playing at the most important showcase festival, the Eurosonic Festival in Groningen in the Netherlands. We will also travel to festivals and concerts in Germany, England, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain. Everything else will be announced very soon. It is a very exciting time for us”.
PRESENCE OF AUSTRIAN MUSICIANS ABROAD
In 2020 Anna Wappel will be awarded the FOCUS ACTS grant for her new project FRIEDBERG. The Styrian musician cannot complain about a lack of international reputation. With her solo project Anna F. she has been successfully on the road for years. With her four-piece indie band she wants to travel the world and also play at the big Tastemaker festivals. Performances at these festivals play an important role in the band’s biography, but – contrary to what one might think – they are often done for “a small or no fee at all. We couldn’t manage this without the FOCUS ACTS funding,” says the singer.
Sophie Lindinger, known from Leyya, has brought three colleagues with her to form MY UGLY CLEMENTINE. – Mira Lu Kovacs, Kathrin Kolleritsch and Barbara Jungreithmeier – who are already known from other successful groups. From the very beginning, the indie rock band was treated as a supergroup by the media. No wonder that their debut concert was sold out within a very short time. With appearances at the major industry festivals Eurosonic Norderslaag 2020 and the Ment Festival in Ljubljana and an extensive tour My Ugly Clementine can now prove themselves internationally.
MORE STABILTY AND STRENGTHENED NETWORKS
The Shoegaze duo MOLLY, consisting of Lars Andersson and Phillip Dornauer, clearly explains that the funding basically also makes a professionalization possible: “Larger investments – such as an album or a European tour – are very difficult for us to pay for in advance without funding. In your early 20s you often don’t have enough money on the side. With the funding we can now afford – just as one example – to take a sound engineer on tour which of course gives our live performance more stability and security.”
The bustling jazz musician DAVID HELBOCK would like to use the funding to expand his existing network: “I am already very well positioned internationally and have contact with bookers from different countries. In the last 20 years, i.e. since I started playing concerts, I have also built up a database of contacts with thousands of promoters and have made contacts within the international media through my label ACT”. His aim is to make better use of these contacts. Because there’s the problem that “many promoters simply don’t have enough money to pay adequate fees and travel expenses”. On the other hand, some promoters might have the budget, but “will only select those artists who already bring along some funding”.
Finally, Paul’s Jets also state that the live performance itself can benefit from the funding: “We can now rent a bigger bus to take more instruments with us. That way we can produce more sounds and release more energy. What was a secret party before, is now going to be a roaring celebration!”
FOcUS ACTS 2020: the criteria
The FOCUS ACTS Programme promotes international development of young local artists. Eligible applicants are Austrian musicians from the genres pop / rock / electronic music, contemporary classical music, jazz & world music that have been selected as part of the activities of Austrian Music Export by international juries and festivals. Criteria for funding include the presence of international structures and business partners (Booking, label, distribution, promotion, management) and a coherent export concept. Applicants must at the time of submission have at least ten international concerts arranged for the subsidized tour period. A travel fee of a maximum of EUR 5,000 can be applied for per act/solo artist/ensemble.
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld