Money: Are you ready to rock 'n' dole?

Welfare to Work will allow budding musicians to continue to claim benefit, and the pop moguls say the rules will be as tight as the hottest band in town.
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The Independent Culture
NEW LABOUR'S Welfare to Work plans threatening dole payments for the young unemployed were the last straw for many of the party's supporters in the pop music industry.

People such as Creation Records' owner Alan McGee argue that the dole has played a vital part in building the UK pop industry, allowing talented beginners to work on their music for a few years with no distractions. Taking this basic subsidy away, they claim, would sabotage Britain's impressive record of producing internationally successful bands, and hit Britain's earnings from record sales abroad.

Mr McGee should know what he is talking about - he is the man who discovered Oasis.

Last week, Andrew Smith, the Employment Minister, announced details of the so-called "rock 'n' dole" scheme to allow 18-to-24-year-olds to continue claiming their Jobseekers' Allowance of pounds 39.85 a week for 13 months, providing they can persuade the job centre clerks that they are seriously pursuing a career in music. The Conservatives have called this a "scroungers' charter".

Music industry professionals will train job centre staff to filter out obvious time-wasters, before conducting a second screening process themselves. This promises a fascinating clash of cultures as Civil Service bureaucracy rubs up against the anarchic rock and pop industry. Successful applicants will then have meetings every two months with music industry volunteers to monitor their progress. But how can the scheme hope to distinguish between genuinely promising performers and the hordes of no-hopers?

Andy Saunders, head of communications at Creation Records, says: "What we are looking for is commitment and passion. Anybody who has got any nous about the music business can sit down with somebody and work out whether being a musician is the right thing for them. If you and I had a conversation for an hour, I think you'd find it very hard to bullshit me.

"Make no mistake about this - if the young person is not fulfilling their responsibilities, they're off the scheme. We don't want people who are half-arsed about it." Like Mr McGee, he plans to volunteer as a mentor under the scheme, and is confident that many other music industry workers will too.

Some people on the scheme will not become musicians, but will train for other jobs in the pop industry, such becoming a recording engineer.

Musicians themselves can take an "open learning" option that requires them only to keep a diary noting rehearsals that have been held and demonstration tapes recorded.

This conjures up the vision of a budding Liam Gallagher sitting down quietly at the end of the day to complete his work diary: "Smashed up hotel room, punched bloke in front row." Surely rock stars in the future, just like Gallagher himself, will be fuelled by their own unquenchable self-belief rather than this kind of disciplined approach?

"A lot of great rock music does come from unconventional and anti-establishment feelings," Mr Saunders concedes. "But people have already got to be disciplined enough to sit down with an employment adviser and persuade him that they've been looking for work if they want to claim unemployment benefit now.

"What we've done is take the lying out of the process. Musicians won't have to lie that they have been out looking for work when what they've really been doing is being a musician."

Once musicians have completed the open learning segment of the scheme, they can move on to playing live and hustling for a record deal. This entitles them to a training allowance, equivalent to their normal JSA plus an extra pounds 15.38 a week. Mr Saunders hopes the scheme will be up and running by September. Will Banks Lend To Budding Rock Stars?: We are not used to thinking of rock and pop bands as small businesses but, as the new scheme acknowledges that is just what they are.

Like any such business, a fledgling band must establish a customer base advertise its wares, and keep the money coming in.

But its line of work makes it all but impossible to produce the formal business plans other documents banks will demand with any loan application.

We put forward the case of a small band which has built up a loyal local following and now needs to borrow a few thousand pounds to record, press and package their own CD for sale at future concerts. How would the high street banks react to their request for a small business loan?

NatWest says: "We would view the band as a small business, just as we would the corner shop. The things we would look at are their experience to date, what sort of income they'd been getting and whether they had any collateral."

Rather than offering the band a business loan NatWest might encourage the members to take a personal loan or borrow on any credits they had instead.

At Midland Bank, Andrew Barnett says: "It's a difficult case, because its at the riskier end of the spectrum. What happens would very much depend on the people involved and what, if any, money they were likely to be putting into it themselves. But I'm sure it is something one of our managers on the ground would be prepared to look at."

Barclays Bank says: "The Welfare to Work proposals will probably encourage a lot more people to think more seriously about trying to pursue their musical ambitions. But when it comes to the bank, they would be put the same process as any business."

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