Rarely in Irish music has funding been so controversial. In November, the recipients of the Music Industry Stimulus Package, which in total amounted to €1.7 million, were announced. The funds were established by the government to help musicians whose income had been impacted by the pandemic and were distributed by First Music Contacts (FMC).
The lists of recipients featured established artists including Sharon Shannon, Damien Dempsey, Jake Carter and Wyvern Lingo. As soon as the list was released however, FMC faced backlash for the application process and the ways in which funding was distributed, with some musicians calling it “wrong and divisive” and saying it was “causing a lot of hurt and pain”.
Within days, the Irish Music Industry Podcast, hosted by Mark Graham, released the first of a two-part series interviewing musicians who had applied for the grant and those involved in its distribution. Whilst it did an honourable job of explaining the controversy, Graham readily admitted on the podcast itself that he had raised more questions than he answered.
Around the same time as the MISP controversy, CD Baby and Irish Music Week announced the three recipients of their artist bursary. The three musicians selected were Limerick hip-hop artist Denise Chaila, R'n'B and pop singer Shiv and Wexford songwriter JaXson.
“When I got the email I had to look twice because I was shocked,” recalls JaXson of the announcement, “especially alongside Denise Chaila and Shiv, such fantastic artists that I love listening to”.
The bursary gave the three artists funds to develop artistically and a unique mentoring service. “It allows me to go into a studio next year and not have to worry about funds and to just focus on the music,” says JaXson adding, “It helps me so much”.
At the time, however, JaXson was unsure of how to announce his win, given the ongoing conversation on social media surrounding the MISP. “It did come across my mind” he states.
“I had to ask myself if I should be promoting this grant considering what was going on online, but then I thought ‘Hang on, I’m doing this off my own back, I have a right to celebrate little victories”.
2020 was a big year for JaXson creatively, he released three singles doubling his discography in the process. Lockdown it seems was good for him, initially at least.
“When there’s not much going on in the world, especially as a creative person, the first thing you are going to do is get out a notepad, whip out the guitar and start writing.”
“When you’re in the same space and seeing the same things every day, it really does inspire certain themes so you end up writing about the same topics a lot of the time” he notes, before adding how important driving was for him when inspiration became hard to come by.
Apart from writing, JaXson used lockdown learning the piano. Having played the guitar since the age of 14, when his sister got an acoustic guitar for her birthday, the piano was something he’d always wanted to master but had never quite had the time.
By September, he managed to play a whole set in front of a small audience, no mean feat for anyone, especially someone who had only picked up the instrument five months previously.
JaXson’s early music career was made up of playing in bands, before going it alone in 2015. He spent 2016 studying the industry, trying to understand what it took to create and release music online. In 2018, he released his debut single as a solo artist We Were Born, which was followed in 2019 by 5am (Look What You’ve Done).
“When I was finally ready to release music again, I realised I’d grown into a much more developed songwriter,” he explains of his early releases, “I’m a believer that you always have room to grow. It’s mental to look back and see that growth”.
Earlier this month, he released an acoustic version of his track Move On, a track he’d originally released in 2020. “I always wanted to shoot a video for this song and I finally had a chance to do it,” he explains of the decision to return to the track.
“I finally got the chance to tell the story of what this song is about”.
As the conversation comes to a close, thoughts turn to his to the year to come. He’s got a headline show booked in the Grand Social in April which he hopes will got ahead, as has a number of singles ready to be released.
“I’m really looking forward to releasing some of the music I’ve written last year, do some more collaborations and see where things go from there,” he adds of his hopes for 2021. “Then, I’ll just try my best to move up the ladder, that’s all us independent artists can do”.