How To: Make It In The Music Industry Outside London

Getting a head start in the industry can be tough, especially if you’re living outside London in an area with less opportunities. We spoke to Glaswegian artist manager, Ally McCrae, who manages Prides and United Fruit. He also has just teamed up with a friend to set up ‘Two Up’, a music management and promotions company.

Here’s what Ally had to say about making it in the music industry outside London and his tips for success:

Ally McCrae headshot-5

How did you get into the music industry?

“I started by being in a really bad band that tried to cover Biffy Clyro and it didn’t work very well – I played drums, very averagely. Then I went to university, realised I wasn’t very good musically, but got involved with the student radio station. I think I fancied a girl who was working at the radio station, which is obviously where all good careers start. It never happened with that girl but I ended up running the radio station for three years. We had a flagship new music show which I kind of fell into because I had lots of friends in bands and I’d ask them to come on. We gave some of the first sessions to Twin Atlantic and Frank Turner, when he had just become a solo artist.”

Did you study Music at university?

“I studied philosophy. Nothing in my degree (sorry, lecturers!) helped me with what I do now. BUT, what it did give me was the opportunity to run that radio station, which I did entirely myself. I just got some friends together. That led to me meeting lots of people at the BBC and XFM and lots of people in the industry. I wouldn’t have got that opportunity if I hadn’t gone to university. It wasn’t the course, it was what I did with it.”

What happened after university?

“I moved into the centre of Glasgow, worked in a restaurant and started a blog and live night with my mates. We got as many different bands as we could find to play these nights and then, to publicise it, we made YouTube videos of the bands who would be performing in weird places. We had one band performing in a planetarium, one up a mountain, etc. This created the hype we needed around our shows. We then turned our shows into podcasts. Since then, the live side has grown into doing one-off bigger events – two years ago, we did a show at Paisley Abbey, which is a 14th century gigantic abbey, with a band called the Twilight Sad and an 80 piece orchestra.

Everyone involved ended up working in the industry, one of my friends works for Creative Scotland and our cameraguy went on to be staff photographer for NME and Clash. It also led to me working for Radio 1 and I worked there for three years, which then led to artist management.”

What inspired you to set up your blog and live night?

“We wanted to work in this industry but none of us had any experience and no one knew who we were. We got together and said “Let’s do something”. The quality at first was ropey but we had to do something. When the BBC came to me and I was doing a ropey podcast, they weren’t thinking “let’s put that on air”, they were thinking “here’s someone who is passionate and is doing it themselves and is spending all their money and probably putting themselves in colossal debt for this ropey podcast”, which I did”.

A lot of people say that the music industry is based in London. Would you recommend that someone outside of London move there to start their career?

“It’s true, the music industry is based in London. There are no major labels in Glasgow or Sheffield, there’s lots of companies but there are less opportunities because they are smaller so there’s less opportunities.

I waited until I was 27 to move to London and it was only because I had meetings in London every single week. Lots of people and bands move to London and get lost because there is no focus or drive. If you have a focus and contacts and a reason to move, then do it, but the dream of packing your bags and thinking “Oh, the streets are paved with gold” is crazy because it’s so competitive.

It’s easier to create some noise around yourself in a smaller town or city. Then, if you have a bit of success, you can take a meeting in London, meet people and suddenly you have contacts.”

A lot of the success from your career has developed from the people you’ve met. What networking advice would you give our readers?

“Networking is an absolutely disgusting word! It makes your skin crawl. I wish it had a different name because it’s just having a chat. The music industry is totally founded on the relationships that you make. Chances are the people in the positions of power need you as much as you need them because the industry is completely obsessed with new.

The first step is getting involved in projects, like this one, and then going up to someone at an event or conference and, being honest and not trying to show off, and saying “I think what you do is really cool”. Hopefully, you’ll have an idea of what they do, if it’s a journalist for Noisey or DIY, read and absorb their article and you can say “I loved your article on x band, how’d you get started with what you’re doing?” and suddenly, you met that person! You’ve networked! Or, if you’ve got your own thing, they’ll probably ask “What do you get up to” and you can say “Oh, I have this blog” or whatever. It’s all about having something to talk about and give someone a reason to speak to you.”

If you had to give someone aspiring to work in the industry one piece of advice, what would it be?.

“Do everything and try everything but don’t be exploited along the way. If you want to be a manager, go and get involved. If you want to run a live night, set one up. If you’re obsessed with new music, set up a blog, tweet about it, develop your following”

What’s been your career highlight so far?

“I had just agreed to leave Radio 1 to move to London and the Commonwealth Games were on in Glasgow and, by some weird twist of faith, I’d been asked to be the voiceover for the closing ceremony. The acts playing were Deacon Blue, Kylie Minogue and, the band I manage, Prides! I introduced the band I managed who just had their first EP out and they played to 50,000 people in the stadium, 7 million watching in the UK and something crazy like 32-33 million people worldwide and I introduced them! They smashed it and it changed the game for the band.”

Here’s some great opportunities, in and out of London!

If you want to follow in Ally’s footsteps, check out these tips on setting up a blog or producing your own music event. If you’re in need of some more networking tips, check this out!