Industry Insider: CMA’s Milly Olykan

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Can you tell me how you first got interested in country music? 


While I’ve always been a fan of the classic country artists, it actually wasn’t until I started working on C2C that I got properly into it.  

When did you first start working for CMA? 


I moved from London to Nashville to work for CMA nearly five years ago, as real momentum was building for Country Music internationally. C2C was going strong, the Long Road was launching, C2C Berlin and Amsterdam dates were being announced and CMC Rocks in Australia was selling out. CMA in Nashville was getting a lot of inquiries from Country Music business both in Nashville, and abroad, wanting information and connections, so it was perfect timing to help define how CMA could be a central hub of information, resources and connections for those working in Country Music around the world. It excited me then, and still does now, to think about how we can use the CMA platform to introduce international audiences to new artists.  


Can you tell me a little bit more about what your job entails, what do you do on a day-to-day basis? 


Primarily I am developing relationships and being a resource to our industry. Most often, that looks like making connections with music business professionals in labels, streaming services, the live event business, radio, and other industry sectors who are, or want to work in Country Music in a significant way. My regular communication with them keeps me informed about each market’s challenges and helps me identify what I can focus on to grow Country Music. I’m often tackling the question – “What are the potential fan bases we haven’t reached and how do we reach them?” When I visit the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and other international markets, I make sure I pull our network together because collectively, we are a Country Music community all chasing the same thing. There are a lot of mutual learnings. I also am constantly working to use CMA’s platform to showcase new artists and oftentimes give them and their teams their first taste of touring internationally.  


How important is it that CMA has an international reach and presence, particularly in a growing scene like the UK? 


Country Music’s growth is dependent upon it going global. Unlike pop and rock genres, Country Music has historically focused on a US market only, so having such a strong scene in the UK is huge. It shows artists and their labels and teams that there is a big fan base out there and that if they spend time in international markets, they can grow an audience globally. That said, I know it can be hard financially for an artist to prioritise touring internationally when they start out because in the same period, they could be making money in the US. I recognize that any artist that commits to an international strategy is making a sacrifice, however, the payoff in the long run is exponential, as we’ve seen with Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde and others.  


You have been a huge part of that growth, as you were one of the co-founders of C2C, can you tell me about your work on the festival?  


It was exciting to be one of the founding promoters of it while working for AEG – alongside Chris York at SJM. I loved developing the ‘pop up’ showcasing stages, the Town Square, and making it really feel like a festival experience. It’s always a good time and feels exciting to be there. Now as a partner and part of the festival, I think we all feel like we have some ownership in it, which is heartwarming. I always enjoy creating opportunities for new artists to gain an audience, which every stage at C2C achieves. I’m hugely proud of that festival, and the love the fans have for it as well as everyone who puts it together.  


What developments do you hope to see in the UK country scene over the next five years? 


If you mean UK artists, I would hope that we can see more examples of artists achieve mainstream success like The Shires and Ward Thomas. It you mean the exposure and reach of the US Country Music scene in the UK, I would like to see country artists integrated into the UK festival circuit, supported by commercial and all genre radio, popping up in all sorts of playlists on the streaming services and making appearances at The Brits. The UK fan of Country Music now has so many more opportunities to see artists live and to even tune in to a Country station. In the 10 years since C2C launched, there has been so much growth. It’s been exciting to see.  


A fun question for you, in your opinion, what is the greatest country song ever written? 


“The House the Built Me” written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin has got to be up there.  


What’s been your proudest moment in your career?  


Launching and producing C2C with the team at AEG and SJM is definitely one of my proudest moments.   

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