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How to start a networking event

In 2013 we (Sam Potts and Remi Harris) co-founded Young Guns Network with an ace team of young music industry professionals. Looking back after 5 years we decided to get our story straight about how the whole thing came together.

How did you meet?

Remi: I first heard of Sam…about 12 years ago now I think. He might correct me. I was working at AIM (the Association of Independent Music) at the time, and he contacted me as part of his dissertation which I think was something to do with Radio. I think I offered him a role volunteering at an AIM event, so that may have been how we first met. I always joke that he was my intern…

Sam: I cold called the Association Of Independent Music (AIM) from Edinburgh University library doing research for my dissertation on independent dance music labels. I got through to Remi and she was typically generous with her time for the next generation and gave me a great interview that was highly valuable. We remained in contact and she kindly offered me one of my first opportunities in connecting to the London music industry, helping out at an AIM event she was running. She's remained a close mentor and friend ever since.

How did YGN get started?

Remi: Sam contacted me in 2012 with an idea. He said that he’d noticed that lots of music industry seminars he was attending had mainly older, male speakers and that what they were often wistfully talking about how the music industry had changed (for the worse) in the digital era. He suggested an event featuring younger speakers and more accessible for younger people working in music. He asked me if I could help him get it started. I thought it sounded interesting, and suggested that we find some of the young people he envisaged attending the event and ask them if they thought it was needed. I think we ended up with about 10 people that we’d worked with, a couple came from Urban Development I think. Right from the first meeting things developed really naturally and easily – I’ve started lots of projects and some of them are such hard work but there was loads of enthusiasm with this one and by the end of that meeting we’d decided to put together our own event. A lot of people who were at that first meeting have continued to support YGN to this day.

Sam: I took a day off work and paid to go to an event called 'The Future Of Record Labels, Challenging the Dinosaur Myth'. I was really annoyed as all the panels and Q&As were full of 'dinosaurs' talking about what the industry used to be like. This gave me the inspiration for the idea of a network and events programme for young music industry professionals run by young music industry professionals. I shared the idea with Remi and its testament to the young people we brought on board at the first meeting, their drive and shared vision is what kick started it all. The process also taught me a valuable lesson: to share ideas with trusted friends as soon as you can to test if they are worth pursuing or not!

What did you want YGN to achieve?

Remi: There were already some great organisations focusing on helping young people access the music industry. I thought it was important that we focused on young professionals as opposed to people who were school age or outside the industry wanting to get in. There’s a big adjustment in your first few years of work or when you first start your business and support is needed for those people as well. We always wanted to present the events in exciting spaces. To be able to hold the events at Sony, at Spotify, at Shazam or at the BBC offices was really important. The venues were as much as a draw as the speakers sometimes. We also wanted to give a platform to interesting stories from younger speakers. Dave Reilly from Signature Brew or Lee Denny from LeeFest for example, talking about their business experiences. And we wanted people to talk about what they were working on NOW as opposed to too much looking backwards. I’m a quiet person, and honestly I found networking quite intimidating when I was 21/22. Being one of the youngest and one of the few black people at many events took time to get used to. I love that YGN has helped people find their people in the industry. I never thought that YGN would be a company, it was a voluntary group and we all did it out of enthusiasm. As I was self-empolyed I could choose what I worked on and I found it so enjoyable to be in this team with some amazing people. I also never thought we’d be going 5 years later with 30 plus events under our belts or work with brands like Converse.

Sam: I think everyone who is lucky enough to join the music industry soon realises that to take the next step of your career, you need to hustle. I like the word 'hustle' and the phrase 'positive hustle' because it describes a mindset and a proactive attitude. To have a fulfilling, successful career i think you need to put yourself in interesting, challenging, unexpected conversations by connecting with people outside of your close circle who you can learn from, be inspired by and can potentially give you your next opportunity. YGN provides the perfect context for this, but it feels more like like your mate's party than a 'networking event'. The tone and atmosphere should be that you can come on your own, and at the end you'll probably end up in the pub round the corner with some new people you've just met.

What have the highlights been?

Remi: My company does business training, consultancy and coaching and I’m fascinated by small creative businesses and how they operate. I loved the Entrepreneurship event we did with Transmit Start Ups at MeWe360 looking at how to start a business in your 20s. Another highlight was when I was on maternity leave and I came to the event at the BBC which the team organised. I was so proud of that as it showed it wasn’t dependent on me and it was a great event. Being featured in Billboard this year was also pretty cool, and working with the coders and artists at our music hack Buzz Jam was incredible.

Sam: Seeing our Buzz Jam event (which is a mixture of a 'jam session' and a 'hackathon') come alive was a key highlight. It was another idea, concocted with a YGN guest speaker in a train on the way back from an event in Cardiff that could have only happened within the context of a network of creatives and music/tech industry contacts. To know that nobody had done an event like it and to see our name trend at #2 on Twitter behind the X Factor was magnificent.

And the biggest challenges?

Remi: It’s been hard at times to keep producing events when we’ve both had day jobs and in the last year, families. The team are now on their 6th YGN baby! It’s been great to be invited to take part in events like IMS Ibiza, BBC Introducing Live and Urban Takeover, but it has sometimes be challenging in that organisations didn’t always realise that we were unpaid and expectations are just as high for voluntary organisations.

Sam: Trying to document and keep track of the stories from YGN events. I was on a panel at a music tech event recently where new startups pitch their companies. After i explained who i was one of the startup founders came up afterwards and explained they had met their co-founder at a YGN event and then went on to set up the company. The same thing happened recently at an indie company i visited recently and the founder introduced me to one of his senior managers and it turned out they had been introduced through an attendee at the BBC / YGN event 2 years earlier. Hearing these stories accidentally suggests to me they are just the tip of the iceberg.

What does the future hold for YGN?

Remi: Asking for sponsorship for the events has been a big step forward as it means we can program a full year of monthly events for the first time. I’d like us to partner with more brands as I think we’ve done this really well in the past. I’d like to double the amount of people we reach this year and we have some book and tv ideas!

Sam: I'd love to see YGN events in regional cities and towns round the UK to provide a platform and meeting place for young music industry talent in areas outside London. London is great and majority of the industry is here, but having been brought up in Scotland i know there there are so many other dynamic young music professionals and organisations in other parts of the country - i'd love YGN to be able to connect them all one day.


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