Annie Mac talks breaking bands and getting through lockdown

27 November, 2020

BIMM Institute Manchester was lucky enough to host a virtual Masterclass with one of the biggest names in UK radio: Annie Mac. She’s one of BBC Radio’s longest-serving hosts and is renowned for breaking artists in both the popular music world and through the dance and electronic music scenes. She also hosts her own podcast, Changes with Annie Mac, and her debut book, Mother Mother is set to be released in 2021.

Annie Mac, who’s originally from Dublin, started by talking about her time in lockdown:

“I really can’t complain. I’ve been able to work all the way through, both from home doing podcasts and writing and from the BBC every evening to do my show. They were quite insistent that if I could travel safely that they would like me to do that. It’s been so nice to get out of the house every day and it makes me feel like I have a purpose.”

Staying busy has clearly been the key for Annie during lockdown, and her show has been doing well too. It would seem that people are using radio now more than ever as escapism from the situation we have all had to face this year. After being told that she was a key worker, Annie had this to say:

“It’s been an interesting journey. At the start, everyone was scared. When we were told we were key workers, and were being asked to come to work every day we were initially scared, I didn’t want to put my family in danger. We are just playing pop music, we are hardly working for the NHS. Why did you put us in this bracket?”

“We had a lot more space as people slowed down on releasing music, and we wanted to cater for how the people were feeling.”

“We really started to notice a difference in how my audience was talking. People started to pour out their feelings, people were upset, angry, afraid – it became a very different type of radio show. We had a lot more space as people slowed down on releasing music, and we wanted to cater for how the people were feeling. We tried to serve our audience and uplift them.”

Annie served as a familiar voice, which would help to comfort people and allow them to feel a little bit more normal during a very strange and confusing time for all.

She went on to talk about the early days. After completing an MA in Radio she moved from Dublin to London where she got a job working as a radio plugger:

“It’s one of those invisible jobs,” she says. “It’s like being a music salesperson. Your job is to get the artists you represent on your roster on the radio or on the telly. You have to be well-connected and know who plays what. You have to know who plays what and you have to sell and place your music really cleverly, aiming to build those artists.”

“I ended up learning basically all the names of the radio shows that existed at the time and who presents them. From this, I managed to secure a production job at the BBC. I did that for two years before I became a presenter. I really got to learn about the ins-and-outs of running a radio show; it really was invaluable.”

Answering student questions

Annie went on to answer a host of student asked questions. Yazmin from BIMM Institute Manchester asked Annie:

Can you speak a bit about the music revolution in the 90s. What’s your thoughts on what youth needs to do next?

“This is a really interesting time; music gets really exciting when there’s social unrest; we know this. We’ve seen it with Acid House, Punk, Rap music. It will be really interesting to see how this year manifests in music. Already, you can see trends, from my vantage point. My team and I are at the moment trying to figure out our shortlist for Hottest Record of the Year: a shortlist of twenty.

“You can already see that this year there’s a lot more dance music. Dance music tends to be a little more independent as an industry; there are more solo artists just doing it in their room. I think this comes from DJs and producers not touring, meaning they have a lot more time just at home producing. Equally, people are not having to think about crowds and keeping crowds happy. They’re not under pressure to make floor fillers as there aren’t any shows. This is making people experiment with sounds more.

“It’s really hard to predict what will change in music but I think things are only going to get better.”

“I also think that social media has morphed politics. Politics is everywhere; it’s in the fabric of our existence. Music has become inherently political. There seems to be more passion for trying to make the world a better place. You can hear this in a lot of songs. Black music is going to get even more prolific as the industry realises it needs more representation in every level. Smaller artists are also realising that you no longer need to be signed to major labels to see success. It’s really hard to predict what will change in music, but I think things are only going to get better. I am hoping for music that is life-changing, and think we will hear it.”


A huge thanks to Annie for joining us, offering her advice and sharing her wisdom and experience with us. We hope she joins us again in the future. You can check out our other BIMM Masterclasses here.

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