"We have to shift perceptions": Milly Olykan on the Country Music Association's global masterplan

In the new issue of Music Week – and ahead of the return of C2C Festival this weekend – we take an in-depth look at the world of country music for our annual Nashville special.

For a number of years now, Music Week has been reporting extensively about the rise and rise (and rise) of country music in the UK – including the leaps and bounds made by artists such as Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini and Carrie Underwood – and Milly Olykan has also played a huge role in that.

Formerly working as AEG’s VP of live music and major arena events, Olykan developed in-house commercial content programmes for The O2 in London and, crucially, was the founding festival director and co-promoter of Country To Country Festival, as well as contributing to the launch of Country Music Week. 

Last year, she left AEG to embark upon a new role: VP of international relations and development at the CMA – a recently-introduced role in the storied history of the organisation introduced to help country music develop around the world.

Eight months into her role, Olykan spoke exclusively to Music Week about the global picture of country music in 2019 and her goals.

“Ultimately, I want to build new markets for country music internationally,” said Olykan. “That’s my objective. As an industry, if we could unlock another market – like a Brazil or a Germany – and get it really firing, that would be amazing. For a number of years, the CMA has had task forces around the world – industry people who work in country music in different locations: we have one in Canada, Australia, the UK and in Scandinavia. I was on the one in the UK – it includes publicists, publishers, Live Nation, AEG, SJM, the major labels, BBC Radio 2 and Chris Country. We’ve recently established the task force in Germany made up of labels and some promoters. They are people who are going to go, ‘How do we make a difference in this market with country music? How do we get a Country To Country happening?’”


One of my priorities is to have relationships with programmers of mainstream festivals in the UK and see what the opportunities are

Milly Olykan, Country Music Association


The CMA are keen to focus their efforts globally and help country artists in places like Australia, Germany, Mexico, Brazil and Scandinavia. Which is a sizeable task to say the least. Fortunately, the CMA have a plan in place to help facilitate that…

“One of the things we are working towards is for CMA to have really good data on all of these markets,” said Olykan. “[That way] we can start measuring what’s happening, how is streaming going, what’s driving it and how do tours, TV appearances or local radio impact it? To understand territories where we see some good streaming stats but not much touring, is that an opportunity for a promoter? Some music industries report their streaming and sales data to a body which makes it possible to measure – but not all do. So that is where we need to work with that local market to get a better understanding of the lay of the land.”

Olykan also opened up about the importance of changing outdated stereotypes and perceptions about country music in 2019. Despite the huge growth of country in the UK, she noted that more work needs to be done in ensuring that country gets airtime at festivals in the UK outside of its own self-sustaining eco-system.

“Programming into non-country festivals is absolutely a priority,” she added. “We have to shift the perceptions of people in that side of the industry about country. That’s one of my priorities this year, to have relationships with programmers of mainstream festivals in the UK and see what the opportunities are. I can only do what I can control – I’m not in a position to book artists onto festivals – but 2019, for me, is about developing relationships with programmers who aren’t currently looking at country artists, and showing them acts that could work well on their festivals.”

Our Maren Morris cover feature leads up Music Week’s Nashville 2019 special – which also includes interviews with Country To Country Festival’s Chris York, rising star Kassi Ashton, Sony/ATV Nashville’s Troy Tomlinson and Lady Antebellum. Subscribers can read the Milly Olykan/CMA feature in full here.



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