Before we begin: Pretend will still be covering the Leeds scene wherever possible. As it is we don’t make any money and rely on some very talented people to create content for us so when one person isn’t there it makes a difference. If you want to work with us in Leeds then please still get in touch, Zoe Hapeshi will be running written content in the city from now on as she’s great.
My name is James, I founded Pretend while at University in Leeds and I’m now moving to London. I’m writing this for those who want to or has wanted to work in the creative industries outside London but felt the pull to the capital.
I grew up in London but was born in Manchester. I like to say that I’m Northern at heart but anyone who knows me will probably laugh that off. Regardless, I went to University in Leeds with romantic ideas about the music scene and was not disappointed to discover an incredible creative DIY culture around the city. I’d always wanted to come to university outside of London, experience different cities and people. I had this dream to stay on after I was done because, I’d be a graduate, with a serious degree, in a great city and, well, things just work out for graduates straight away don’t they?
What’s going on?
There are not many graduate jobs in creative industries outside London, this probably seems obvious to most people. Look at graduate jobs in media on the Guardian Jobs website. On the 22nd of August you would get 150 results. 13 were not in London. Less than 10%. London accounts for around 15% of the United Kingdom population but over 90% of the advertised jobs in media (I’m aware this isn’t great statistics but it is illustrative).
This presents a problem but also a set of opportunities. The problem is clear: If you want to get a paid job in the “industry,” you should probably move to London. Outside of London, the opportunities are often harder to see but there is a lot more space to be original and creative outside of London and build your own ideas and projects.
It’s obvious to say that all the big creative companies are in London: Google, Apple, The Guardian, Broadwick Live, RA, most of the BBC, Boileroom and more are all based in London allowing you to break straight into the heart of the creative and media industries if you’re lucky. This can give you a bit of money, connections and some credibility in what you create. Between them these big organizations dominate the UK’s cultural landscape from small trendy pockets of London telling the stories of small trendy pockets of London. If you’re looking to carve out your own niche, then London isn’t the place to do it. You can discover the most amazing act at a DIY gig and the next day read an article by someone who’s been writing about the scene for ten years, has a big platform for what they do and has beaten you to that first interview with the cool new band you love.
If you’re not in the capital, then you can be the person shaping the narrative. Except for Crack in Bristol there aren’t many publications or magazines with a national profile that are not based in London. This means that if you’re an expert on your scene and can make a good video, write a good article or present a radio show then you might be one of the best in your area at doing that. In Leeds you can see Nice People Magazine, Sable Radio and Kmah all helping to shape the conversation around youth culture in the city in a way that’s only possible in the absence of big players. It’s the difference between being one of a hundred talented people and one of a thousand. Those differences allow you to find an audience and find out what works and what doesn’t.
Space also allows you to be shit.
It’s a hard lesson to learn but there is nothing wrong with being shit at something. Especially if you’re getting better at it and learning from your mistakes. The problem with being shit comes when you feel that what you do makes you inferior to those around you. It’s easily done through social media where you can see the best bands, photographers and creatives with just a simple search. In these situations, it’s possible detach from the uber successful in a way that meeting those people makes it harder to do. In London you’re surrounded by people who already seem to be the best creatives in the world, a seemingly endless parade of divinely inspired creatives who were born into their talent and can do no wrong. People who are somehow already the best at what they do from a really young age. This concentration of talent can make it hard for someone without a reputation to build a creative business, there’s so many incredibly talented people that it’s almost impossible to make yourself stand out on your work alone.
So why move to London at all?
In spite of all the opportunities and quality of life benefits you can get living outside of the capital the pull of London feels irresistible. If you don’t want to work in a bar, café or call center anymore and you want an entry level, full time job in a creative industry, then doing that outside London is a very difficult prospect. Even if you want to go freelance it can take years to develop enough clients willing to pay you for your time.
Let’s go back to that first stat about “graduate” jobs in the media. Of 150 adverts there were 13 not based in London. I decided at some point in the last two years that I wanted to work full time in the music and media space. While I’d been thinking I wanted to work in the creative world for a while before this I didn’t really having a clue what that would mean.
While living in Leeds has been a joy it doesn’t seem like there’s a way into the kind of work that’s available in London. It’s not that there aren’t good jobs in Leeds and the North of England, with channel four moving to Leeds, media city in Salford and countless more incredible independent organizations; there are opportunities up north. But it’s incredibly rare to see an entry level role in any of these companies and lack of opportunities that make you an appropriate candidate for more senior positions. It can feel like a mark of failure and is disappointing to not “get in” with the people who can pay you to do what you feel you’re good at in a place that you love and have invested a lot of time and energy.
Being frustrated with a lack of opportunities when you’re 23 is probably not the best use of energy and so a time comes when you should make a change. My change is to move to London and gain some experience in a professional setting with a view to making something better in the future.
So, goodbye to Leeds and hello again London.
But not really.
I can’t wait to be back.