10 Questions with ... Gary McDonald
August 2, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started my career doing overnights at CKLY-AM. It was totally old school. I recorded commercials on reel to reel during music sweeps. From there I bounced around a few stations doing on-air and promo, eventually landing at CFOX in the late-'90s. In 1999 I switched to the music promo side when I landed at Nettwerk during the BNL, Avril, Coldplay, Dido days. In 2003 my business partner and I started a company in Canada called Frontside. In 2007 I moved to New York City to open a satellite office. In 2013 we connected with ATC Management and helped lead their radio efforts in North America. From there the concept of Strange Loop Promo emerged in conjunction with our other partners.
1. After working in radio, how did you become interested in the record business?
I got into radio because I loved music and out of high school didn't understand that there was a record business. By the time I got to CFOX I knew I wasn't a "personality" type. In fact, I generally felt pretty uncomfortable on-air. I had met a few of our local "record reps" at shows and as they escorted artists through the station. I thought the concept of developing talent and working in that creative environment would be right up my alley. Then I got lucky. A pretty coveted job opened up at Nettwerk and I was right place, right time. From day one calling stations, I loved it.
2. Tell us about Strange Loop Promo's partnership with ATC Management, Crystal Math Management, Strange Loop Records and The Frontside Promotions Group.
As mentioned, we handle all of ATC Management's North American radio efforts. We met Brian Message and Craig Newman (ATC) through our friend Matt Drouin who manages Metric and Half Moon Run. As a group we see things in a similar fashion and we found ways to work together, including the idea for Strange Loop Promo. They're great ambassadors for us in the U.K.
3. What may surprise people the most to learn about the company?
The fact that Geoff and I are both originally Canadian doesn't seem odd in the course of daily business, but given how active we are in Canada it may initially take some by surprise. Our path certainly has not been traditional.
4. What's it like working with your managing partner Geoff Goddard?
Geoff and I have been joined at the hip since 1999. He helped me get my first record company job (he did A&R there). It's incredible working with a partner on everything. It certainly makes things more fun. We've got running jokes that date back a decade. His wife once commented, "You two spend a lot of time on the phone listening to each other work." But that's what has to happen when you live 3,000 miles apart.
5. What is your favorite part of the job?
I love the feeling I get every time one of my artists gets added to a playlist. After all these years I still make some celebratory gesture or straight up yell when a big add comes in. It's really gratifying when a station is willing to take a shot on your artist. Especially when you've helped to mold the campaign from infancy.
6. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
I both love and hate the travel aspect. At times it's great to see new places, meet new people, go to shows, and chat radio with anyone who'll listen. But I've spent a good portion of my life in a car by myself. Not to mention every kind of airline delay imaginable. Not being home is tougher now than it was in my 20's.
7. Give us the 411 on your priorities right now at Alternative.
Our priority is and always will be developing artists. The company's strategy is built with a long term, "management" oriented, approach to promo. We identify projects that we love and work with the team to develop a six to twelve month plan (instead of a six week plan). We're currently working with the Last Gang/eOne team to help develop Arkells at Alternative. Bob Moses continues to be a big priority for us and they're about to announce a new tour and a second phase to their album cycle. FIDLAR are also about to play what seems like every major festival this summer and then headline their own tour this fall. We're building a long tail strategy to bring radio back around to them as they're a band who have accomplished so much since their initial album launch. Until The Ribbon Breaks will have new music shortly as well.
8. Where is your favorite market you like to visit and why?
I spend a lot of time in London and it's definitely right at the top of my list (thanks in part to century old pubs like "Woodins Shades" and "The Anchor"). Between Frontside and Strange Loop we've been lucky enough to work with some incredible artists from the U.K. including Arctic Monkeys, Catfish And The Bottlemen, Ellie Goulding, Disclosure, and The Wombats among others. There's so much great music coming out of the U.K. and I really enjoy the relationships we've built within the industry there.
9. What would surprise people the most about you?
I did my first on-air artist interview when I was 14 years old. I called up the afternoon DJ at my local Top 40 station so often that when he had Weird Al come in to promote "Alapalooza," I got to do the interview. Al was a champ about it.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without __________________?
Tuning into at least 5 or 6 radio stations online!
What are your hobbies?
I'm an avid sailor, which is tough to do living in NYC. We spend a lot of time dodging the Staten Island ferry, but the views of the Statue Of Liberty and Lower Manhattan are spectacular. I also read a ton of books and support the NY Jets, Yankees, and Arsenal.
First record ever purchased?
Technically it was a Michael Jackson "Thriller" cassette, but I'd prefer to claim Jim Croce "Photographs & Memories." My mom had it on vinyl and I listened to it over and over. I was a weird kid.
Again technically it was The Jackson Five "Victory Tour!" but the first concert I went to on my own was The Violent Femmes (who oddly opened for the B-52's). I was right up front. Gordon Gano spit his soda on me during a song. Then I crowd surfed for all of 4 seconds.
Favorite band of all-time?
Come on now, you know that this question comes with like 50 sub-categories. I'll concede that I've always had a soft spot for British rock with a message. The Clash, The Who, The Jam, The Specials, The Pogues, The Proclaimers. Apparently I also have a thing for bands that start with The.