FOOT IN THE DOOR: Mo Ayoub
Written by Joe Bardsley on 18th October 2019
I have always assumed that the arts industry is a melting pot for creative minds. A space to come together and make music, art and all things good for the soul. Whilst this conjecture may be true, in the last 6 months or so, since the youthful ignorance that has smeared the lenses of my real world specs and that has finally been wiped away by the grit of everyday life, I can now see how the path to where I’d hope to be is uncertain. ‘Foot In The Door’ is my way of addressing this problem that has occurred since leaving education. An issue that many people; young, old and inbetweeny have, surrounding their curiosities for a career in the arts industry and how like-minded people have ventured successfully into a world which can often seem ambitious yet inaccessible, and sometimes even unkind.
This feature interviews industry professionals, and explores their roles and lives whilst working in the industry. Who are these people behind the scenes and why do we never truly get to know who they are or how they have gotten to be where they are now? Through this series, Melodic Distraction hopes to offer a platform that helps inform and educate people who are interested in delving into the arts industry, and for those who are not, this is a platform to tend to your curiosities.
My first guest is Mo Ayoub, a 25 year old, uber talented and extremely enthusiastic creator, radio presenter/producer and voice actor. Mo’s history with Melodic is one which extends way back, having met in Leeds at a youth radio conference in 2017. Mo has been an educator, provider of industry insights and most of all a good friend to Melodic Distraction over the years. We value his expertise in the field and we love to see his charming and endearing personality take on a wider audience.
Schmoozing aside, Mo and I sat down and talked radio, Mo’s accent origins, the ‘wall of disillusionment’ and how significant the North’s cultural scene is. Having previously agreed to meet in a coffee shop in Liverpool city centre, we discussed Mo’s plethora of talents and his rapidly progressing career. Mo and I had only met for the first time a few nights before. So, curious to find out a little more about who he was and how he came to be in the position he is today, I kicked things off by quizzing him on his history.
“My story is long and haggard” he admits bashfully, “all you need to know is that whilst I sound English, I’m not English, I am actually Egyptian and moved to the UK with my parents when I was three.” Mo explains how he has dotted about all over the place. Relocating between Bristol, Blackburn, Cardiff and the Wirral, his view on a lot of things, including the music and radio scene, is “very outward”, focusing on “what’s happening globally and not just in one microcosm.” I think as an experienced explorer and seeker of culture, Mo has the capacity to see beyond the restraints of the “island mentality” we face in the UK and opens his arms wider than the initial cultural scene presented to him. Having grown up in majority white areas and having “literally been the ‘token Arab kid’” Mo tells me how he often asks himself, “where do I fit in?” A very difficult notion to deal with as a young lad living as a minority in Merseyside, Mo seems to have used his surroundings to help him answer this question. “Liverpool has always been international to an extent” he exclaims. As a dock city on the water and with the recent addition of overseas students in the city, Mo believes that the cultural expansion of any city is only a good thing.
As an Egyptian national, Mo spoke Arabic around the family home. On top of this, he learnt Spanish in school and is now fluent in Catalan. He has always been brought up learning and listening from international voices. His passion for breaking down stereotypes and “building bridges rather than burning them”, is an ideology that is not only politically relevant but is imperative in the modern age. It is already clear from the first ten minutes of the interview, that Mo is a well rounded person. His hardworking and honest outlook on life is reflected in his bubbly tone; a forward thinking and chatty bloke who enjoys talking about his passions and interests.
As we talk on, the conversation turns to what Mo does day to day, and when I say he is a busy individual, it sounds like he has no time to kip. He no longer lives in the Wirral and has migrated to work in the big smoke, deemed by many as the UK’s “cultural hub” (more on this later.) He works primarily as a presenter at Reprezent Radio, a forward thinking Brixton-based underground music station, broadcasting both digitally and through the internet radio waves. Having collaborated with brands like Nike, Napapijri and NFL, Reperezent have established themselves firmly within the London and UK radio scene and have begun to showcase their wealth of talented hosts on an international scale.
Mo’s early days saw him start out on a late night show at Reprezent, but he has now progressed to present the Saturday drive time show every other week. On top of this, Mo also manages the studio, making sure shows are running smoothly, setting up the studio and replying to the day to day backlog of emails and general admin bumf.
Alongside his role at Reprezent, Mo worked as an in-house Team Assistant for BBC Radio, working specifically on Radio 1, Radio 1 Xtra and Radio Asian Network. He defines his role as the “starting production job in radio”, an entry level position that has given him a foot in the door insight into the commercial radio world. Playing the role down slightly, Mo tells me his job here is a “very basic” research and editing gig. However, having worked for such a wide array of companies such as the BBC and interning at Wisebuddah, it has led him to become a well established and respected studio producer. This in turn gave Mo the opportunity to freelance for other independent companies like ‘TBI’ and ‘Somethin’ Else’. He jokes by saying these names are “a bunch of jargon to most people”, but that we shouldn’t worry, because all we need to know is that he is a “freelance assistant producer”, a role which gives him more responsibility and experience in mastering and mixing shows. A skill which is often hard to come by unless you’re made to practice it and rest assured that by now, Mo has had plenty of practice.
Another of the many strings to Mo’s ever growing bow, has arguably been with him for life. His voice in itself, is a source of income. Playing it down he tells me that “I do the bits in between the programmes”. Fixating on the medium roast in front of him, he explains how he introduces the “programmes and talk out of the end credits of programmes into more programmes for Channel 4”. It seems this area of work is one that Mo has only just begun to orchestrate. A role that the industry calls ‘continuity announcing’ and it is as exciting as it sounds. Having never really heard of continuity as a career I was keen to hear more about it and how you get involved in such a profession. We discussed Mo’s past steps into the industry and as it turns out, his journey starts out in a very accessible way.
Mo’s first introduction to the industry within a sort of “safety-net”, was with the Leeds Student Radio (LSR) station at the University of Leeds. He describes this first step like “booting up your computer and whacking safety mode on, rather than the actual real life start up”. Cheekily admitting to skipping lectures to make “stupid jingles” and experimenting with the radio recording process in his spare time, Mo made his way to become a contributor on one of the LSR shows. He was sure in saying that, when you strip it back to it’s very essential elements, a lot of what radio is, “is your voice”. He tells me that “you can be extremely talented, but if you haven’t got a voice that cuts through then it won’t work” because the listener will have to do too much work in order to listen to your voice. I can say that without a doubt, Mo has a very unique voice and it intrigued me that he touched on this point with such assurance. I guess this was because through LSR and through the various other different jobs Mo has undertaken within the radio industry, his voice has played a pivotal part in his progression. Mo’s international outlook, brilliant multi lingual abilities and self professed “ambiguously brown” disposition, has given him a unique and captivating style which has worked brilliantly for him so far.
Yet having a groovy voice and being able to chat over the radio waves, only takes you so far. Mo’s hard work and determination to be successful within the industry is significantly more credible.
Sights set on a career in radio and after contributing extensively to LSR as deputy station manager, Mo had visited the Leeds University industry day, where he listened, learned and networked with the industry big boys (and girls). He also travelled down to the Student Radio Association conference in Cardiff, where he met some of the staff at Wisebuddah. Off the back of this, Mo applied for an internship their and successfully landed a place at ‘Wisebuddah’ down in London. Raring to go, Mo packed his bags and headed down the M1 to grab his future by the slipmats. A four week, unpaid internship, living in one of the world’s most expensive cities was no easy ride. Mo told me how he instantly felt the pressures of London life, living in hostels for a month and only having his travel expenses paid for, it was still an opportunity he had to say yes to. Simultaneously to this hectic schedule, Mo was awarded with ‘Best Male Presenter’ at the Student Radio Awards. A commendable feat and one that threw him straight back into the eyes of the industry top dogs. Yet, I felt Mo was somehow saddened by this part of his life. Despite the amazing opportunities flooding his way, he told me he had gone from being a “big fish in a small pond, to a big fish in a massive pond and you’re not really big anymore”. A cliche notion, but one that encapsulates his position very well.
We spoke about how in times of change, especially when faced with diverging career paths and in some cases uncomfortable moves, we can succumb to what Mo described as “the Wall of Disillusionment”. An idea that we become too focused on the arc of our career trajectories as it were. Looking at your life and feeling disillusioned by what’s ahead. He says that living in London and commuting two hours each day, waking up at 4am to freelance assistant produce on Kiss FM and interning whilst taking on freelance work on the side, can really get you down. Mo was very honest in saying that as soon as your job “stops being fun or it stops being good, then you need to take a step back” and gaining perspective, with the help from friends and family, is perhaps what helped drive Mo through the wall of disillusionment.
After his internship at Wisebuddah, Mo was offered a 12 week paid internship at the BBC through the ‘Where it Begins’ programme. He admits that the experience he had previously gained was definitely beneficial when applying for the position at the BBC. Mo tells me how it “only takes one thing to kick start your career” and perhaps winning his second award as one of the Radio Academy’s ‘30 under 30 people to watch’ was such a moment. Although, despite receiving such accreditation, we laugh about the times Mo had met the likes of Stormzy, Wiley and Tom Cruise (briefly). As well as this, Mo was given the chance to interview Khalid during his internship at the BBC through the ‘Where it Begins’ programme. Big opportunities such as these are presented to those who work hard for it and in Mo’s case he most certainly has worked for his position.
We discussed how Mo has progressed from LSR to where he is now and it seems that despite all the difficulties he has faced along the way, he resents the industry’s prejudices against minorities and the neglect of the Northern scene in comparison to the London hub. “People are too focused on the microcosms” he says, and I agree. Visually frustrated, Mo observes how there is “still too much pretence that London is the home of everything and London has the reputation that everything is up here” (raises hand very high) “and for people outside the UK, it is beneficial to say you work in London or you work at the BBC, but for me I’d prefer to say I am a Northern lad who has worked at the BBC or whatever.” He explains that it annoys him how he was almost “forced to move down to London as that’s where the opportunities are.” As he is saying this, I can’t help but join him in his frustration. Still sat in the coffee shop, we both begin to raise our voices to a slightly unsympathetic level to our fellow coffee sippers. Mo then poses the question that he sometimes asks himself: “Why the hell am I even here (London), there’s shit up North that I could do?”. This is when I felt he had hit the nail on the head. He is right in saying all this, but I still can’t help feeling that perhaps if everyone were to move to the North looking for jobs and opportunities, then the scene may become saturated? I disregard this notion, and maintain the shared frustration that has been built around our small corner of the coffee shop…
I thought it would be best to put a pin in the North vs South debacle. Instead, I turned to the future and asked Mo if he had any tips for someone looking to follow in his footsteps. His answer was one which I feel accurately sums up his own path to where he is now. He tells me that “when you’re starting out, be a bit of a yes man and try out everything you can”. He goes on to say how initially it is important to have a broad skill set and know what you want rather than pitch for one thing that you may not be suited to. Once you have built these skills, you should try and make yourself “indispensable” within these skills, but by doing this you need to be ready to take knock backs in your progressions. He says you will often hear that you are not the ‘right fit’. As a “brown pseudo scouse guy with a zero back and sides and a one on top”, Mo understands how shallow the industry can be.
He admits that, “the industry still needs work, it’s not at the point yet where it sees people who are of ethnic minority and who are well spoken and then puts the two together and says ‘okay cool’”. He explains that it’s not like that and that opportunities will still very much “go to the white kid”. The message I gathered from our final tangent was that it’s about how you rise to this prejudice which defines a person. This, I feel, is how Mo reflects such an honest and determined ideology to make sure the scene he operates in, is as inclusive as possible. Working with the likes of Reprezent Radio, who have shone light on the Northern scene, collaborating with the likes of Parklife, whilst providing a very open platform for the cultural and music scene in London, Mo can support the elements of the industry he feels needs them.
There is a lot to be learnt from Mo’s career trajectory. A young man who has built a wide network and a dense portfolio of skills. He has collected and achieved awards and accreditation from all the right people and still has his sights set on furthering his career in voice work. However, I think it is important to note that Mo has worked extremely hard for his position in the industry and that although it may seem that these events have taken place in a natural progression, it is down to Mo’s resilience, talent and approachable demeanour which has gotten him to where he is now. For those of you who would like to get involved in the industry, I think look at where Mo started out as inspiration, and understand that initially, the small skills need to be acquired in order to develop your own position.
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