"There’s something about the country music industry that creates community and it’s no exception with BMLG." We chat with Alex Hannaby
If you know Big Machine Label Group the likelihood is that you'll know Taylor Swift is their most famous alumni. That's not the full story of the label that Scott Borchetta set up though. We had the chance to speak with Alex Hannaby, Head of UK for the label, about who else the label has on their books, what working at BMLG looks like, and her experience in the industry.
Hey Alex, hope you’re doing fantastically well. Simple question to ease you in, what have you been up to today?
Thanks so much! I hope you’re well too. It’s been a pretty typical day so far, juggling work and being a mum! Before some of my colleagues had even seen the light of day, I’d already spent the morning feeding my daughter breakfast, practicing my negotiation skills in persuading her to get dressed in actual clothes rather than pyjamas - a battle I actually won today! - and dropping her off at nursery. I savour my tube journeys to work… my only quiet time in the day and the one chance I get to read a book, currently “In Pieces” by Sally Field which is SUCH a good book.
By the time I arrived for my first meeting at 9.30 it felt like I was already halfway through my day!
And where are you right now?
Sitting at my desk in the beautiful new Universal Music offices in Pancras Square.
Sounds lovely! Please introduce yourself to our beautiful readers.
Hi, I’m Alex Hannaby, Head of UK for Big Machine Label Group, based in London
What’s your role at Big Machine Label entail?
My role is really varied. At Big Machine UK we work across all areas of the label (marketing, promo, sales etc) with some of the top people in the business to make sure our artists are best represented here. I love the diversity in the job and it’s a really exciting time to be part of country music in the UK!
What does a normal day at work look like for you?
This is a really hard question to answer because no two days are the same here, but most days include a LOT of meetings. There’s no substitute for seeing someone face to face in this industry. As the US office wakes up around 3pm, we try to fit our UK based meetings in the mornings and spend from 3pm onwards fighting any fires and catching up with our colleagues in Nashville.
I’m passionate about work and equally passionate about my family, so I leave at 6pm every day, head home to put my daughter to bed & have dinner with my husband. And then I’m back online checking emails for anything urgent that’s come up in the evening.
Most people will be familiar with Big Machine because of Taylor Swift, what other artists are with the label?
We have so many incredible artists it’s hard to know where to start with this question!
Big Machine is, of course, predominantly a country label and has some of the highest calibre artists out there from country royalty Reba McEntire to newer superstars Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line and many more. Recently I’ve been super excited about us signing Sheryl Crow and Lady Antebellum. They’re both artists I’ve been a fan of for a long time and have been an absolute dream to work with! What a lot of people don’t know is we also have a rock label (Big Machine John Varvatos Records) and Badflower, one of their first signings, are one of the most exciting new rock acts out there at the moment. We’re very lucky to work with so many great acts!
What’s the most fun thing you’ve been involved with so far at Big Machine?
I’d never been to Nashville before working at Big Machine and it blows me away every time I visit. The energy of being surrounded by so much music makes it like no where else in the world.
One of the other things that’s unique to this job are the CMA Taskforce. A team of us across the business meet every quarter to discuss how we can grow the country music industry here in the UK with the support of the incredible CMA board. There’s nothing else like it in the industry and being part of a community that’s lifting each other up is very powerful (and has proved to be very successful so far!).
What’s the single biggest challenge you have in your role today?
We face the same challenges as the rest of the industry and the biggest to me has to be how to cut through to reach people who will love our music. There’s so much noise it can be hard to be heard. We’re really effective at communicating and the strong Country community helps with that but it’s always challenging to find new ways to make an impact in such a busy information age.
How do you work with the main body of the business in the US?
We speak multiple times a day and work incredibly close together. Considering we’ve only met in person a handlful of times, some of the people in the office have become like best friends. There’s something about the Country music industry that creates community and it’s no exception with us.
Big Machine had a large stand at recent C2C but this year weren’t in the Town Square, what was the thinking behind that?
I’m so glad you asked this! This year we did something really special at C2C that you may have heard of – #unlockthemachine. We invited a really intimate select group to enter a secret Big Machine Hangout and experience things no one has before. Check out our Instagram @bigmachineuk to see a highlight of what happened, but it really was a one of a kind event. We wanted to give something back to the fans and create a moment that would last forever in memories. It went down so well and it’s something we want to expand and come back with at C2C and other country music events throughout the year so watch this space…!
Talk to us about artists, you’ve got a lot of established artists, but what new artists should we be keeping an ear out for in 2019?
I could talk about this forever! Lauren Jenkins and Noah Schacky came to the UK for the first time this C2C and they blew everyone away. Lauren’s already announced coming back for The Long Road festival in September and I can’t say too much but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Noah here soon…
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as women in your industry?
This is something I’m really passionate about and discuss a lot (as anyone who knows me will tell you!). Personally I’ve only really become aware of a difference in the last few years as I think it can be easy to ignore sometimes, especially when you’re younger. It’s broadly speaking the same as the rest of life – but if anything people in the music industry seem to be more aware they need to make an effort to change.
Have you felt a change at all over the last couple of years?
Yes and I feel really positive about what’s happening both inside the business and in general at the moment. It feels like the will is there to make a permanent change and I feel very hopeful that by the time my daughter is my age she will have had completely different experiences to that of mine and my friends.
And how do you work from the inside to change things?
We’re getting change encouraged from the top down at Universal Music UK and that’s incredibly powerful. I feel very fortunate to work in a company that truly supports and prioritises women in business.
From my side I work to support and encourage women to speak up, and the men I know are also playing a huge part in this. I try to focus on encouraging each other and lifting each other up where possible.
You’ve got some great female artists on your roster, what’s the best way that you can support them?
I think the UK in particular is doing a brilliant job at supporting female country artists. Our radio stations are pledging to play 50:50 male:female and our festivals are creating more and more balanced line ups. From our side we get a lot of female artists coming over as they know they’ll get support here so it’s a really exciting time for female artists in the UK!
And what can fans do to support their favourite artists?
Keep doing what you’re doing. The country music community in the UK is fantastic and streaks ahead of other genres!
Who inspires you?
I’m lucky enough to have worked with some incredible people who have influenced my career and personal life. But one that stands out is Orla Lee-Fisher (SVP Marketing, UMGI). I worked with her just before we started Big Machine UK and still meet with her regularly (we even met today to catch up!). She is the most incredibly talented, insightful and capable music industry exec I’ve ever met, coupled with one of the kindest and most caring people. That’s why artists all love working with her! I feel so incredibly lucky to have met her and to be able to learn from her (and to be her friend!).
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
Can I recommend two?!
I’m obsessed with Lauren Jenkin’s latest album at the moment so if you haven’t heard it yet, start at 'Give Up The Ghost' and then listen to it all. You can thank me later! She has these incredible visuals too – check out her website to see them.
And then I’ll always love Danielle Bradbery. She has the best voice I’ve ever heard and is also one of the sweetest people. My favourite track on her latest album I Don’t Believe We’ve Met is 'What Are We Doing' but the whole album is brilliant!
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What Instagram accounts to follow! I’m a big believer of surrounding yourself with voices that educate you and widen your view of the world in a positive way. So with that in mind here are a few of my favourites; @iweigh @humansofny @rachel.cargle @glennondoyle @attndotcom @helprefugeesuk @women_want_more
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I don’t! But I take my tea incredibly milky (sorry, I know that really offends a lot of people).