Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2022: Claire Haffenden, Universal Music UK

Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2022: Claire Haffenden, Universal Music UK

During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted a further 14 game-changing industry executives (including one posthumous award) into the Roll Of Honour, in association with TikTok. They join the pantheon of previous honourees, including some of the biggest names in the business, from Emma Banks and Sarah Stennett to Kanya King, Rebecca Allen and Stacey Tang, that have been selected since the awards began in 2014.

The Roll Of Honour aims to highlight the breadth, depth and variety of individuals who are game-changers in the music industry, with their activities consistently benefiting women, or focusing on empowerment/gender disparity. 

Following the Women In Music Awards ceremony, Music Week is running Q&A interviews with all of this year’s Roll Of Honour inductees.

Director of artist relations and events is a title weighted with responsibility, not least for Universal Music, the UK’s market leading music company. Claire Haffenden has held the key role since 2008.

Haffenden is vastly experienced and deals with daily challenges, whether it’s a promo trip by a global superstar or delivering the industry’s hottest BRITs aftershow. Haffenden has proved her ability to form deep collaborations not just in the music industry but also in the wider creative world, a great example being Universal Music’s collaboration with visual artists for the BRIT Awards, where she worked closely with Yinka Ilori MBE and Ashton Attzs. 

Over the past few years Haffenden has also organised and curated a one-day festival for all Universal Music UK staff, which features an array of artists from across the roster. She also plays an integral part in Universal Music UK’s artist counselling initiative, working closely with managers, which helps support artists with advice on all aspects of their careers. 

Haffenden's first job in music was at London Records, followed by a role at A&M Records. The role quickly expanded to include artist relations, looking after the label’s superstars of the time, such as Sheryl Crow and Sting. Following the PolyGram-Universal merger in 1998, Haffenden joined Polydor, which soon became the UK outlet for legendary hip-hop label Interscope. For the next decade, Haffenden handled every promo trip for some of the biggest artists in the world, including Eminem, No Doubt and the Black Eyed Peas.

In 2008, she was promoted to head of artist relations and events across Universal Music UK. In 2013, she became director of artist relations and events, training and inspiring countless brilliant female executives over the years and overseeing countless high-profile launches and events for artists from across the musical spectrum, while being a hugely enthusiastic member of the Silver Clef Awards committee.

Here, Claire Haffenden reflects on her industry journey so far…

How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?  

“It feels brilliant. I’ve been to the awards every year since they started so it’s an absolute honour to be recognised alongside some incredible women.” 

How do you reflect on your early years in the industry?

“Messy, fun, blurry, always on! Seriously though, working at London Records, A&M and then Polydor felt like a rite of passage. I’ve been in music my entire career and it was always what I wanted to do growing up as a kid. I have been so lucky to come up, and still work, with many of the people I started my career with. Friends for life! I have always cherished that sense of camaraderie at Universal Music and it is something I have been very conscious of when building our artist relations and events team over the years.”

Did you have a mentor at that stage? 

“When I started out? No, but over the years I have really learnt the value of mentorship. She probably wouldn’t want me to call her a ‘mentor’ but my relationship with Selina Webb [Women In Music Outstanding Contribution winner for 2022] is something I value very much. She has been my confidant and ally for over 20 years. We have the same core values but celebrate our differences which makes for a great team! Let’s call it reciprocal mentorship! We laugh about our shortcomings and to have that understanding is a real joy. She constantly inspires me to be better and that is definitely something I have adopted with my team. Bringing them through is massively important to me. We all bring something very different to the table, but it is my job as their manager to mentor them through the challenges and to ensure we celebrate their wins.”

You’ve worked for Universal for 25 years, and occupy a hugely important role. Can you shed any light on the secret art of artist relations? How has it evolved?

“There’s no real secret, to put it simply, we are fixers. If there’s a round hole and a square peg, we are usually the first people to hear about it. And the fact that we have the trust of our labels, artists and managers hopefully shows we are doing something right! Our job is to create spaces where people feel comfortable with no surprises. I have spent 25 years watching talent, some of the biggest artists in history, and the one constant is that people are at their creative best when they are comfortable.

“I’d say our role has definitely evolved and that’s for the simple fact that it’s an area of the business taken incredibly seriously at the very top of Universal Music UK. Artist relations is a much more holistic thing these days, with the mental health and wellbeing of artists being very much at the top of our agenda.”

I’ve been to the awards every year since they started so it’s an absolute honour to be recognised alongside some incredible women

Claire Haffenden

You’ve been involved in implementing and rolling out the artists’ mental health programme that provides support to all Universal acts. What difference are you personally seeing this make?   

“I think the most important shift is mental health rightly becoming part of the everyday conversations with our artists, managers and labels. Our counselling offer has been really welcomed and there’s definitely still a huge job to be done when it comes to destigmatising mental health, not just in our industry but society as a whole. It’s been particularly encouraging to see the reaction amongst some of our new artists who I think are just really appreciative of the fact that this is something we genuinely care about.”

What advice would you offer young women about enjoying a successful career in music?

“Know your worth! Meet as many people as you can and always remember that our industry is a small one in the sense that everyone knows everyone… so treat people well. As I mentioned earlier, so many of the people I worked with at the start of my career are my peers today.”

Looking back, what was the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

“It’s actually around information flow which really is the essence of what artist relations is. I was told to always remember to let your team know what information you do and don’t need to hear. I’ve carried that with me and it seems more relevant now than ever. Information comes at us from all directions and sometimes it can be overwhelming. We have teams for a reason. I feel a responsibility to do my best to empower my team, not least because it’s so important we bring through the next generation of executives.” 

Finally, what’s your biggest lesson from 2022 so far? 

“Do not underestimate the impact your kids moving from primary to secondary school has on your daily schedule! Thankfully, I am lucky enough to work at a company where families are always put first and that really comes down to leadership. And not so much a lesson but more a reminder on just how important it is to be together in person. We have been involved in so many in-person events this year and the energy has been just incredible.”  

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