Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2023: Hannah Overton, head of operations, Bella Figura Music

Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2023: Hannah Overton, head of operations, Bella Figura Music

During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted 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, Sarah Stennett, Rebecca Allen to Kanya King, Stacey Tang, Charisse Beaumont and Mary Anne Hobbs, who 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 trailblazers 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.

Hannah Overton is the recently appointed head of operations at the catalogue acquisition company, Bella Figura Music. 

Her role aims to blend the strengths of an artist-friendly record label and music publisher with the data strategy of a music rights company, to maximise the potential of the catalogues they manage for the likes of David Gray, Guy Chambers and R3hab. 

Her first major role in the industry came at XL, where she rose from receptionist to A&R manager and A&R director. Working across recording and publishing, she played a pivotal role in guiding the careers of artists such as Friendly Fires, Ratatat and Dizzee Rascal. 

Her life-long passion for music has driven her throughout her career, and she joined Bella Figura after spending more than a decade as managing director for Secretly Group. She oversaw an array of achievements throughout this time for The War On Drugs, Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers and Shame, Label Of The Year honours from the Music Week and AIM Awards for Jagjaguwar, as well as the return of Slowdive and the rise of Mitski and Japanese Breakfast. 

During this time, she was twice elected to join AIM’s board of directors, which allowed her to build upon the sustainable practices and green ethos she established at Secretly by becoming a founding member of IMPALA’s Carbon Calculator, an environmental impact measurement tool for the independent recorded music sector. She was also chosen to take part in a Creative Climate Leadership Course in conjunction with Julie’s Bicycle and The Arts Council earlier this year.

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

“Whilst awards can sometimes feel unwarranted, this means so much to me because I was nominated by my colleagues at Secretly Group. Their words and kindness have meant the world to me as I start a new work-chapter in my life and it’s an honour to stand beside so many I admire.”

How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?

“I look back on those early years wishing I had had more confidence, wishing I had asked more questions and wishing I had pushed my agenda more. I would have been much more successful if I had learnt to advocate for myself. At the same time I would have told myself to be patient, keep learning and keep going – [something] I continue to tell myself daily.” 

Did you have a mentor at that stage? 

“In the early days, I had people who looked out for me, but I did not have a mentor, which would have made an enormous difference – most artists achieve more with a great executive producer and it’s no different for the rest of us. I spent my first decade working in A&R, it was a very male-dominated environment and could be quite lonely and intimidating. I had very few role models and my daily contact with lawyers and managers was mostly male. Mentoring my staff [now] has become a priority, it’s a no-brainer to creating a successful company.”

How do you reflect on your achievements at Secretly Group over the past decade? What are you most proud of in terms of the development of the company – which you joined very early in the UK – and artist breakthroughs?

“I’d like to shout out Manish Argarwal, Tom Davies and Mike Holdsworth for laying the foundations of Secretly in Europe. I’m proud of the close bond and team we built together, and I hope I was able to create a positive and welcoming work culture for a team where most were able to thrive. I’m grateful to those who put their trust in me and came to work for Secretly. I’m proud of our successes – the Top 10s, the gold records for Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers, The War On Drugs, Mitski and more, and to have created a home in the UK for records that have had cultural impact. I’ve also been involved with some deeply moving and special records like those from Bill Fay, Lonnie Holley, Shura and Angel Olsen – to have been touched by their words and music and to be in their orbit is a privilege.”

What are your ambitions in the new role at Bella Figura? What drew you to the company headed by Alexi Cory-Smith as a start-up after your success in the independent sector?

“At Bella Figura we are building a music company, a label and publisher, and we want to work with credible and successful artists and writers whose work will stand the test of time and whose music we enjoy. Starting from scratch excited me, it was the opportunity to build systems and tech that are fit for the future – automated, transparent and not weighed down by what has gone before. We want to be boutique and the best in class, and we’re building our own best practices that have the music, the artist and writer at the centre of everything we do.”

How do you feel the music industry is improving its support for mothers and families? What more needs to be done?

“The introduction of paid shared parental leave is important but I don’t see much encouragement – I think on a national level we need to change the culture around this across all industries. Within music, support could be improved for returning mothers and, as employers, we must note and celebrate the difference between the birth mother and a partner, acknowledging the differences in the physical, emotional and mental load that has had to be carried and processed before returning to work. A birth mother’s physiology and anatomy has been through an immense period of change. It's hard to talk about that as a manager or company owner, but understanding can go a long way. Structured ease-in hours, coaching, training, flexible working and work-from-home practices can all help with the return to work and staff retention.”

We need to keep trying new models to find a better way to pay artists and writers from streaming

Hannah Overton

You have been a member of the AIM board, what do you feel are the key issues for the independent sector at present?

“The lack of investment for new artists is incredibly hard and small labels and managers are bearing the brunt of it. We need to keep trying new models to find a better way to pay artists and writers from streaming and we need to find more ways to fund new music through tax breaks, grants and education.” 

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

“On a personal level, still being here feels like a huge achievement. I have three small children, behind me I have nine years of sleep deprivation, a child with medical difficulties and no extended family support nearby. I haven’t always felt able to be open about how hard it has been to keep going, and there have been periods where every week I have felt like quitting because I’d hit the wall due to workload, lack of sleep, child illness and pandemic lockdowns, but somewhere I found the grit to keep going, and I’m glad I did. That inspiration to keep going was undoubtedly the partnership I have with my husband, but also the love I have for music and the way it makes me feel. I really wouldn’t want to have a career anywhere else.”

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

“Find your support network, keep your ear to the ground, get an external mentor, shake off your imposter syndrome, and if the air is toxic, get out.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?

“Get the art right and the rest will follow.”

Is there a young woman you'd like to shout out who you think is a rising star in the industry?

“I’d like to shout out the brilliant team at Secretly, you’re all amazing and appreciated. I’d also like to shout out Steph Maziano, an incredible writer and producer that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since her engineering days at Strongroom Studios.”

Similarly, is there a young womxn artist whose music you're excited about right now?

“Romy has created an incredible solo album to laugh, dance and cry to, Caroline Polachek was my summer obsession, and Christine & The Queen’s Paranoia, Angels, True Love is one of the most ambitious, emotional and affecting albums I think I will ever hear, in the lyrics, production and presentation.”

Finally, what’s your biggest lesson from 2023 so far? 

“That through death we can find new beginnings.”

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