How Does Atlantic Records Chief Partnerships Officer Camille Hackney Stay Mindful?

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Billboard has partnered with Ian Davis and Brandon Holman of The Mindful Creative on a series of conversations with music artists and executives about the self-care practices they use to keep themselves on track, both during the pandemic and beyond. 

Today’s conversation is with Camille Hackney, chief partnerships officer at Atlantic Records and head of the global brand partnerships council at Warner Music Group. She is also president of Warner Music Group and the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s joint $100 million Social Justice Fund, announced last June amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter uprising.

How do I define wellness? It’s a mental, emotional and physical state. In the advent of COVID, you also have to define wellness based on the people you love. It has to be not just an individual wellness, but a collective wellness. We have to factor that into what it means to focus on your well being, realizing how connected we are to one another. COVID amplified that because truly, your behavior affects my health. Not just your individual, physical and mental wellness, but the ones you love, who are around you, and where they are.

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Balance, for me, is more like a dance, and not always a graceful one. Where I spend my time and who I spend it with helps me achieve balance. I live in Manhattan, and the day-to-day energy of Manhattan, I love. But it can take its toll. You do need to take breaks, and every break can’t be flying down to the Caribbean and hanging out on a beach. You have to find some way to escape it, and then be able to re-emerge into that frenetic environment with ease. I have been fortunate to have a second home in upstate New York, in the middle of the woods, on a mountain. All I see is air, blue sky, trees and no people other than my immediate family. That brings a certain sense of calmness. Space to connect, to clear your head and think about things. It breaks up the frenzy.

What I do in order to get through the day is yoga poses. In my office, when we’re not in COVID time, I have a headstand chair. So you might walk in on me in an inverted headstand, up against my picture of Ed Sheeran, trying not to bump him off the wall. It helps me breathe and relax. I think I have yoga mats in every possible place where I lay my head. I don’t always have time to do a proper hour and 20 minutes, but even if I can just get in a few poses, that is how I remind myself to take deep breaths. It’s definitely self care for me. It’s not just the athleticism of it, I do it for the mind clearing and mindfulness parts of it, too.

One of the beautiful things of COVID is that we now have more time to connect with each other. For me, as a leader, it’s been invaluable. At 11 o’clock, every single weekday, I meet with the team and I spend the first 10-15 minutes of that meeting checking in with people. It’s been amazing, because you understand what’s going on in people’s lives. If someone is going through something, I can say, “Okay, you handle that personal situation, either I’ll take on something or shift a responsibility to another person.” [When] we understand each other’s lives and how our life is intertwined with our work life, we work better together. We talk about deals, we’re always talking about business, but it’s layered on top of the context of people’s well being and their mental health.

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Companies need a well-being strategy. Part of the well-being strategy is allowing flexibility for people to maximize their performance in a way that helps nurture and encourage their spirit. For some people, their job might not be artist-facing and they might be more productive working from home, they might be less distracted and able to put out a better work product that way. Meeting people where they are and trusting that you’re getting the best out of them, but doing it in a way where their work environment works for them. I think that’s a place that we need to get to. I don’t know if our business is there yet.

I will say that motherhood has made me a better manager and leader. We work in a business where there is a varying degree of personalities. You learn how to manage through that and keep your sanity. So I generally don’t take things personally. I think you get into reacting [rather than] responding if you take things personally. If someone sends me something crazy –which happens a lot — I know it has everything to do with that person and what they’re feeling at that moment. I try to think about the larger picture, the type of relationship I want to have with this person, and what my response will trigger in them. It’s never personal, it’s always business.

One thing that I did learn early on from Leo Cohen [is to] always deliver bad news quickly. An old fish never starts to smell better with time. You face it head on, deal with whatever blowback and move through it. If a deal goes south, or an artist needs to back out of a deal, I say, “Alright, let me evaluate it and make sure that I relay the message as soon as possible.” I don’t like any kind of bad news to linger.

The music industry was hit hard, early on. When all the venues were shut down, the thing that I was concerned most about was those artists who thrive from that connection being on stage and seeing their fans in person. So, whenever I would talk to an artist, I would always kind of check in with them. Because not being able to [perform] and that being so key to who you are as a creative being had to have been devastating. There were certain artists who were introverts who just wanted to be in the studio anyway, but so many really need that live connection. Now that things are coming back, I am hoping that many of our artists were able to kind of get through that without any real scarring. But I still worry about that.

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I think we’re in a better place as an industry, now that companies are having a mental health and wellness strategy for their employees. I hope people avail themselves to the resources that are there. A big part of it is making sure people are aware that there are resources. In the black community, there’s still a hesitancy to talk to someone who’s not in your circle. But [we’re] encouraging people to do their own kind of personal check-in and seek out help if you need it. I think we’re in a better place now as an industry. Sadly, it took a pandemic for us to recognize it, but I think we are moving in the right direction.

As told to Neena Rouhani and Ian Davis.

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