Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Hazel Savage, VP, Music Intelligence at SoundCloud

Hazel Savage is the VP of Music Intelligence at SoundCloud, the world’s largest open audio platform, powered by a connected community of creators, listeners, and curators.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I have a slightly unconventional career background. I’m from Darlington in the UK, studied politics at university but, short of an idea of what to do, I just went full time working at HMV the record store and got transferred to London where I thought I would have the best opportunities to work in music.

I applied for over 150 jobs via CV until I got one interview, and that one interview was with Shazam. And once I got that interview, I got that job. That really put me on the right track to working in what I would then have called music, but what I’d now call music tech. 

From Shazam, I got headhunted to Universal in Australia, then worked for Pandora, and worked for BandLab in Singapore before setting up Musiio. But my current role is as the VP of Music Intelligence for SoundCloud because Musiio was acquired in April 2022.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Yes! No two days are alike, although some have similarities. Usually, I’m awake around 8:30am because you really want to take advantage of 9am and 10am meetings in the UK to be able to speak to people in their evening in Singapore.

A very typical day would be lots of morning calls, and I’d do those from home because not everybody wants to sit in on my loud, shouty team and or sales calls! After my morning calls, I have lunch at home. Currently, I’m at a co-working space in Leeds, so I’ll work there for the afternoon because I have access to a printer, and I have access to a free coffee machine. These two things are essential.

That’s the general structure of the day: Morning calls, work in the afternoon, and then picking up a few calls in the evening with the US, as a general structure. 

I’m a little bit of a creature of habit. I drink the same cups of tea, love free coffee – no upper limit – I like to get a sandwich for my lunch. I like that stuff to be pretty boring and predictable. But in terms of the content of each day, that can and does vary wildly. Is it a finance call? Is it a legal call? Is it a client call? Is it a team call? But generally, that’s how I structure my day.

3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

As a founder, you accept a certain lack of work-life balance, because in the very early stages of getting a company up and running, it’s often required. It’s your name above the door, so to speak.

As a founder, you’re the director, CEO or CTO and the buck stops with you. So as much as I think that work-life balance is important, it’s one of the things I have found as a founder that I had to be willing to give up. I happen to be a total workaholic and I love working in music tech so it’s easy for me.

As an example, when the pandemic lockdown was occurring, I was in Singapore, and I couldn’t travel to the US to see the majority of my clients or get new ones (crucial for a new company).

My daily routine then was I would get up at midday. I would work from 1pm until 6 or 7pm. I would take a short break to go to the gym and have dinner between 7 and 9pm and then from 10pm onwards (9am in New York) and then midnight, (9am in LA), I would do calls with our US clients and that would mean my day often finished at 2 or 3am. And then I would go to bed about 4 or 5am and then wake up the next day at midday again to do it all again. 

I did two years of that kind of split shift, which is not super sustainable. And now that I’m not doing it anymore, I wouldn’t want to go back to it. But it was what was required for the business to keep going and I think, as a founder, that’s the mentality you have to have. As a founder, I know the buck stops with me. It’s a huge responsibility.

But for the staff at Musiio, I certainly understand the importance of a healthy work-life balance, I really push people to take their leave, definitely don’t come in if you are sick and if someone has to work late I’d rather it be me covering for the team. I encourage everyone who works for me to focus more on getting the job done rather than bums in seats. Productivity is more important to me than optics.

4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I have some fun lightweight ones. For example, I switched to decaf tea. So, as a British person, I drink an insane amount of tea. But I found that decaf tea tastes relatively similar these days. So from 6pm onwards, if I switch to decaf, I do get a better quality of sleep. So that’s been a nice little shift. That’s happened recently. 

The other thing I’ve tried to do consistently but it is hard with my work schedule and also the amount of travel that’s required with the job is I do like to go to my weekly dance class. 

There’s an old saying that you need to have a hobby that makes you money, a hobby that keeps you fit, and a hobby that is good for relaxing. And I feel like as I get older, looking after the physical fitness side of things as well, is more important, so switching to decaf, making sure I get enough exercise. These things massively impact my quality of life more so than other things.

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

One of the newsletters I absolutely love is called Motive Unknown. It’s a music industry B2B newsletter that collates all of the news from various sources and then it also has a fun section of “what we’ve also been reading”. It’s always mad stuff and it’s really fun. I always read that one when it comes in. 

In terms of books, as a founder, I always have to recommend Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. This is an absolute must-have when it comes to raising money and understanding the complexities of fundraising. 

The other one I would recommend, which I listened to as an audiobook is The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, which is an absolutely fantastic business book because it talks about all the negative sides and difficult decisions around things like firing people, hiring and theory on job titles and the sort of stuff that all founders would have to think about. I find myself quoting it all the time. 

There’s one great section where the scenario is you have two great candidates for a role. One is much more creative and one is much more technical. Who do you assign the role to?

And many companies make the mistake of making them co-heads of departments or some-such because on paper they are both as good as each other. But what that means is nothing gets done, there is no one decision-maker. And so in the book, the advice is “you never put two in the box”, and I find myself saying it. It’ll come up and I’ll just be like, “never put two in the box!”

It’s a pretty dry selection, but these are the only kind of books and newsletters I have read for the last four years as a founder!

6) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Yeah, definitely! Calendly. Can’t live without it. It’s a scheduling tool but I’m absolutely obsessed with it. If you set it up and use it correctly, it’s amazing, especially for timezone conversion.

Secondly, Figure It Out, which is the time zone converter Chrome Extension. It makes people think I’m really good at maths or converting time zones, but it’s just a really simple-to-use interface. Can’t live without those two things.

7) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

My first thought is to pick someone who (based on Twitter) I suspect has a terrible work-life balance. I would pick someone like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. I’m interested to know what they’ve sacrificed. And why they did it.

I’m just curious about outliers, I think it’s human nature to look at extreme examples of individuals and wonder how they differ. So yeah, I would pick someone who I think has gone the other way. That would be a good read.

Or how about the Queen of England? That would be good. I think the issue with my choices is that they are unlikely to be candid interviews. You’d get something rehearsed or polished, so maybe I’ll keep thinking about this.

8) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers? 

No worries. I think a good one to end on would be my approach to working in the music industry in general, which is if you’re not having fun, and you’re not having a good time, you’re not doing it properly. Because you know, people should work in music because they love music and because they love the business side of music.

There are more profitable careers, you could work in finance for example. There are more worthy careers, such as in the medical world and in biotech. So to be in music, you just have to really love it and not want to do anything else because there are easier ways to earn a living. But for those of us that do it, we can’t imagine doing anything else. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.