Having always dreamed of opening her own architect practice, Hannah Braid went to study architecture at Leeds University. Like many of us, she thought she knew exactly what her career path would look like. Until, that is, she discovered her love of music. That’s when everything changed.
Now Hannah is a co-founder of Swell Publicity, and she looks after some of the coolest artists around including Laura Welsh and Billie Marten. Here the 24-year-old reveals to List for Life her advice for people wanting to also go into music PR, and why it’s ok veer off from your original career path into something you love more.
1. How did you start out in music?
Rather bizarrely I started my career as an Architecture student. Although music played a big part in my childhood, for as long as I can remember, the determination to own my own architect practice was my main priority. It took me two years into my studies, however, to realise that the long nights, emotional rollercoasters of the studies, and the lack of sleep were not for me.
In one lecture, I remember texting a friend sat in front of me telling him we must go to see The Staves in Hebden Bridge; we’d have to leave within the hour. At the time they barely had any music out but I knew they were not to be missed. Moments like this were few and far between as it was right in the middle of my third and final year at Leeds, but it was around this time I started writing about music. Gigs included Elena Tonra, supporting Ben Howard before she went on to become Daughter, and The Civil Wars‘ first trip to the UK before their abrupt end.
2. Is there any one particular moment that stood out for you when you realised you wanted to pursue music?
One moment will stick with me for a long time. It was the day before my final hand in, yet somehow I escaped the depths of the library and headed downstairs to catch a glimpse of Lianne La Havas, playing our student union for Live At Leeds in 2012. If memory serves me right, Marina & The Diamonds couldn’t make it and Lianne was main support. She was thrilled and I was even more so. I’d admired her for a long time and knew I couldn’t miss it. It was my first time using guest lists to get into a gig, through my then very small blog. That night I reviewed Lianne and it went onto be my most read article on the site, so much so after Bestival that same year, Lianne walked off stage and personally thanked me for being one of her first reviewers.
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3. What did you do after graduating?
Following graduation, I applied for a volunteer role at Wakestock, a small festival in North Wales, where I’d spent most of my childhood. Ed Sheeran headlined alongside Calvin Harris (before he went all LA) and Dizzee Rascal. I volunteered for a week on site during the preparation and once the gates opened was given the role of Artist Liaison. I had NO clue what it even meant but one thing I knew, it was super fun. I got mistaken for Katy B on stage and caught a glimpse of Ed Sheeran’s tour bus, with his infamous orange pawprint on all the seats. It kind of blew my mind.
Following that, I spent the summer rallying around muddy fields and eventually, ended the year as Artist Liasion at Bestival. By day I snuck backstage to hang with my favourite acts; at the time, Daughter, Lianne La Havas and Lucy Rose were doing their first couple of runs at the big festivals. By night, I was running around preparing a clean shower for Stevie Wonder. Alt J, Jake Bugg and The Staves played a tiny Replay with Rob Da Bank Stage; we drank whisky backstage in the sun. From then on I knew I’d never go back to Architecture.
How did you land your job?
A couple of weeks after that I came down to London to visit my best friend. She persuaded me to apply for a job I’d found on gumtree. It was for a music PR company. I didn’t really know what it meant but they looked after some of my favourite artists. I was called in for an interview the next day, then straight back to meet the rest of the team on the Monday and started work on the Tuesday. I had to call my parents and tell them I wasn’t coming home and ask them to send clothes! Three years on, pretty much to the day, I now co-run Swell Publicity; an independent music publicity company looking after the likes of Billie Marten, Kimberly Anne, Laura Welsh, FEMME, Agnes Obel, Oasis (their Catalogue Campaign) and Mini Mansions.
What is a normal day of work like for you?
It differs from day to day and client to client, which is one of the best things about my job. Some of the many perks include attending fashion shows and loads of free gigs. From filming sessions in parks with a brand new artist, to choosing press shots or watching a sell out show, it really depends on the artist and what they’re promoting at the time. I love being in the studio and hearing a new song, equally as much as I love being at radio listening in on an interview or being backstage at a festival, just as my act is about to step on stage. It’s so varied but equally brilliant. Of course, a lot of days are spent behind a laptop screen shooting hundreds of emails and trying to get people to listen to new music but there’s so much variety, it’s hard to get bored!
What do you get up to outside of work?
Outside of Swell, I help with the curation and running of FESTIFEEL, an annual one-dayer in support of breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel! The event takes place this year on October 10 so we’re in the final throws, making sure everything is all set for an amazing day.
Likewise, I curate and produce It’s Coming on Christmas, an annual compilation for the same great cause. Last year’s Christmas album featured the likes of Lucy Rose, Rae Morris, The Districts, Marika Hackman, Gabrielle Aplin and Newton Faulkner. Receiving plays across BBC 6 Music and Radio 1, the Christmas compilation raised over £7,500 for CoppaFeel. I guess you could say I’m kinda busy!
What are your career aspirations?
Of course, I’d love to work on a Number One record. I have dreams of hanging a gold disc in my house. Another dream of mine is that I would love to tour the US with a band/act I represent. In shorter term perhaps, I’d love to attend the Brits, something I’ve yet to do and Glastonbury, which I seem to miss every year! I’d also like to make FESTIFEEL a huge event and raise as much money as possible for the wonderful people over at CoppaFeel!
What would your advice be to someone wanting to get their foot in the door of the PR industry?
Showing determination and going above and beyond in the early stages are essential. Whether it’s making a cup of tea or taking hundreds of envelopes to the post office, those things will earn you the seal of approval and quickly, you’ll find yourself with more responsibility. Never be afraid to ask questions and always do things with a smile on your face. Manners go a long way! It’s really important to show interest in your chosen area and be able to talk about these with enthusiasm and without sounding like you’ve just googled “what to say in an interview about PR”. PR is such a huge subject but in our case, it can be so very focused and can be essential in the early stages of a musician’s career. Writing a blog helped me immensely, it gave me the creative outlet and freedom to express my interests. At the time, I thought no-one bar my Mum read it, but turns out, it got me to where I am today. Welcome every opportunity.