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How Does Calm Head of Music Courtney Phillips Stay Mindful?

Courtney Phillips
Courtesy of Calm

Courtney Phillips

The executive's wellness practices include breathing exercises, tarot card readings, mindful mornings with her daughter...and a dash of heavy metal.

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 installment is with Courtney Phillips, head of music at meditation app Calm, who joined the company in Oct. 2019 after stints at Universal Music Group, COLLiDE Agency (formerly FILTER) and WME, among others. Through a partnership with Universal Music Group, Phillips is spearheading Calm's "Sleep Remix Series," an original music series designed to lull listeners to sleep via original 60-minute remixes of songs from artists including Ariana Grande, Kacey Musgraves, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Katy Perry and Louis Fonsi. Outside of that, she has collaborated with Keith Urban and London Grammar on exclusive sleep and meditation remixes for the Calm app. 

I've actually been doing a deeper dive into my own mental health and what wellness really means. Those of us who are a little Type A…we tend to put our mental health below other things. That is not going to be sustainable for any of us. I think going through this pandemic has really put [mental health] to the top of the list, when perhaps before this we weren't really paying as much attention. It was easy to just go, go, go. But given that the whole world kind of had to pause, I think everyone got a moment to reflect. Calm has been really helpful in that [for] myself.

I have a daughter, she is 14 months old, so my mindfulness practices are kind of centered around her a little bit. My husband's a stay-at-home dad, so he gets to be with her all day long and I'm here in my [home] office. So my mindful moments are first thing in the morning when I get to wake her up, and just be having that moment with her where she's just like, “Oh, hi, mama!” It's the best feeling of the day.

My family moments are a really mindful time for me because they're so precious. For instance, we pull a tarot card each morning as a family, each one of us. We stack the deck on my daughter's head and let her pick one because we're really into that.

I definitely take a break from work. Even if I don't have time to go take a 10, 15-minute walk around my neighborhood, I'll go outside and I will literally tip my face up to the sun and shut my eyes and just be there for a minute, and then go back inside and get back to it. I find nature really refreshing and rejuvenating, even if you only have like one minute, even if it is between back-to-back Zoom meetings.

Something that I've definitely adopted since joining Calm, which was pre-pandemic, is the whole “take a deep breath” element. I use the Breathe Bubble in the Calm app because there is something so centering and so grounding about really just taking a moment to focus on your breath and slowing it down. Really taking that time to take a few deep breaths and then go back and read the email, and take it apart piece by piece and see how you can move forward from there. And then also having a gratitude practice. For me, it's just taking a moment to think about the things that I'm grateful for and that make me happy.

I joke that this is the dream job because people would come into my office at UMG and be like, “Are you listening to Enya?” I will fully listen to incredibly relaxing, chill music. I'm like a walking Pure Moods CD advertisement. But also at the same time, I'm that person that sits in their car and listens to rock music really loud when I want to vent. That's the beautiful thing about music, it can really go all sorts of different directions and be there for you in any way that you need.

Calm's really big on walking the walk, not just talking the talk. It's very important that the employees at Calm have a good work-life balance. We're encouraged to take vacation, really unplug, really make sure that we're having a mindful practice. We have the Daily Calm every day, for anyone who wants to do it at 10 a.m. Anyone can join in the Zoom -- back then it was in person in San Francisco -- and do the Daily Calm together. So [mindfulness is] very much ingrained in the company culture and lifestyle.

I meet with my team every day over Zoom. Especially in this pandemic, it's been really tough to connect with people as people. But we meet every day over Zoom and we always start each thing being like, “How was your weekend?” or “[How] was your night?” or “How are your kids?” I care about them as people. That's always important to remember, is that everyone is a person first. Really ask people how they are. Really know what your team members' lives are like. Caring about what's going on in their life is how you connect with them as a leader and as a work partner.

And I think particularly in the pandemic, respecting people's boundaries. Respecting work time versus “not work” time. Some people have a great time multitasking and sending emails at any hour and that's good for them. Some people are setting different time boundaries or, you know, they've got to pick up their kids from school or they just want to enjoy dinner with their family and not be on email. And every leader should be respecting that in the industry. It’s important to make sure we're making space and time for everyone to really be living their lives.

The music industry is an incredible industry. I'm happy to be a part of it. I know that [music companies] have the utmost care for their artists. I've worked at labels, I've worked at several different places, and they care very much about their artists and making sure that they're happy and healthy and taken care of. And I think maybe turning just as much of that care on each other is important. Making sure that you give the same care and awareness that you're giving to an artist to the social media coordinator who's two cubicles down.

As told to Chris Eggertsen, Ian Davis and Brandon Holman.