How did you make your way into talent management?
It’s almost like it was my calling. Back at Howard, I was in the School of Business. I could’ve sworn I would be working at Target corporate right now. Unfortunately, my mom passed when I was a freshman, and she left me some inheritance money. I sat down and thought about how I could flip it fast. I knew a lot of people on campus, so throwing parties made sense. I threw my first party with the Rich Kids when My Patna Dem was in heavy rotation, the first to bring them to DC. Although I packed out the club, I left in the hole because I didn’t understand contracts. At that moment I knew it wasn’t quite the route for me, but I liked the idea of helping give artists exposure. I found talent management and it didn’t cost any money, but made money. From there I fell in love with it. When I graduated I decided to work at a management firm to learn the infrastructure. This was never my intention. I just went with the flow of things.
What do you think is the key to finding the right fit in a career then establishing a name for yourself?
I think it’s trial and error. If you’re not creative there are so many aspects of a musical career that you can take part in, but you don’t know what you’re good at until you do it. I’ve made more mistakes than got things right. However, I feel that I am wise because I can talk about what not to do and am glad I learned early. I’ve also learned that when I win, people only care about my accomplishments. They forget about the failures. As a manager, you’re only as hot as your clients. I was nothing for a while. Now that people are paying attention to Ari, my phone calls get picked up and I’m respected.
There are probably some misconceptions about the roles and responsibilities of a manager. What exactly does a manager do?
What an artist’s manager is supposed to do versus what we actually do are two different things. A manager’s job on paper is to counsel the artist on their career. Nowadays, it’s an anything and everything kind of role, especially early on when an artist can’t afford to hire a large team. We are the artist’s therapist and organizer making sure they are where they need to be doing what they need to do on time. Sometimes artists are so focused on creating the music, but we have to help them realize they are a business too.
How do you establish a relationship with artists?
I have a very interesting discovery process. I don’t sign artists right away. I think a great manager’s job is to bring the biggest and best potential out of an artist. A lot of times artists don’t know what they can become when starting out. They just know they are talented. It’s on me to grasp the vision that was presented to me and amplify it. It can take up to six months for me to say I see a bigger picture for an artist as well as an opportunity in the market. Then I work with them non-exclusively for a couple of months to make sure there is a vibe and we can align our visions. I’m a firm believer in dating before you get married. If I don’t like you, I can’t be your manager because we talk 24/7.
Once you and the artist are on the same page, how do you ensure the vision stays whole when dealing with labels?
Before signing with a label, make sure they fully understand where you want to go. If they don’t get it, you shouldn’t take the deal. Effective communication is key for a manager because we do a lot of delegating to teams at the label. My job is to oversee that the plan we’ve already put together is being executed. Some managers don’t stay on top of labels, but it’s imperative to constantly check every single hand touching the artist.
When do you recommend that an artist seek out management?
You should find a manager when you’re independent and can no longer focus on the business or preparing to sign a deal because you need someone who has the knowledge to navigate the label’s system.
If you’re in the studio trying to make music, you don’t need a manager yet. You need a homie that wants to help and will take the journey with you. Sometimes that’s where artists shoot themselves in the foot. If you come to a manager but don’t have anything going, we will sign you to a label and develop you, which is what you actually need. Managers make money off commission, so it’s only worth our time if you are pulling in a significant amount. However, development becomes an investment as I share my resources and connections upfront to earn on the backend, but it means the artist giving me ownership.
You had the opportunity to work under Chris Lighty in the three months before his passing. What were some of the lessons that you learned from him and still apply daily?
Chris always preached that if you see something that needs to get done, just do it or find something that needs to get done. That’s been very effective. I’m starting to build a name for myself with touring. Ari’s been on three amazing tours since she dropped her EP and people ask how we’re getting the looks. For me, it was simple. I identified tours that made perfect sense for Ari. I conveyed that message to my booking agent and the label, then all three of us reached out to those camps to make it happen. A lot of managers sit around waiting for their phones to ring.
He also said that he doesn’t care about an artist that sells one million albums in the first week. He’d rather an artist sell a million albums over the course of ten years, because you can make a career for the artist through other avenues with that type of longevity. I want to focus on career artists too. It’s the more sustainable route. If I can continue to find opportunities over the span of a decade, I’ll remain relevant for that time.
What do you think distinguishes you and your company from others?
Strategy. Lucky for me, I was around older managers like Chris Lighty and Blue Williams, who managed CeeLo and Outkast. I learned about old school marketing tactics and how they broke artist without the internet, but because I’m young and understand how to use the internet, I’m able to fuse both worlds together.
That’s the approach we take with Ari. We’re focusing on playlisting with Spotify and other ways to take advantage of the internet. On the other hand, we’ve done over 100 dates off of her first EP, which is a lot of dates for a new artist. That’s an old school tactic to put artists in front of physical fans and build their core foundation.
What are you looking for when assessing partnership opportunities for your artists?
After the amount of money, I’m taking what offers more exposure. The key when breaking artists is priming consumers’ minds. The more they hear a name, the more curious they will be. Take a look at Ari’s rollout. She was on Change on J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only. When people said he went platinum again without features, her fans made it known that she sang the background vocals, which made people start to wonder. Even if they may not have followed right away, people who came to this run of the tour saw her perform the song with him. If that wasn’t enough, when we begin pushing the album, people are more prone to check out the project because they recognize her from the tour.
When you look ahead five years, what do you see for yourself?
I want to have established both myself as a young executive and my management company to be creative and forward thinking. My goal is that all of my roster are household names. Ari is on the road touring and the other three haven’t dropped projects yet but are signed.
How do you stay motivated?
Negativity. So many people thought I was crazy as hell for doing this. After graduating from Howard, I interned for free for eight months. I was broke and then when I finally got paid, I wasn’t getting paid a lot nor had benefits. In my mind, I had started something and refused to quit on myself because others couldn’t see a bigger picture. If you don’t want to support me, fine. I’m going to prove everyone wrong who doubted me. At this point I’ve changed a lot of people’s opinions, especially my parents. I brought them out to some shows and they’re starting to see my lifestyle change. People are finally getting it.