How Veli Went From Hoop Dreams to Managing Artists
The Veli Brand founder and Sounds Music Group partner details how only the most selfless of the pack can thrive in a high-stakes environment.
In his 10 years in the music business, Veli has learned that artist management can be a thankless job. It requires immense sacrifice. You put yourself second 24/7 and give your all to someone else’s career and life, all the while remaining out of the spotlight. It’s a big ask, but when success — in whatever form the artist sees it — is achieved, the feeling of fulfillment is like no other.
Before he dreamt of managing the careers of artists, Veli had legitimate hoop dreams. He played college basketball as a freshman at Rosemont College but had a change of heart in his sophomore year and quit the sport to enter the music business. His first career move was to manage his then-best friend, an up-and-coming rapper, and he spent the next few months tirelessly promoting the potential he saw. Although he never thought of artist management as a feasible career, he used to fantasize about it becoming one while working as a landscaper during his summer breaks in college. Following his graduation, he spent a few months as an assistant manager at Dollar General — still a far cry from where he wanted to be. “I knew I wanted better for myself,” he recalls. “The mental and physical anguish of these two gigs pushed me to want to work so hard that I’d never have to go back to that life.”
“Create value within yourself that people can utilize, which will ultimately help your clients in the long run.”
That desire proved to be the ultimate motivator, and after years of managing friends and producing shows in Philadelphia, he expanded to establish the Veli Brand in 2015. With a goal of providing a platform for “who’s next,” he’s booked some of this generation’s biggest names, including Cordae, Lil Tjay and Rico Nasty, and has put on over a hundred shows around the States. “I wanted to create a platform that independent artists could succeed on,” he explains. “When I first started in management, I noticed how hard it was to get my artists performance opportunities where they could actually grow. A lot of opportunities in Philadelphia [where he was living at the time] were pay-to-play or performing with 15 other openers, so I saw a lane in which I could make a true impact in.” Veli’s work and passion didn’t go unnoticed, and just a year later, he met XXXTentacion’s then-manager Solomon Sounds, who was in the process of launching his own label. Veli went on to serve as the general manager of Sounds Music Group and is now a partner, where he continues to work with artists, helping them leverage their viral success to build a career with longevity.
“You have to be hungry to learn and work, be relentless and believe. It’s also important to create value within yourself that people can utilize, which will ultimately help your clients in the long run.”
In three words, how would you describe your job to someone who isn’t familiar with the music industry?
I got five words: I make dreams come true.
Can you run us through a day in your work life?
No two days are the same as a manager, especially in the music business! When I’m not on the road, a typical day consists of a bunch of emails, calls, configuring plans and finding the money.
There are a lot of budding artists out there who are waiting to get the opportunity to make a career out of music. With Veli Brand’s mission to find the “up next” in music, what advice would you give these artists?
It sounds cliche, but keep working. So many people stop just short of their moment, and so many people find ways to complain about what they don’t have instead of just getting it done with what they do have. There’s no one person that’ll make your career and no one person that’ll stop you from being great. Study the game and create your own way.
As an artist manager, what is your metric of success? When can you say that you’ve accomplished your goal for the artist?
Success is subjective and we all see it differently. Helping an artist grow, tour the world, achieve their dreams and provide for their family is success for me. Everyone isn’t meant to sell out world stadium tours and win GRAMMYs. You can be just as successful even if you only can sell out 200 cap venues — as long as you have a product people want to buy into.
“Helping an artist grow, tour the world, achieve their dreams and provide for their family is success for me.”
Did you always know you wanted to have the career you do now, and did school play any part in inspiring you to this path?
I didn’t always know I wanted to be in music, and I didn’t come from a music background. The most crucial decision in my life happened when my high school closed down right before my senior year. It was a chain reaction: without that, I would have never picked up basketball again in my senior year at a new school, I would have never gone to college for basketball and, in turn, never met my best friend at the time who inspired me to even get into the music business.
What are the necessary first steps someone should take to enter a career in music as an executive?
I think it’s important to identify what you think you have an interest in and be a student of that thing. You need to study the people who paved the way as well as rising stars in the game. I am big on articles and interviews that discuss the subject’s failures as well as their successes. It’s important to digest both.
What lessons and/or work ethics did you only pick up after working in the music industry?
I was fortunate enough to have really good mentors that helped shape my mindset. The work comes first, second and third. It’s always the most important thing, and being able to hustle is an intangible that you realize not many people have.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far and how did you overcome it?
Early on when I was producing tours and concerts, I used to want to collab with different promoters I looked up to. I struggled with looking at others as competition and measuring my success against theirs. An early mentor of mine helped me understand that it’s important to work for your own path and satisfaction, as opposed to doing it for others and hoping that they notice you. Once I learned that mindsetI was able to flourish.
“It’s important to work for your own path and satisfaction, as opposed to doing it for others and hoping that they notice you.”
Is there a secret to career longevity in this industry?
Don’t chase the money, chase the opportunity. Also, be authentic.
What are some habits you follow regularly to always maintain a good headspace for work?
Doing so is tough, but it’s important to set boundaries. Personally, I wasn’t able to set boundaries until I felt that I was successful — but boundaries can help you stay sane. They can be as small as not answering your phone after a certain hour or taking weekends off. Also, finding hobbies outside of music is important. One of my goals this year has been to work out four times a week. Even if I have a rough day workwise, I can sleep well at night knowing something positive did happen: working on my physical strength and health.
What does a day off look like for you?
A rare day off consists of relaxing. I may go see family, catch up on TV shows or movies or play basketball.
If not working in music, what would you be doing?
Prior to music becoming a reality, I wanted to get into sports broadcasting. I used to want to play professional basketball, but quickly realized I had to wake up from that dream.
Stay tuned for more features with music industry professionals — from managers to sound engineers, stagehands and others; the people who make the music world go round without standing behind a microphone.