Music managers Matthew Llewellyn and Ismael “Ish” Soto are two talented managers doing something special on the West Coast. The pair currently manage Stockton rapper MBNel, who grew to popularity through a series of releases. Both have played a hand in the explosive growth of the West Coast sound, having connected with many people alike through their work.
In our recent chat, they spoke about getting into music, misconceptions, and being hands-on amongst a list of other things. Check out the interview below.
How did you initially get into music?
Matt: “I started off helping artists and their managers with basic legal needs like management contracts and partnership agreements. A few years ago, I was introduced to Chris Ehigiator, who was 6ix9ine’s manager at the time (before the legal issues occurred). He was responsible for Danny’s rise to fame and hits like “Gummo.” He had a lot of business experience and marketing wisdom and was kind enough to share Some of the game with me. It was around that time that I decided to transition from the legal side of the music business to management.”
Ish: “I began throwing events on campus at SF State with the homie Chris O’ Bannon, called “Good Vibes.” We brought artists out, such as Lil Pete, Show Banga, OMB Peezy, All Black, Nef The Pharaoh, and T-Pain …that eventually turned into a summer opportunity at Capitol Records, which I consider my first music job in the industry. While at Capitol, I was exposed to artists like 6ix9ine, Migos, Lil Baby, TM88 and other hip-hop acts. I remember being a part of the A&R meeting when they were trying to sign acts like AzChike and Drakeo The Ruler (before he was sentenced to life in prison).“
What are some of the obstacles you face managing an emerging artist?
Matt: “I think the biggest misconception that emerging artists have is that success happens overnight. Artists, like most people, want immediate success and notoriety. It’s really important to set expectations for your artist. This business is a marathon. I don’t care how good your music is…it takes time to develop a fan base and develop relationships with the right people to gain exposure and momentum. As a manager, there are no days off. If your artist has a problem (personal or otherwise), it’s your problem to fix. You have to make yourself available at all times and be willing to do things that you might not want to do. It’s a thankless job…the fans, industry executives, and even the artist themselves rarely understand the sacrifices managers make behind the scenes.”
Is there anyone in your corner who you go to for advice?
Ish: TK Kimbro (the Founder of R Baron at Atlantic Records) and manager of Shoreline Mafia, 03 Greedo, Mac P, and others is someone I go to for advice when it comes to culture and politics. TK is someone I consider my first mentor in the game, he put me on early to a lot of shit in the R BARON WORLD; he introduced me to Rosecrans Vic, Giggles, Irene, and others who I consider family now. Mike Chehade is another person I always go to for advice about everything. If there is something I need or a person I want to connect with, Mike is the first person to make the introduction.
Matt: “I often go to two of my boys for advice – my business partner Gavin McNeill and Maurice Frazier. Gavin is the founder and Creative Director of Supervsn Studios and 4Hunnid. Gavin’s worked with artists like YG, DJ Mustard, Mitch, Kehlani and others; he always gives me sound, no bad advice, and helps me keep things in perspective. My other boy, Maurice, is an A&R at Def Jam and works with Grammy Award-winning artists like Jhene and Logic.
How hands-on do you get while working with an artist?
Matt: “I think it depends on the artist. I will get as hands-on as the artist wants. With MBNel, he’s open-minded and allows me to give advice and creative direction on songs, features, and music videos. While other artists want to control all aspects of their creative vision – which is perfectly fine. It just depends on what the artist is comfortable with.”
What’s a common misconception that people have about management?
Ish: “People assume managers just babysit artists, that’s not the case…we run the show behind the scenes, making our clients lives easier by accomplishing tasks artists wouldn’t otherwise care about, but is necessary, such as connecting dots, administrative work, coming up with artist campaigns, negotiating contracts, and anything that revolves around the business.”
In your experience, what’s the best way to build a relationship with labels and so forth?
Matt: “The best way to be build relationships in the industry is to be a solid person. There’s a lot of fake people in the industry and even more people who only like what’s “hot” at the moment. You have to do your best to identify the real, solid people and avoid the others. If you have a talented artist and you develop them properly, the music will eventually get the recognition it deserves and the labels will find you.”
What advice would you give to aspiring managers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Matt: “Find an artist you truly believe in and stick with it. It takes time.”
Ish: “Enjoy the process, don’t forget to smell the roses”
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