Artist management is a thankless and semi-anonymous profession. No formal education prepares one for the balancing act between maintaining day-to-day schedules, resolving complicated logistics, analyzing multiple lucrative business ventures for a client, converting into a confidant and therapist when outcomes seem bleak, and bearing the responsibility when issues arise and receiving little credit when things go off without a hitch.
Multiply the aforementioned list of expectations by four and you might understand Saleh’s typical weekday. Saleh gained a spot on the FORBES 30 Under 30 In Music: Class Of 2015 list through his accomplishments as the CEO of the artist management firm, Emagen Entertainment Group, that houses a limited roster that includes budding R&B act Alina Baraz, Atlanta crooner Future, and hip-hop icon Nas.
Throughout my conversation with Saleh, it was evident that his management style is a mix of simplistic business philosophies and home-taught values that produced pervasive quotes and a list of intangible talents involving natural-born instincts, trust between his artists, and the ability to professionally wing it.
NATURAL BORN INSTINCTS - “I just relied on the morals and values that I learned as a kid growing up and applied them to business.”
Raised in Los Angeles, California, Saleh never intended on attending college to pursue a degree in finance only to end up in the music industry on the opposite end of the country.
“I just needed a little bit of extra money at the time,” Saleh recalled. A move from California to New York (and a long connection of friends introducing friends to other friends) opened the door for a management position with Nas at the age of 23. “I came in around the same time that he was firing everybody around him and I just naturally became the guy who started handling things for him.”
Despite being 11 years Saleh’s senior, Nas trusted his new partner’s input enough to credit him as the executive producer - a title shared with songwriter and current CEO of Epic Records, L.A. Reid - of his 2008 untitled album. Though the emcee had over 15 years of experience in the industry compared to his manager’s zero, he accepted the honest suggestions and refreshing point of view on marketing. “Nas doesn’t have much of an ego,” Saleh said. “If he trusts you then he’ll let you do the things you need to do.”
TRUST BETWEEN HIS ARTISTS - “When you reach certain milestones, trust just naturally happens based on the work you do.”
Saleh approaches the subject of trust with a two-tier 95/5 rule: his clients hold 95% of the creative control with Saleh chiming in only 5% of the time. Inversely, he handles 95% of the business with a 5% advisement from his clients. “I want them to have complete control over their creative input and allow me to do what I do best, which is run the business and sell whatever is created. If I have to be involved in the creative, I’m not as effective with the business.”
From 2009 to 2012, Nas’ personal and financial lives were on public display. The rapper was juggling a divorce, tax issues, and a new album to create, but Saleh served as the main source of support while the rapper put the financial pieces of his life back together. Following Nas’ 11th album, Life Is Good, Saleh took it upon himself to help rebuild and rebrand his client’s commitment to his fans (and concert promoters), as well as negotiate multi-million dollar endorsement deals with Hennessy and Sprite.
Saleh’s collegiate pursuit in finance was not in vain either. “Nas is super into investing in the tech world,” Saleh stated. As any good manager would do, Saleh advised his client to position himself with “the smartest people in the world” to create the venture capitalist company, Queensbridge Venture Partners. Since its creation, the firm has aligned with and invested in over 50 companies, including Dropbox, Lyft, and Casper - an online mattress retailer that was listed as #6 on FORBES Hottest Startups Of 2015 list.
THE ABILITY TO PROFESSIONALLY WING IT - “I think succeeding in the music business is much more about pivoting on the fly, rather than having an air-tight plan.”
Atlanta hip hop artist, Future, released his sophomore album, Honest, to a disappointing outcome in 2014. With only 50,000 units sold in its first week, it was questionable if Future would have more of an impact in his coming years.
As soon as Future was clear of prior management agreements, Saleh took the challenge of renovating the artist’s career in late 2014 and was eager to prove that the rapper could create his lane as a superstar.
“He needed a team that he felt had his back for his vision,” said Saleh. “I advised him against doing a lot of features, and it worked. It made him feel like he was an independent act rather than a guy who just does big hooks. He had a lot more to offer than that.”
In addition to scaling back on featured appearances, Saleh focused on positioning upcoming releases on free download sites and streaming sites. The no-money-down approach regenerated a buzz for his client, and within nine months – from October 2014 to July 2015 – Future released three mixtapes, opened for Drake on the six-date Jungle Tour, and released a Billboard-topping project with his third album, DS2. In the middle of the album's campaign, Saleh convinced Future’s label to release a collaborative album with Drake weeks after DS2’s release. The joint album not only fed the Future frenzy but allowed for a list of accomplishments for both artists involved, granting Future two No. 1 albums in less than two months.
Like a seasoned entrepreneur, Anthony Saleh shakes off the missteps, uses them as the mentors he never had, and trudges forward. Though his career rested on self-reliance, Saleh makes himself available to those who need guidance in a “what have you done for me lately” industry. Whether it is an artist or a fellow manager who understands the daily highs and lows, Saleh does not believe in withholding information.
“I didn’t have mentors when I was coming up, but I had a lot of people who were down to help me. I don’t think people necessarily need mentors anymore, but people could definitely use a break here and there.”