Interview with MANNY HALLEY, manager for Keyshia Cole - Mar 17, 2008
"There are so many talented artists, and the people that have power to sign them don’t sign them,"... says Manny Halley, challenging the policies of the majors.
Halley can prove his risk taking is worth it - as he broke his artist Keyshia Cole to the US Top 10.
Halley speaks to HitQuarters about the importance of branding and artist visibility, about his involvement in producing the 'Blaze the Stage' showcases, and his foray into TV and film.
What was significant in developing your managing skills?
I started promoting parties. Then as a party promoter I decided to expand to management.
What was significant was just connections. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. It was all about believing that what I hear can move into the right place at the time.
Born in NYC, how did you end up in LA?
I toured LA a couple of years back to focus on producing some movies. I produced a movie with the rapper Nas. I did a couple of movies with Regina King. So my involvement in LA started with producing movies.
When did you start Imani Entertainment Group?
Imani was given to me as my birth name. I developed the company around 2002.
Things went big in 2005 when I had success with Keyshia Cole, who is co-owning the label now. Distribution goes through Geffen.
Is it a all-in-one entertainment company?
Correct. We have Imani Records, Imani Films, Imani Television; all under the umbrella of Imani Entertainment Group.
For publishing we go out to certain producers to offer them publishing deals.
What was your view on how to approach the music business?
Believe in your ears. My approach was basically being determined about what I believe in and what I hear.
What artists are you currently working with?
C-Side, who are signed to Imani Entertainment Management through Universal; Keyshia Cole, Materia and Frankie, also on Imani Entertainment; Amina (Harris), on Imani Records; Terri Woods, author, on Imani Films. I’m always looking to expand my roster.
In what ways do you look for new ways to develop your artists and allow them gain more success?
More and more visibility. More marketing and branding for each one of my artists. We always do that.
In regards to new artists, what is the level they need to reach in order for you to start working with them?
It’s not a matter of level, just real talent and the hunger you have and understanding that it’s a 24 hours a day work.
Knowing that sometimes you’ve got to do things that you don’t want to do. You’ve got to get up and fly. Make some compromises.
How involved are you with the repertoire and production?
100% involved. I don’t produce the music myself, but I’m in it 100% when it comes to picking tracks, or determining certain words in song lyrics. I’m all over it, I’m just not the actual producer.
What’s discussed on the first meetings with a new act?
My first questions are: who do you want to be in the next couple of years? Who is your favourite artist? Who did you grow up listening to? And why did you pick this profession?
How should a new act prepare itself for a professional career?
In terms of knowing what they consist of as an act. You spend hours in the studio, and you might realise you don’t like doing it. You might sing in a certain style but in order to sell records you have to compromise.
There are a lot of different areas that I bring up to the artists’ attention. I’m not saying that it’s going to work on them or that we want to use it on them, I just want to make sure that they have an open mind about it.
How did you first meet Keyshia Cole?
One of my producers that was working on a movie with me introduced me to her in 2003.
In what way could you contribute to her success?
We really worked together hand in hand. Putting on a tour down to the very minute details. Running around in studios. I call it ‘grinding’.
It was a natural process. She was talented and I was connected. I just had to connect the dots.
Where did the success of breaking her with ‘The Way It Is’ in 2005 lead you?
To a TV deal, a couple of book deals, and a label deal. It led to some successful touring with her. And establishing the company.
‘Just Like You’, her sophomore album was more successful than her first album, and that shows growth. We try to beat this album double platinum and keep grinding every day.
How did the two seasons of the BET reality series ‘Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is’ come about?
When we had her first album out we really had a lot of BET and MTV love. I decided to put on a label, shoot a video and travel her around.
We actually hit the streets hard and hit the clubs every night. We followed it around and pitched it to BET and they said it’s something that they want to put on the network. And then it ended up becoming the No.1 hit at BET.
How did the recent tour with R.Kelly come about?
We get offers. It was actually just good timing. This was the only R&B tour at this time with R.Kelly, Ne-Yo and different people.
What are the other sources you find new talent through?
People call the office. They reach out for me. They see my face, they see my talent, they Google me, they find my company and they send it to us.
Do you prefer being self-contained or are you looking for outside songs?
It could be outside songs from artists or writers or big producers. It could even be a new writer or new producer.
I have to hear it and say to myself, that’s the record I think should be a hit or that’s a record I think could be an album seller. That’s just my ear.
I call a lot of publishers and they play me tracks.
What new avenues are you trying to reach for your artists to present their music through?
Besides the management company, we’re focusing right now on TV and the label.
You executive-produced the Blaze the Stage Holiday Invitational showcase in NYC, can you tell us more about it?
Yes, the aim was helping to find talent and giving them a shot with a management deal.
The competition is held twice a year (the Summer Invitational and the Holiday Invitational).
Blaze the Stage showcases the most popular unsigned R&B acts, hip-hop acts, and dance teams who have gained national exposure by competing on the Wild-Out Wednesday segment on BET’s flagship music show, 106th & PARK.
Blaze the Stage is considered to be a homecoming for the W.O.W. winners, as they also return to compete in one showdown for major cash prizes, bragging rights, and the respect of some major players in music and television.
The three categories (R&B, hip hop, dance) featured performers between the ages 14 and 21, from more than 15 different states.
Traditionally, the Blaze the Stage contestants mainly focus on winning their respective categories and getting discovered by the judges and VIP’s in attendance.
What would you like to change in the music industry?
I would change the people that have the power and the ability to go out and sign talent. I would remove them for people that are willing to take a chance.
There are so many talented artists, and the people that have power to sign them don’t sign them. I would change the people that don’t have the guts to go ahead and sign the talent.
The chairmen of all those companies, all they do is they hire A&Rs and they’re going to bring talent to the building so they can take it to the next level.
But it starts with the A&Rs. They are not hungry to do what they’ve got to do. They need to do a good job. They should give new acts a good chance.
What’s your view on artist development?
Yes, we do that. Whether it’s a media trainer or anything else that is needed, I hire people to do that.
What’s coming up for Imani Entertainment Group in 2008?
This year we will do a lot of branding, and we’re about to make an Imani Entertainment compilation album.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
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