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Managers Series: Anson Soverall, Manager of BET Nominee Nailah Blackman

Managers Series: Anson Soverall, Manager of BET Nominee Nailah Blackman

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Starting off the manager series, Anson Soverall was on the mind to have a conversation with.  In the space of 17 months?  He has taken Nailah Blackman from international obscurity to becoming well known and a BET international nominee.  That’s quite an achievement for someone who describes himself as a newcomer to the managerial role.  In addition, Anson is a successful producer in his own right. Spending some time at the Grenadian Rex over the Spice Mas season in Grenada, I had a chance again to speak to Anson about his role as a manager.

Did Nailah approach you for management or did you approach her? It was mutual. I had always heard of her on the underground circuit. She used to be… we have that niche of live acoustics and the rappers. And in that circle, I knew of her talent and I saw her personal videos and stuff and I thought ‘This girl is really talented’.  And I knew eventually  our paths would cross. We met at a music TT conference in Trinidad.  That was about three years back.  And we started working from then.  When she met me, she wanted to work with me and I wanted to work with her. So, we were just working but not on soca.  Initially we were doing what she calls ‘Caribbean folk’ or hip hop or R’n’B.  We were just doing genres.  We were just being creative. And then there was one day, she came to the studio and said ‘I wanna do soca’.   And it just so happens that I was working on a track that would become the song ‘Work Out’.  I was working on the production for it.  Around that same period of time, there was a label from Hawaii who was reaching out to her.  And she said, ‘There are some people from Hawaii who are interested’.  And I said ‘That’s funny, that’s the name of my beat, Hawaii.’ So I played it and the rest was history.

We already had the working chemistry. Once ‘Work Out’ was done, and we had Kes on the track, I was helping with the marketing of the song and was sending it to my DJs and friends in the business and messaging people, cause I was trying to find a manager for her. I called a few people and everybody was like ‘I too busy, I have too much one my hands’. I thought  ‘Ok cool’, I’ll do it’.  At the time her brother was managing her and I was more in a road manager capacity but then half way through the season, because he was away and not present on the ground here, it wasn’t making sense, cause I was doing everything anyway, I just assumed the full role of manager.

What is the difference between a road manager and full manager? Cause I have met both and sometimes the lines are blurred.  The lines can be blurred yes.  Well a road manager deals with the road.  They deal with the PDMs, money to collect. You want to make sure that the stage is set right. They take care of on the road.  Because our team is very small, I’m kinda holding two portfolios mainly because and I think this is why our strategy is working, what I am doing, I am managing on the road, but I am also producing on the road.

That’s a big job. Yes. Producing on the road has been our advantage.

But then again, I am thinking of burn out. You’re doing two roles…  It feels like three to be honest…  Really? So how do you cope with that? And will you ever change your strategy to include more people? Well we have included as the need has arisen, we have brought on a co-manager, that’s Lorraine. But Lorraine at this stage is handling more books, handling the business.  You know there is a lot of business going on behind the scenes that I just can’t do because I am not there. Then we brought on an assistant to help her. It kind of frees me up a bit more.  I mean we would love to have a much bigger team.  But we have to be realistic about how much money this will cost. Also, we are in this for the long haul.  And a lot of people make that mistake where they take on too much and the money runs out and what happens then.

What is your personal philosophy for managing Nailah or managing anyone?  Well for starters, I don’t bite off more than I can chew. I manage only one artist.  I see they are a lot of managers who have multiple artists.  Testament to their skills and their length of time in the business.  Some can handle it. At some point in time I may take on someone else.  But at this current stage, because I am taking her from zero (she doesn’t like me to say zero) but the reality is she was relatively unknown in the wider sense to this level of popularity.  It would have been a lot harder if I had to that sharing my time with other people.

What is your personal style?  I’m a workaholic. Hard work beats luck, hard work beats everything at the end of the day.  It’s like the lotto. You cyah have a better chance of winning the lotto if you purchase one ticket.  For me my hard work is purchasing many tickets and I have a better chance of winning the lotto.

What are your strengths as a manager? Umm I think, well definitely the fact that I can produce. I  think, that gives me a completely different air for music. I am heavily involved in the selection of songs with her. She is very particular I would say.  Another strength is that I am new. I believe that is a strength because I haven’t been schooled in the old ways of doing things. I have new ideas, a fresh outlook on how things are done and I am very green.  You don’t sound very green to me. I don’t because I use common sense most of the time.  To me is like, you have an artist and you want to make them popular. How you make them popular?  There are steps that I do to make them popular.  Then you want to make her a house hold name.  Then you want to build her social media. You want her songs to be big.  Just common sense. And you just fill the blanks in with your style and your strategy.

What are the things you think you need to work on a bit more as a manager? I need to work on my communication.  Because I am doing so much, it has become very difficult for me to keep up with how many people my network now contains. Like that was my strength before, maintaining networks and relationships.  Now it is so hard and so difficult as there are so many people I must liaise with daily for the wheels to continue working.

How did Nailah happen to be nominated for the BET awards?  Well you see, we work. Work, work, work.  To the point where we have arguments about ‘Okay now it is time to not work.’  We put ourselves in a strict regimen.  We travel a lot and people might see the hotels and the picturesque views and think ‘They on vacation’. But 95% of the time, we are working.

I remember even in London, you guys were at a studio working. We were at a studio in London, we were in Barbados, after the carnival, we went to the studio.  We went to work on a track, straight to the airport and if we had enough time here in Grenada, we would have found a studio.  We are always working, writing.  I was just eating lunch with my headphone and lap top.  We have songs to finish.

The BET… I am not too sure how that works as it was a genuine nomination. I am not too sure about the criteria, but my assumption is that they look at who is the new artist out, look at their performance in terms of their streams, their activity, their bookings.   I think that’s how they do it.  Cause if you look at Nailah from which she started to now which is only 17 months. Our songs ‘Work Out’ has 10 million views, Baila 9 million views, Baddish is 5 million.  It collectively adds up. This is just You Tube.  And we are not counting streams on Apple and Tidal, these major things. So, the labels, what they look at is algorithms. The stats, they have software that pulls this out and they say ‘Yo, this person is doing really well for someone who just came up’.  I think that is the criteria. That as well as the buzz we have been able to create by just creating a heavy presence in the industry.

Since the nomination, has much changed for Nailah?  I We don’t feel the difference. We are just as busy.  More bookings have come through.  But it was coming… I don’t feel a dip or an increase, it has just been steady bookings. The pressure is on because now the expectations have grown even more because people are expecting her to be the one to win the Grammy.  We have been hearing Grammy mentioned a lot. Obviously, we have the weight of the Caribbean people, the Blackman name, the Soca lovers.  Then you have the weight of Trinidad and Tobago…

I remember you saying you had a three-year plan for Nailah.  Has that changed? No, we still on par, we right on schedule.  Remember when we last spoke, that I mentioned to you?  About the international nominations and look what happen…

Yess and when the BET nomination came I thought ‘That man must be able to read the future’ . [Laughter] Nah we just doing the right things to make these situations available and once they become available, the key is to maximise on it.

Nailah is becoming more popular. How do you protect her? From all those who want her time, her attention or more?  How do you discern who is good for her and who isn’t for her to communicate with? I try to teach her how to do that on her own rather than me doing that.  Because if I have to constantly be that person, then the minute I am not there, what happens? I am constantly teaching her to discern and how to be observant and how to see through people and the BS. I mean she is a smart person, she is beyond her years. But I constantly add my wisdom to that. So that way whether I am around or not, she can handle her stories.  Do you think she is getting it? Yeah, she is getting it.  Sometimes, there are little hiccups where she will make little blunders but that is normal because she is young and that is the best way to learn but for the most part I think she is receptive and that’s one of the reasons for success I guess.

I’ve met quite a few managers now and sometimes their ego seems a lot bigger than the artists they manage. How do you keep your ego in check? Well I have never had a big ego to begin with.  So, it is not in my nature or personality to be like that.  I don’t really want the spotlight.  It comes with the territory. And at times believe it or not, the manager gets very little respect. There are many times when people lose the chain of command and go straight to the artist and they expect the artist to tell them how much you want for a show. There is a manager for a reason. So, for me it is all about balance. I don’t let success get to my head.

But for some managers it does. They bigger the artist gets, the greater the ego. So, for example, Nailah getting to the levels of Rihanna…  I’m glad you mention Rihanna. When I reach to the point that I am winning multiple Grammys, I think I have earned the right to have a big head [laughter].  know what I mean? I have earned that right. So, when I get to that level?  Expect a different me [laughter].  But until I reach to there where I can back up my ego with stats? I am going to be normal. It makes sense. You don’t expect Rihanna to come here and be all humble and modest. No. She’s Rihanna. She’s earned the right.

What are your personal goals for yourself as a manager? For me, I’ve put to much time and energy into building her, sometimes I forget that I am a producer and an artist in my own right. And I do have goals and aspirations. And one of them is to become, I am aiming to become a senior VP in a label. I mean if you look at the track record of all the other label heads of VPs.  This is the criteria. If you read their stories, this what that happened.

From a managerial perspective, is there anyone you look up to?  From a manager’s perspective, there is Khaled, there’s Diddy, there’s Duro.  He ushered in a new era of hip hop.  I can see where I could go. I have learnt. My strategies are to learn from others’ mistakes. You are not going to get it right every time but it helps.

Anson is a quietly spoken individual whose intelligence, ambition, drive and clear plan is apparent when speaking to him. His work rate is incredible. And his strategy for Nailah Blackman appears to be getting the results he and Nailah want.  His current managerial style appears to be working.  I’m quite intrigued to see how his future success will bring about the ‘different’ Anson.

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