MBW’s World’s Greatest Managers series showcases the best artist managers in global business. Here we introduce Khalid’s manager, Courtney Stewart. He discusses his star client’s idiosyncratic style, touring with Ed Sheeran, and his goal of making a cultural impact. Supporting the world’s best managers Centripan intelligent finance, payments and forex specialist, founded with the music industry and its needs in mind.
When Courtney Stewart first entered management, he was. Young and poor, but far from stupid.
He had just graduated from Alabama State University and moved to Los Angeles with childhood friend and aspiring R&B singer Bobby Valentino (now known as Bobby V).
“He was the first artist I managed. He trusted me, gave me the opportunity, said I could do it, and I managed him for eight years.
“At first we were sleeping on the couch trying to get as much time in the studio as possible. [producers] Tim [Kelley] and bob [Robinson], we already knew. They were on fire then. They’re like the OGs of R&B. They said, ‘Don’t worry about paying, we’ll put you in the studio, let’s get to work and see what we can do.’and then they [Tim and Bob and Bobby Valentino] Created slow down together [US No. 8, 2005]”
But at first, management was meant to be a mere transit point for Stewart, a distraction on his way to becoming an artist in his own right. It’s more of a liking than a career.
“It was a case of, ‘Let’s do this, let’s get Bobby to a popular place, and I can keep my job.’ and I realized that was my real skill set.”
He says the most important lesson he learned when he first tasted success was the importance of relationships. “Go to the label, go to the radio, meet the guys. And stay in touch with these people. Listen to their phone numbers, call them on holidays and say Merry Christmas.” Call me and wish me a happy new year and let’s make some real friendships.
“Now that I have been in the industry for 18 years, I still keep in touch with many of the people from back then and there is a lot of respect between us. Your situation may have been fleeting, but you worked really hard as a kid to get here.”
Four Top 10 albums with Bobby V were certainly no spark, but Stewart’s management career took off when he discovered a kid named Khalid and posted a self-made genre-blending track on SoundCloud. reached great heights.
“Hearing that voice, that tone, it hit me,” Stewart recalls. “And it was a combination of prose and lyrics that I had never encountered before.”
“I flew to El Paso, where he was in high school at the time, to meet him and his mother. We both had the same idea: our thoughts were aligned, our beliefs were aligned, our values were aligned, and from there we built what we continue to build today. Done, this was incredible.
“He also knew exactly what he wanted back then. I thought, ‘Look, you know where you want to go. You just need it, and I’ll connect the dots and help you navigate.”
So far, the pair’s planned course has spawned two Top 5 albums. [American Teen, No. 4, 2017; Free Spirit, No. 1, 2019], a string of Top 10 singles and acclaimed collaborations with artists such as Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran, Hallsey and Marshmello. A sold-out worldwide arena tour was also held.
Stewart speaks in terms of decades as he plans the rest of his and Khalid’s journey. And with his superstar client now opening for friend and fan Ed Sheeran’s US leg of his math tour, the latest global stadium for one of the biggest solo artists of the last 20 years. – The fact that he has a supporting role in the show. Don’t let him think how far they’ve come. His eyes sparkle with ambition when he thinks of how far he can go…
What was the key to breaking Khalid?
when he made position [US No. 16, 2016]was a very unique song. It was nothing like what was on the radio at the time.
And I felt that the lyrics of this song resonate very much with the hearts of young people. It was songwriting genius, because even the hooksend me your location‘, that was really what was happening when the two kids met.
Now that I’m older, I call my friends or message them with the name of the restaurant. Their jargon is, “Hey, tell me where you are.” People have noticed it.
He reflected and embraced the culture and put his own melody and voice behind it, which catapulted the song into a mainstream hit.
What made you want to sign Khalid to RCA?
Tunji Balogun, the RCA A&R who signed Khalid, has a very, very good taste. And he understood the task. And it was the same when we went with him to see Peter Edge. He understood the task.
They didn’t tell us what to do. They said, “You already have this. All you need is our resources to support you and help you get there.”
The biggest is that Khalid is a black artist, and black artists are often framed as R&B or urban contemporary. And his biggest characteristic is, “I don’t want to be boxed.” He doesn’t want to be labeled. I am a wall breaker. ”
Peter, Tanji and RCA figured it out. And it worked and it was a great partnership.
How would you define your personal relationship with Khalid?
I’m a lot older than him, so we’re like brother and brother, or father and son. But we respect each other and that’s the biggest thing.
I understand that he is more into culture and social media than I am. because he is young. He grew up on the Internet.
So when he talks about music culture on social media, I listen to him and don’t pretend to know, because I understand that’s his world.
But he respects my experience, knowledge and strategy. I give him advice and he always listens. That is the greatest blessing of our relationship and the respect we have for each other.
Please tell us about the release plans for the new album [provisionally titled Everything Is Changing]?
No release date has been set yet. But we’re busy, he just started a stadium tour with Ed Sheeran and they have a great relationship.
Ed is a great performer. There are 60,000 or 70,000 spectators there every night, but just to see him direct the crowd like that… To Khalid, who he admires, how they work, I think it would be great to see if we can learn from it and grow from it.
Coming back to your question, all I can say about the record is that this is going to be his best album. I’m not saying it just for the sake of it, I’m saying it because his growth as a person, as an artist, as a songwriter, as a production, he’s working on something really special.
Looking ahead, what are your long-term career ambitions?
I think one of our goals is to help him identify other artists who could help me grow. Because he’s a phenomenal songwriter.
right hand [Music Group, Stewart’s management-and-more company] representing British artist Sinead Harnett [pictured]. They have had the opportunity to collaborate and have developed great friendships and relationships. That’s what I want to do 10 or 20 years from now.
I think songwriters are very special beings. And Khalid is a really great songwriter. Therefore, we hope that collaborating with or writing for other artists that we have identified will lead to great long-term success.
You mentioned Right Hand Music, why did you decide to start the company and what are your ambitions in terms of how big you want the company to be?
The long-term goal is to become a hybrid of music management company, label, film and television company. This is a safe haven where creativity can flourish, and we help it flourish.
That’s what makes me happiest. Because, as I said earlier, I wanted to be an artist. And the artist is still in me.
I don’t want to face it head-on these days, but Right Hand gives me the opportunity to work with people who inspire me, go into the field with them, and create and develop something special just like Khalid. gave me And I did.
Can you also tell us about another label you are involved with, Keep Cool Records?
So Tunji, me, and [Def Jam marketing exec] Jared Sherman, we started Keep Cool together. I found Normani and Lucky Day, to name two. It was an opportunity for us to continue curating artists on a smaller scale.
Because it was important to us. Tanzi already had a lot of roster he had to oversee at RCA. I already had Khalid. So this is not a rush to get started, how can he identify two or three things that he really, really likes and build on that?
As you know, we really spend a lot of time developing artists. Artist development is something that is lost on some labels. Now they want it signed, sealed and delivered so the artist can leave immediately.
Of course, Keep Cool has changed now, with Tunji now chairman and CEO of Def Jam Records. [the label is a JV with Sony Music] And we are really, really proud of him.
But Lucky Day is still keep cool and thriving. And we continue to support and nurture our artists so they can continue to grow.
Who has been your most important mentor throughout your career?
First of all, I would like to introduce two managers that I have admired since childhood. Especially Irving Azoff, Troy Carter and Jonathan Dickins.
Chaka Zulu and Jeff Dixon [Ludacris’ managers and co-founders of Disturbing Tha Peace, who first signed Bobby V] They were great mentors to me in my early twenties and really taught me the business.
Sony Music’s head of business affairs, Julie Swidler, is also a key mentor. She has contributed so much to my career.
But, you know, what I want to build is what Irving Azoff was able to build. And then there’s Troy Carter, the black manager who could make Lady Gaga the biggest artist in the world. That’s what I hope to do with Khalid and other artists.
What is the proudest moment in your career so far?
I think it was when Khalid’s arena tour sold out free spirit . It’s done all over the world and in Australia’s biggest arena as we did two nights at the 02 arena in London.
“I don’t want to put a ceiling on my head. I want to build a legacy that has a big impact, that’s my goal.”
It was a moment where I really had to step back and thank God, because that was the goal, to be honest. Oh, I felt like I really did it.
But it’s funny and everything has levels, so I’m glad you asked that question. Right now we’re on a stadium tour with Ed Sheeran. And yes, I’m still very proud that we were able to fill the arena, but now we have to reach the stadium level. The struggle never stops and I love it. I am more motivated than ever. I don’t want the ceiling over my head. My goal is to build a legacy that has a big impact.
Conversely, what was the most difficult moment in your career?
The challenge is the peaks and valleys of this business. One thing everyone needs to understand is that you don’t stay hot forever. There will be seasons
So the hardest thing is to continue with conviction and have confidence in yourself when you’re in a valley like that. Because you start rethinking yourself. When I was at the bottom of my career, I thought to myself many times.
Even if you succeed, you’ll think, “Has my time passed?” can i try again? Then have that faith.
Now I am grateful to be in that valley and that rock bottom. Because that’s when character grows. Then you will know who your true friends are and who you really are.
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