“I made a way where a way shouldn’t have been.” These words resonated with me after my long, eye-opening conversation with Veli, a Philadelphia native whose drive and focus under Veli Brand have allowed him to not only survive, but flourish in times of great uncertainty. “To be honest man, I’ve been fortunate.” Veli tells me. Above all else, he’s a multi-faceted entrepreneur - as soon as concerts became obsolete in the face of COVID-19, Veli turned his attention wholly to artist management - where he excelled - enlisting artists like StaySolidRocky and 645AR, among other incredible talent.
When one door closes in Veli’s world, another is already open. He’s got hands in artist management, concert coordination, promotion and booking, and even luxury transportation. He doesn’t break stride. It wasn’t always like this, but there’s a reason for this. Early in his music career, Veli recognized that quality over quantity would set him apart in the industry. Unsurprisingly, it did.
Today, Veli is nothing short of successful. With his unrelenting work ethic, it seems as though there’s nowhere to go but up - no one knows this as well as the man in question. This past week, I was fortunate to sit down and speak with one of the east coast’s hardest working music minds in an exclusive interview for Burbs Entertainment.
Carter: Were music management and concert promotion fields that you always aspired to pursue, or was there a certain point when you decided that you could do it later in life?
Veli: I never had aspirations of being in the music business, to be honest with you. I don't come from a background of musicians. My family wasn't into all that. No singers, really none of that. So, I started actually getting into new music when I was in college; I was playing basketball then for my school. I was trying to find my way. So, I was playing basketball in my second year, and I wanted to figure out a way to set myself up now for when I leave college so that I know what I'm doing - as opposed to focusing on basketball or things that won't really be relevant after those four years.
I was, and always have been, a busy guy. One of my friends at the time was getting into music and rapping, and I pretty much was learning about business and the music industry. I knew a little bit of business going in, so they let me do management. That was when I was 20. It’s crazy how that led to so many great things; I quit playing college ball to kind of focus on music and focus on my career.
Carter: How did you set yourself apart from other folks trying to break into the same industry path as you from the jump?
Veli: Early on in managing artists, I saw how tough it was for indie artists to score good, quality concerts. I realized quickly that you gotta pay to play. Overall, I didn’t feel like it was a good atmosphere for any young artist to come up in. So, I started doing my own shows. Everywhere I looked, I saw 15-30 artist bills. I did it differently. I would pick five to seven artists that I actually cared for; I truly cared about the music. Profit was an afterthought for me; I never focused on the money coming up. I never cared if an artists brought out fans - the question from me was always, “Do you have good music at your shows?” I just felt like if I built a brand where the concerts were quality and the music was fire, people would respect it. Lots of these shows got people coming for their friends and then leaving. I wanted to build a music environment. That’s what I focused on - and is really how I got into music and shows.
Carter: Alright, so you’d say you were focused more on the community aspect and less on a stream of profit at first? I feel like once you get that set in place, everything else takes care of itself. Am I right in saying that?
Veli: I focused on my brand for what I wanted to represent, and I never let money be the deciding factor for the majority of the decisions I made early on. I wanted to focus on building the content, getting the content out - making sure I establish a solid reputation. I wanted it so that when you see a recap of an event I put on, you know you missed out; that’s what gets people to come the next time. Nobody knew if I was making thousands of dollars, hundreds of dollars, or losing money... I just made sure that the content was good and I was building my brand up so that I could get in different spaces… then I could make money.
The big thing for me is this: your reputation will make you more money than money will make you money. You get that? Your reputation can get you through different doors that you may not have gotten on a “pay to play” basis or if you are just purely chasing the bag. It’s about making those connections.
Carter: Would you say there was a turning point in which you came to the realization that [music management and concert promotion] was something you could take seriously full-time?
Veli: I felt like I had a gift. I quit my last full-time job right around when I graduated college in 2015.
Carter: Okay, so it’s been a minute since you left the standard 9-5 grind… like half a decade?
Veli: [Laughing] Man, you make me sound old when you say it like that. I like the sound of “five years” more than “half a decade"
Carter: [Laughing] You’re right, that’s my bad. Five years does have a much nicer ring to it.
Veli: So, I graduated college five years ago with a business major; I was working management at the Dollar General at the time. I was going through a lot when I quit that gig, just trying to figure out what I wanted to do - I wasn’t happy at all with my current situation. I took a leap into the music world around December of 2013. Most importantly, though, is that I was still hustling side jobs like landscaping and all that. 2015 is when I finally decided I was done with everything. I committed to the music industry full-time in every sense. Overall, the turning point was that unhappy point in my life where I came to the understanding that I had no option but to dig deeper for the sake of myself.
What goes unsaid a lot is the ability to find that beast within. A lot of people in this line of work will tell you to quit your job and chase your dreams, but they never mention that next morning after you end that stream of profit. That’s when I realized I was different; I had that in me. I woke up that next day with no paycheck or benefits; that’ll bring the animal out of you, or show that you’re scared. There’s nothing wrong with grinding a full-time job, though. I just feel like sometimes people wanna beautify being broke. I’m telling you; it's not beautiful. I just started rambling there, but yeah.
Carter: I’m sure you have fielded this question numerous times over the summer, but I believe it’s still as important as it was in May or June: I can imagine COVID-19 has made your profession, especially concerts, very difficult. What are some ways you’ve tried to innovate and evolve your craft in times of uncertainty?
Veli: To be honest, man, I’ve been fortunate. Luckily, when everything ended with the concerts, everything with the management took off. So, I've been blessed; I really haven't had to focus on any concerts. We have offers out for potential shows down the line in 2021, and that's that. But yeah, I’ve been really fortunate in that sense. I don't wanna make no BS; I just fortunately have been blessed that I don't have to worry about that right now. We are working on doing a drop, plus there's potential for doing drive-in concerts.
Carter: That’s right, I heard you were putting together “Pull-Up Palooza.”
Veli: Yeah, that got canceled due to permit and sound issues with the venue. Still, I think there is still potential for drive-in concerts down the line... but for me, that’s a bonus. Right now, I’m focused on the management.
I feel confident, strong enough in my brand that if we pick up late in 2021, it’ll be right where I left off. I know people have done virtual concerts, but that's not really a thing that I want to do.
Carter: Let’s talk more about your brand. When I was on your page, I saw that you are immersing yourself into multiple lanes. One thing that stood out to me was VIP Transportation. Do you want to elaborate on that at all?
Veli: I do have another company called VIP Transportation. VIP Transportation is kind of like UberBLACK; we got high-quality vehicles for high-quality clients who want transportation to the airport, to the hotel, a business outing, a medical client, all of the above.
I'm also interested/working in the vendor business; I just got my LLC for that. It’s gonna be called Velidelphia… someone said it on Twitter, and it just hit for me.
Carter: That’s a really slick name; it rolls off the tongue well.
Veli: Yeah, right. We’ll see, man. I’m thinking about making [Velidelphia] a whole enterprise. I'm working also on a non-profit organization to give back to my old grade school and a few other things. I’ve just got a lot of things in motion right now.
There’s this documentary that came out with Master P… unfortunately, I didn’t know too much about him growing up, but after seeing that documentary, it truly changed my mindset on business. Still, before watching that piece I understood the importance of having multiple avenues. Music cannot be the only stream of business for me, because God forbid; if music slows down, I want to have other things that’ll pick me up. I’m trying to hit a million dollars, and the only way I see that happening is by putting time and focus into more than one avenue.
Carter: In that same breath, I also was told that you are a pretty avid stock trader as of recently… My question for you: do you have any hot stock tips for me right now?
Veli: I mean, it really depends on what you wanna do/what you have to invest. To be honest, it’s weird now because if I had known in March what I know now, I would’ve put every single dollar I had into Tesla, Apple, Shopify - stocks that have tripled and quadrupled since. But, I'll say this... if I was you, I would get an M1 setup; it’s an account that acts sort of like a pie, with different percentages of shares making up the pie. 15% of that pie could be Amazon, another 20% could be Tesla, and so on - until that pie is filled. Just park your money in these big, hot companies (blue chip stocks) and add a little more money each month; these are companies that will continue to flourish for the next ten years. It’s strange right now, though, because lots of people feel like the stock market is bound to re-topple over considering the record highs we’ve been seeing. I don’t know about all that; I mean, I’m not a stock guru by any means. But in a general sense, that’s the best advice I can give you.
Carter: I also was told that you are a big reader. Is there a book you would recommend to people that are trying to pursue the same line of work as yourself?
Veli: Man, I tried to get into it there for a little while, but I just couldn’t do it; I wouldn’t consider myself a “reader” by any means. It’s just that my mind races so much during the day, I don’t get much time at all to do it.
To answer your question, there’s not a particular book I’d recommend off the top of my head. What I will recommend is looking up, knowing, identifying, and researching the industry. Finding your role models. Look, a book is cool, but in this field, learning from somebody that has real experience in the industry is more important than any of that. There’s a book called You Can Negotiate Anything that helped me shape my mindset. But, when it comes to sparking interest, you have got to find role models and idols.
For me, on the concert side of my work, there’s this man named Arthur Fogel; he’s the head of Live Nation Entertainment in Canada. He’s got this documentary titled, “Who The Fuck is Arthur Fogel?” That documentary… look, I’m not going to say that it changed my life… but it did everything short of that. It really helped me identify that this is what I really wanted to do in the realm of touring and shows. As far as management goes, I usually look to Diddy or Jay-Z and how those guys move. Ever since I watched that film on Master P, he’s been a big inspiration for me, as well.
Carter: What’s the next big step for Veli Brand?
Veli: I'll be honest, man; I'm still trying to figure it out. I have a bunch of goals that I'm working on; they kinda have more to do with things outside of music. If they're in music, they don’t have to be specific to Veli Brand. Honestly, I feel very successful right now. I made a way where a way shouldn’t have been. I’m self-made. I make money doing what I love. I wake up everyday with that knowledge.
Right now, lots of what I do really feels like a bonus. Earlier, I told you that I’m a forward thinker, but lately I’ve been flowing with the wind. Shows shut down? Boom, management takes off. I don’t know what the next step is, but I’m living. When that next thing does come, I’m going to be prepared. Believe that.
To give you a concrete answer: when things open back up, I plan on coming back twice as hard with the concerts. Bigger, better shows bringing what’s hot and up next to the city of Philadelphia.