Philadelphia based music executive, artist manager and entrepreneur Veli – real name Imowo Udo-Utun – was headed for a career as a professional basketballer before realizing he didn’t quite have what it takes to make the NBA.
As that door closed, however, another opened – his best friend, a rapper, needed a manager, and Veli offered to put his education as a business major to good use and handle his affairs.
“My biggest fear was graduating school at 21, 22, and being five years down the line and working a dead end job, not knowing what I want to do,” he explains. “So when I was a sophomore in college, it was important for me to figure out what I wanted to do then. So I'm grateful. I've learned we have a couple of moments that define our life. And that’s one of the moments that really defined me.”
In addition to his work as a partner in Sounds Music Group, where he manages artists Cochise and 3Breezy, Veli also books and promotes shows under the Veli Brand monicker, and over the past eight years has put on more than 100 shows, featuring 250+ artists, and 15 tours across 18 cities.
Here, Veli talks about Cochise’s transition from internet sensation to successful touring artist, the key to building audience loyalty, the best channels for selling tickets, and more…
You had incredible success with Cochise’s 2022 ‘The Inspection’ tour, with 85% of dates in the US sold out and 80% in Europe. When you think about the key things you did to market and sell tickets, what helped deliver those results?
Cochise had built a real internet following for about three or four years, so he was already bubbling. But I think with him, what was very important was the product. He had a nice following, he had two records that had certifications at that point – “Hatchback” and “Tell Em” – two pretty big records on TikTok, and he had a lot of success on the internet.
And I remember telling our agent, even the label, the difference between us selling out the tour and not selling it out is the quality of the product.
Product aside, how did he go about building an internet fan base? What platforms did he use, and what content?
He uses Discord a lot, he's very heavy on Twitch, Reddit – those are where a lot of hardcore fans are.
And so that's kind of where we help market him.
Cochise’s content resonates with fans a lot. He doesn't curse, he talks about God. He speaks about anime in his music. So even with anime, for example, you open up yourself to a whole new pocket of fans, and those fans live on Discord, those fans live on Reddit, those fans live on Twitch.
So that helped a lot – the content of music and the fact that it's authentic. It's not like he was writing about something that he doesn't do. He’s writing about his daily life and I think fans really resonated with that.
"As far as helping build him from internet sensation to ticket sales, I think it's important to take it slow."
As far as helping build him from internet sensation to ticket sales, I think it's important to take it slow. In my experience with doing tours, doing shows, helping build the artist, you don't want to jump the gun and book a 20-city tour with B markets, C markets, D markets. So we identified the strongest markets on Spotify, TikTok, Instagram, SoundCloud, and went to those markets first. And we put heavy ads in those markets. And then once we felt comfortable, and had the history, we kind of built up from there.
Can you give me an example of how you used the data from Spotify and Instagram? What data points did you look at?
What we looked at was the top markets of the last six to 12 months. So that shows your listeners who may be more dedicated than somebody from 20 days ago, seven days ago, because that can fluctuate.
But we've looked at the top listeners, followers, streams for the last six to 12 months. And if they were consistent across the board, whether it be Instagram, SoundCloud, Apple, Spotify, YouTube, whatever, we kind of built it from there.
And obviously, you always have to hold the hometown. If you can't sell out in your hometown, you really can't sell out anywhere. When he started out, we did tastemaker markets: LA, New York – these are markets that are important for partners, because you want to make it look good for the booking agents, for the blogs, for everybody to talk about.
So you've got people coming to these shows. How do you make sure they come back? Have you used specific techniques to help build that community?
The quality of performance is number one to me, because you want fans to walk away thinking, I’ve just seen the best show of my life.
The fan experience was super important. Even the small things like doing meet and greets, meeting people after the show. You want to make people feel like they can touch Cochise, at least first starting out.
So obviously a great performance and the content to push out, so that people who are fringe fans and may not have the money to support at the time, they see the show and are like, I can’t miss the next one. And you have to be able to seed that around properly. You have to market that content properly to make people have FOMO.
So capturing and distributing show footage is important…
Yeah, we capture a lot of show footage.
But with Cochise, he has a great personality, so in our vlogs we capture a lot of the B-roll footage of us driving to the show, the green room, backstage. Cochise’s brand is super personal, so even in the meet and greets, the first question [fans ask is] about anime, talking about something they’ve seen in the vlog. So that's really the most important thing.
With the show performance [footage], it’s good to see that 15-second promo here and there, put it on your story, put it on your page, put it in teaser videos, but when it comes down to that other extra content, that's how the fans are really gonna home in.
I feel like anybody can have a hot song, a hot moment, but the way you bring in lifelong fans is how they factor into your daily life. They want to be Cochise, and that's just outside of music. That's him as a human being.
You mentioned TikTok earlier – is that a platform you've found effective for marketing shows and tours?
For marketing shows and tours, I would say not so much.
From a music standpoint, TikTok has changed my life. I've had multiple songs go viral in the early stages of TikTok, a lot of those songs have had high certifications, like triple platinum records, platinum records, gold records.
From a show standpoint, I haven't really used TikTok much for marketing other than the typical, hey, just post it here. If it goes, it goes. It’s mainly other platforms for marketing shows.
Of those other platforms, which do you find most effective?
So my top three favorite platforms when looking to promote a show are Twitter, Facebook and Songkick.
Twitter is very important, because you can search personal interactions on Twitter easier than any other platform, maybe other than Facebook.
You can search any artist and type in ‘Philly’. Like if I want to see how many fans want to see Cochise in Philly, or anybody in Philly, I type in that artist, Philly, and I see different interactions.
So if there’s 100 different people asking for the artist in Philly, when that show’s announced, I can now reach 100 different people: "Hey, he's coming so and so date. Here's the link."
These are people who may have missed the show, may have missed the announcement, they’re not on the email blasts, they might not have seen social media.
Facebook is very important for dark ads. Dark ads are posted, they aren't on the actual feed, but are being pushed to that consumer depending on the target demographic, similar interests, like-artists, similar age group, anything, and it shows up on Instagram too.
And I love Songkick because you can follow artists. So you can have an artist that has 20,000 subscribers on Songkick, and you know as soon as you post the show, everybody in that radius gets notified.
You mentioned email blasts. How effective do you find email marketing?
I'll be honest, email pays me to this day. When I was doing concerts in Philly, I built a vast email list, and that email list is one of the reasons why I work with Live Nation in Philly.
They hired me to promote some of their hip-hop and r&b shows. Without that, who knows if they would want me to be part of the marketing team.
"My top three favorite platforms when looking to promote a show are Twitter, Facebook and Songkick."
And what kind of content works best in your emails?
I think the easiest thing is to have a catchy headline. So and so is coming to the city, this date, here. Leave it at that.
I always put the flyer in the body of the email, and then I have the ticket link very big: Click here for tickets. It's really simple for me, and it's been very effective. But email marketing is important to pair with social media marketing. You want to hit it all at once.
I saw Cochise supported Aminé recently. When you've got a tour like that, how do you try and leverage that to build Cochise’s fan base? How do you try and capture some of the audience data?
As people come up to the merch table, I think it’s very important to get some type of data, emails, numbers, anything.
I think it's always important to invest in yourself and give things away.
So you might have wristbands, and put your social media on the wristband, throw it out to people. These are silicone wristbands that people might keep forever. They may not remember your name in that instance, but before they go to sleep at night, they'll take their wristband off, and they'll see, "Oh, so and so gave me this wristband."
And so I think serving people like that is super important.
Is there anything else you've done to build that audience loyalty?
Yeah, I think it's all about the content after the show and just really being consistent. That's really how you foster community – stay consistent. Stay unique. Keep your fans on their toes, give them something that they will always be excited about.
I feel like a lot of times people tend to overcomplicate things, when in reality it's as simple as being consistent and serving the fans. Knowing what they like and serving them.
"That's really how you foster community – stay consistent. Stay unique."
When you think about some of the promoters and venues you work with, what are the successful ones getting right in 2023?
I think there's an art to promoting – it's not as easy as booking an artist and expecting thousands of people to show up. And I think a lot of times promoters feel like it is.
But there’s an art to it. The people who know the fans of each artist and know where to market to them and how to market them. You might have an artist that has a club record. So you know you will hit the streets, guerilla marketing, going to the clubs, going to different events where the target is, versus a pop artist – you obviously want to go to a club for pop artists.
I think the best venues, the best promoters, know the art of how to market a show. And provide the best hospitality for the artists. Make it a memorable night.
So it’s important that the artists actually enjoy the venue – have you seen the hospitality in a venue make a difference in terms of its reputation on the circuit?
Yeah, I think it's the little things, like how you’re talked to, how you're greeted when you get to the show, how they accommodate you to the best of their ability, that's all important. And that's all part of the show. That's one of the biggest parts of the show – you have to make sure the artist feels good. And if you're not very accommodating, artists can still do the show, but it leaves a sour taste for sure. Hospitality is super important.
Where do street teams figure in your plans?
Street teams are very important, they are the last piece of the pie. But it's very important to hit street teams at the right time. It’s April 19 today. Say you're promoting a show that's June 30. Do I think it makes sense to have a street team now? No, because people will take that flyer and it’ll be with them for a week, then they'll throw that flyer out.
So I think the last two to three weeks is when you hit a show hard with guerrilla marketing, hit the streets with those flyers.