Though mostly known for managing young talent quickly, quickly, Leah Choi has a lot of years behind her back in the music industry, yet always chooses to remain humble. Starting out hooked by SoundCloud’s beatmaking community, she formed a collective called EXPWITHUS and went on to organize shows in NY with Lege Kale, Jael, The Kount, Mikkoh, Airwav, Flamingosis and more, before getting into artist management.
Now, under her guidance, quickly, quickly’s career is booming; he has amassed tens of millions of plays on Spotify, performed his track “Swingtheory” live on Red Bull Music and is working on his forthcoming 2020 album. He also just produced Jak Bannon’s soulful debut single “THE TRADE”, that you can check out here.
In this interview she talks about her journey in the industry and working with quickly, quickly, gives advice to aspiring music managers, lets us into her personal life during quarantine and more.
How did you get your start in the industry? Did you have any formal education or did you have to learn everything yourself?
It all started when I was curating music on SoundCloud in 2014. At that time, SoundCloud was the best platform for underground music. I was going through a personal time in my life and discovering music by emerging artists (mostly producers) became a fun hobby of mine. I remember listening to Sango and ESTA during my Tumblr days, and saw that they became affiliated with Soulection. The future beats era heavily influenced my music taste and to be honest I couldn’t listen to original songs the same. It was so stimulating and refreshing to hear a remix or a flip of a popular song. So, I consistently curated music everyday and I started to get a following, even from producers I was a huge fan of! P.S. I’ve been more active on SoundCloud recently, here’s my catalogue.
Then I moved to NYC, and met up with East Coast Korean American producer West1ne, who introduced me to J.Robb. I was a founder of a collective called EXPWITHUS which stood for explore, expose, and expand with us. I wanted to create a space for artists of all mediums in a DIY venue since I had a lot of friends in the industry at the time coming up. Lege Kale, Jael, The Kount, Mikkoh, Airwav and Flamingosis (as our headliner) were on the line up. Not only did we have DJs, we had a gallery for photographers, apparel, and artwork. We served sponsored drinks from a company called Hooch. Overall, it was a successful night, around 250 attendees showed up in this warehouse in Brooklyn, and we called it the “B.I.G. Debut” because it was Biggie’s birthday. I remember I received Jay’s email to be on the line up, and I wanted him so badly, but the team collectively felt we had already had a solid roster. But he actually came out to support the event, and after that we became friends. After a few times of hanging out, we were all chilling on one of my friend’s rooftop in Bushwick and I knew this kid had a lot of talent. I just built up the courage to ask him if I could manage him on the side and surprisingly enough he said yes. I told myself even though I didn’t get Jay on my line up for my event, I was determined to get him on a lot of bookings because I was just so grateful of the opportunity to work with him in any capacity. The first year, I got him at least 20+ bookings and he eventually became affiliated with Soulection. So long story short, Jay was the first client that got me into this industry.
I did not have any formal education; but I received the book “All You Need to Know About the Music Business [9th Edition]” by Donald S. Passman as a gift. Side note: The 10th edition just came out recently, and I got an Ebook version if anyone needs a copy! Shortly after, I saw Pat Corcoran’s interview on Complex which inspired me to pursue this role after hearing he didn’t have any prior experience in management. I do have experience in operations and project management from my last job that are transferable skills. So, yes I am learning everything by myself which is a bit challenging, but I do believe just being thrown into it is the best way to learn. I always remind myself it’s okay to not know everything, but to always ask questions. I want to come off as humble, but also with confidence that I can do this.
How is being in quarantine influencing your work, as well as you as a person?
I was laid off in December 2019 from my 9-5, and I thought I deserved (after four years of working in a toxic work environment) to take a couple months off to reset my energy before figuring out next moves. I was going to start applying for jobs in March for financial stability because you know sis has to pay her rent, but then shit hit the fan due to COVID-19. Then the overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and fear were giving me the worst anxieties I ever felt. But instead of stressing about something I can’t necessarily control, I reminded myself that I still have work to do this summer: Quickly, Quickly’s album release! I get to take this time to 100% pursue music management in addition to learning other valuable skill sets.
In April, I tried my best to be productive but sometimes I didn’t have any motivation to do anything. Weekdays and weekends just turned into days, and then days would go really slow or really fast. Hearing about death, racism, and our President on some stupid shit consistently just naturally makes you negative and sad. On my productive days, I read music business Ebooks, listen to podcasts, attend Zoom meetings focused on women in the music industry, and exercise (at least 30 min walks or sets). Also a bonus, I’ve been in quarantine with my Mother and my step-dad. Before I get to work, I start my mornings drinking tea with my Mother, eating a solid Korean meal and/or learning my Mom’s recipes. I’m so grateful for this time with her despite the current situation in the world, but having my family so close to me during this time has definitely improved my health and happiness.
For May, June, and July it’s going to be busy work doing strategy, outreach, and execution for this album. I’m ready!
How did you meet quickly, quickly? What is it like working with him?
I (virtually) met Graham through a London-based collective, Treehouse Vibes. He was probably the youngest artist in their roster at the age of 17! Larry (Founder) gave me a heads up that he was looking for a manager and another manager friend of mine was interested as well. I was already a huge fan of his music and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with him. So, I messaged him on Facebook and just asked if I could work with him for 6 months, no commitments. The first time we met in-person was at The Soulection Experience in Los Angeles in 2017, and then he would come out to New York for his shows and I would fly out to Portland to see my family. We’ve been working remotely coast to coast for a couple years now.
To keep it real, when you work with a young adult, you have to have a lot of patience, ha! Sometimes, it takes a minute to respond to inquiries because he’s focused on putting more energy into his music; especially his upcoming album – which is completely understandable. I love his work ethic towards music though, this guy is making beats every day when he’s not out living life to the fullest as a teenager. Definitely tune into his Instagram Lives to hear his beats and the breakdown process of creating it on Ableton! But I do get anxiety when emails go unanswered, so I’m glad he reassures me I am not a bother when I hassle him from time to time (when needed) to ensure we have great relationships with anyone we work with. I think the only downside of being so far apart is our relationship is really based on communication. I’m definitely thinking maybe it’s time to move out to the West Coast after all this is done… we’ll see!
My experiences as an Operations Manager at a co-working space and being around entrepreneurs for four years has definitely shaped me to be an influence on Graham on the business / professional side. Even though he’s the artist I represent, he’s first and foremost my business partner. Yes, your manager is the one who negotiates most of the business deals and provides guidance on next steps to your career. However, there’s no structure in the music business. It’s always going to be you and your team adapting and evolving. No matter the age gap, we’re learning how to navigate this industry together.
What is your biggest advice to any aspiring managers/industry professionals out there?
Be a part of a music industry community, whether it’s a Facebook or Slack group. It’s an organic way to connect with music professions and has all different topics of conversations about a tool, deal, trend, job, project, etc. Read and listen to podcasts! Try to find a mentor for support and give you insight. Be humble, and continuously educate yourself.
What has been the biggest moment so far in your career?
A few things such as: signing to Sony ATV Publishing, Over Skies EP with Ta-ku and Jakarta Records, and the Red Bull “Hear. See. Now” series.
What’s the best and worst thing about being a manager?
The best things would be between listening to demos of new songs (Graham’s music makes me super emotional) and being involved with album processes from start to finish!
The worst thing is probably the natural stress you experience when you are responsible for guiding someone else’s career. Not going to lie, most of the time it can feel like a thankless job. Reminder to all artists, please take care of your managers as much as they take care of you! Saying you appreciate anything that they do really brings up their energy. Check up on them. They’re human beings, too.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Due to the uncertainty right now, it’s been tough to think of what the next steps are from here. In order to manifest my dreams, let’s see… I see myself still as a manager of talents or projects, a team of badass women beside me, and with multiple sources of income from any of my interests in interior design, music, tech, travel, and mental wellness. A mentor to young women, especially in the Asian/-American communities and provide a physical space for creatives of any medium to educate and collaborate. Most importantly, provide for all my family and be the best Mom I can be to my future children.
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