Adam Kluger says he knew he hit the mainstream when he was out at a Miami club and heard "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" from the soon-to-be-famous Lady Gaga. He had paired the artist with Vixen's Visions, placing the brand at the tail end of the artist's 2008 music video.
It had been a long time coming after he got the idea to play matchmaker with the music industry’s hottest talent and the most exclusive brands and endorsement deals.
Graduating with a degree in music production from Santa Fe College, Kluger struggled to find a job, let alone an internship, which is why he decided to start The Kluger Agency in 2008 (Kluger recently regained complete control of the agency from a private equity group he previously partnered with).
Since then, the 29 year old has worked with the likes of Hilary Duff, Tinder, Zoosk and Prada. Here are the biggest takeaways from Kluger's rapid rise as the music industry's go-to middleman.
1. Know your role.
Filling in the void of a middleman, The Kluger Agency matches up artists and brands for product placements. Sometimes artists and brands come to him with a project in mind, or Kluger is the one with an idea and a pitch.
“I’m not a traditional agent,” he says, “I don’t represent talent or brands exclusively. I don't represent anything except for the ideas I create. ... My goal is to bring everyone together.”
Kluger has shown he can generate hits. For instance, Hilary Duff’s music video with Tinder, which he helped orchestrate, went viral in a matter of days.
2. Put yourself out there.
Describing himself as a relentless strategizer, Kluger clearly doesn’t beat around the bush.
“I'm not scared to talk to celebrities or argue or push them, because they can be fired, but I can’t,” Kluger says.
The job of matching celebrities to products and vice versa used to be done by agents themselves. But without any skin in the game, Kluger serves as an equalizer and focuses on the bottom line by insuring a solid and fair deal for both sides. The format’s landed him on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list.
The hardest part, Kluger says, comes from the battle for control. Brands want to make sure their reputations are accurately represented and artists want to be able to maintain their artistic expression.
“I tend to think that I'm a special breed of agent because I don’t have any protection,” Kluger says. “I’m putting myself out there and trying to sell to two people instead of just one.”
3. Have good representation.
If a deal does fall through, it could happen for a myriad of reasons. But Kluger says the number-one killer is insufficient or bad management. In that case, the artist ends up being the one punished because their representation isn’t able to do business or close many deals.
And there’s a lot on the line with those deals since it means increased exposure and paydays reaching the six-figure mark or more for big name celebrities. Depending on the artist, deal and brand, arrangements can even go for millions.
4. Know your limitations.
Not all musicians are interested in working with brands or endorsement deals. Some see it tainting the integrity of their music. For this reason, there are some artists Kluger expects he’ll never work with, such as Adele or Bruno Mars, who have yet and still refuse to make endorsement deals.
“I get it,” Kluger says. “You can’t pay a creative person enough money to stop being creative. Most on the ad side don’t get that. But that’s where I come in.”
5. But reach for the top.
Kluger’s success has a lot to do in part with his can’t-be-stopped attitude. His inability to take no for an answer is why his agency, and record label, exists in the first place. He continues to hit the ground running as he pursues projects with the biggest names in the business.
“We’re going to continue to scale and grow the agency and hire more agents,” he says. “We’re going to do more of the same thing and continue to disrupt the music industry and ad industry at the same time.”