A year ago, Madonna made what seemed like a smart deal -- she partnered with buzzy live-streaming service Meerkat to premiere the video for a track called "Ghosttown." Unfortunately, the title of the track turned out to be prophetic, as the premiere was a ghost town -- the app crashed, allowing only a few people to watch it and leaving a number of angry fans to vent on Twitter. While the fiasco didn't do any long term damage to Madonna's brand, she's pretty teflon -- and a less established artist could have suffered a lot more.

When an artist gets a certain amount of buzz, the startups come calling. But figuring out which startup is the right partner is no easy task. And for startups, it can be just as difficult -- pay an artist to promote your device, and you run the very real risk of having them show up with a competitor in their hand the next week. Of course, it's not just startups taking risky bets -- if you work with an artist to promote your brand, and that artist winds up in handcuffs, it can cause pretty serious harm.

Luckily, there are some experts in this field. I chatted with Adam Kluger, the CEO of the Kluger Agency, who helps create the perfect partnerships between bands and brands. He gave some tips for both sides as to how to make sure the partnership benefits everyone, and doesn't result in a legion of angry fans venting on social media.


  • Go for an integrated approach. The days of just making a commercial and cashing a check are largely over. Kluger says that people see right through this, and that the brand needs to be part of the celebrity's overall lifestyle. He points to a successful deal he did with Hilary Duff and the dating app Tinder, where Duff went on dates and then the footage was used in a music video. Because Duff is single and very approachable, she was a good fit -- she seemed like just another gal looking for love, rather than someone who just took an endorsement deal.


  • Don't focus on exclusives and alienate fans. See the Madonna example above. It can be tempting to take a big upfront payout to finance a video or promotion, but that can wind up being penny wise and pound foolish, if fans can't access the content and get mad.


  • Consider lyric integrations. Obviously, this won't work for everyone, but for big pop and rap artists, working a brand seamlessly into a track can result in a big payoff. Kluger says that if it's part of a bigger package, it can be very effective in creating a strong overall story about the brand and the artist working together.


  • Do your homework, no matter what side of the table you're on. Although he won't name names, Kluger says there are troublemaking artists he won't work with, full stop. He adds that he always makes sure artists have smart, stable managers who can help them make smart choices, and sees them as gatekeepers and protectors. On the flipside, artists need to research any brands or startups that come their way, and make sure there are no red flags.


We've long since moved past the idea that working with a brand was "selling out," but artists, startups, and brands all still need to proceed with caution when it comes to cutting deals. A good deal can move everyone forward, but a bad a deal can backfire -- just ask poor Meerkat, who recently pivoted due to low user numbers and increased competition.