Music supervisor to music manager. In a nutshell, that's the career trajectory of New York native Rich Kleiman, who cut his teeth working with emerging young producers, artists and DJs, and who now serves as VP of management at multifaceted entertainment company Roc Nation. Those early relationships led to Kleiman signing one of his first clients: Grammy Award-winning producer/DJ Mark Ronson. Today, the 35-year-old Kleiman still handles Ronson and another longtime client, Wale, as well as several newcomers to Roc Nation's fold, from Maybach Music Group's Meek Mill to Los Angeles up-and-comer Casey Veggies, signed to Sylvia Rhone's Epic-associated label. With the Olympics now under way, Kleiman finds himself in "full Meek Mill mode," as the rapper ramps up for his MMG/Warner release "Dreams & Nightmares," due in October.
How did you transition from music supervision into management?
I kind of fell into the role. I was working with television and film production company Radical Media in 2000, supervising music for a variety of original programming. We gathered a large group of independent young producers, artists and bands and got them excited about using TV and film as the first platforms for their music. Several of them said, "You helped me with my first big break. How about managing my career?" So I started managing a few producers and artists I'd brought to the table for these programs. One was Mark, who was just getting back into production but who was also a big DJ at the time. We started working together, and that led me into management. After working on Jay-Z's "Fade to Black" documentary, I've been with Roc Nation since its inception.
Ronson is involved in various projects, ranging from the Olympics to Fendi. Isn't he juggling a lot of different things?
Mark created the official theme song for Coca-Cola for the Olympics. In the meantime, he has also worked on a majority of the Bruno Mars album, which is still in production. He's also working with Paul McCartney, just finished Rufus Wainwright's album and has worked with Alicia Keys. In September, he'll start building his own studio in England. He's also the face of Fendi's new men's fragrance.
You brought rappers Meek Mill and Casey Veggies to Roc Nation. What do you look for when signing new clients?
I have to love their music and then their inherent drive and work ethic. I have to be able to connect with them on a personal level. Otherwise, it will be tough to get them to the point I believe they can get to. Meek and Wale are with Maybach Music and they're close friends. I was a fan from afar. Meanwhile, with just a few mixtapes in, 19-year-old Casey is probably one of the most focused and headstrong people I've met. He gets it. I've been with Wale six years now. He's in the studio for his next album due in December or January. In the fall, Wale introduces a new accessory line, including beanie hats, bags and belts. It will start on a grass-roots level, choosing online outlets, as well as a few specialty boutiques.
Any other new signings?
I signed this incredible songwriter out of Atlanta, Sam Dew, who wrote "Lotus Flower Bomb" with Wale. He's in a band and has the potential to be a solo artist when he wants. But we've got him actively writing on various projects right now.
What one key element drives your management philosophy?
I tell potential clients that I have to be all the way in. I have to be able to be part of every aspect [of their careers] because [one thing] lends to the next [thing]. It's about making sure they're ready to let me be the point guard.
What's your take on the state of hip-hop?
It's a weird genre because the best from 15 years ago is still the best now: Jay-Z. But many great young artists [emerged during] the last five to six years - Wale, Kid Cudi, Drake and B.o.B. So the state of hip-hop is exciting, with a lot of opportunities.