Thursday, April 22, 2010

How To Get A Gear Endorsement

The dream of every musician right after the one of getting a big record label contract is to get an endorsement deal with an equipment manufacturer. With the way the record business is going these days, the endorsement deal may be far easier to get and lot more meaningful too.

But there's an interesting catch-22 that exists in the endorsement world. For the most part, you only get endorsed when you don't need it. Makes you scratch your head a little bit and wonder why the world works this way, because you only really need the helping hand with free and discounted gear when you're dead broke, not when you have fame and fortune.

OK, here's the reality.

Most musicians forget this, but an endorsement is a two way street. The manufacturer has to get as much as of it as the musician, maybe even more, so the question becomes:

1) Do you have a fanbase? No fans, not endorsement, simple enough. There's no benefit for the manufacturer. Now every once in a while a manufacturer might take a fling with someone who they think has a chance to break big, but that still means that there's some industry buzz to even get them interested in the first place.

2) What's the demographic of your fanbase? Even if you have fans, if they're not the ones that the manufacturer is trying to reach, there's no benefit for them to enter into a deal with you. For instance, if you only have 14 year old girls as your fans, Marshall probably doesn't care too much. 14 year old boys may be a different story though.

3) Do you use the gear? If you don't use the gear already, once again you probably don't have a chance at an endorsement deal. If you have 3 years worth of promo photos in which you're playing Yamaha drums or a Telecaster, that's worth some consideration.

The flip side of this is if you have a player who's known for using one brand or model of instrument, and the manufacturer can turn him, that could make a huge difference to the buying public. Think of Slash suddenly playing a Strat. What a bombshell that would be in the guitar world!

4) Why should we endorse you? Imagine your toughest exam in school where you've had to give a oral dissertation. Imagine trying to sell someone something that you care about deeply (some people are only good at selling things they don't care about). That's the type of scrutiny you'll be under if it ever gets to the point of discussing a deal. You're becoming the face of a brand and they have to be sure that you're worthy. It's a lot more important to the manufacturer than it is for you.

5) Who's endorsing who? If the artist is big enough, he's putting his seal of approval on a brand or a product. He's endorsing the product. If you're not yet a household word in the music business and Fender decides to feature you in their advertising, they're endorsing you. They're raising your stature in the business. This is a bet on their part that at some point in your career you'll be big enough to turn around - think John Meyer.


Surprisingly, endorsements aren't what they're cracked up to be. In many cases you don't get preferential treatment unless you're Jeff Beck. Much of the time you actually have to wait to get a new piece of gear until after the dealer demand dies down, and sometimes you can actually get a better deal from Guitar Center than from your manufacturer (especially a Japanese manufacturer, who are very tight on endorsements).

In the end, endorsements aren't worth the time it takes to dream about them. You're better off spending the time writing the song that will make it unnecessary.
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2 comments:

Jrabbit said...

This is kind of a one-size-fits-all, oversimplified view of music industry/pro audio endorsements IMO. The endorsement game differs between player-oriented and band-oriented gear, and varies considerably from company to company. And BTW, generalizing re "the Japanese manufacturers" is uncool to say the least.

Having run one of the biggest endorsement programs in pro audio for nearly 15 years, I find this post a bit misleading to its intended audience (presumably, musos who want endorsments).

The idea that the gear maker is "endorsing" a band is one of the most commonly held misconceptions in our industry. It encourages an attitude of entitlement among musicians -- something that is antithetical to a good business partnership. As you correctly state, an endorsement should be a two-way street, with both parties benfitting directly.

There's a mirror-image problem with a lot of manufacturers, as well. In too many cases, endorsement programs are seen internally as a form of direct sales rather than as the sales promotion tools they are. I always insisted that it was the artist endorsing the equipment - not the other way around. For a manufacturer to "endorse" an artist is wrong on two important levels:

1. It implies a preference for endorsing artists' music over others. That's just a bad path.
2. It puts the manufacturer in a very poor position if the artist should become involved in any kind of controversy.

While there are certainly times when a company will woo a big-name artist, those situations are few and far between. In the real world, endorsements are initiated by the artist 90% of the time.

Musicians need to understand that precious few artists can actually create enough incremental retail sales through their personal influence to make up for the hard cost of the free or discounted gear they accept. And there has to be a quid quo pro - a "win/win" - for both sides.

If you're not willing to testify about the gear you endorse - mention it positively in interviews, feature the logo on your website - and cooperate with the manufacturer's needs - pose for photos, provide quotes, do an appearance, etc. - you will never be valued as an endorser. Having a particular amp, axe, drumhead or cymbal on stage does NOT - contrary to the belief of many - constitute sufficient payback.

It's true that the neediest musicians are the least likely to get free gear. But I can assure you and your readers that artists who are a pain in the ass are not valued for long, no matter what their demographics.

Oh, and if you can get an equal or better deal at Guitar Center, guess what? You don't have an endorsement.

Bobby Owsinski said...

You make some valid points. All I can say is I call 'em as I see 'em. Some of our experiences are obviously different.

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