Endorsements: the Myths, the Facts…the Good and the Bad

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Let’s face it; we’ve all been there at some point in our life, in some sort of capacity – whether it’s being a kid and dreaming one day of being on a poster or in a magazine ad, or calling up a company requesting some gear for an upcoming overseas gig.  Maybe you’re on the other side of the coin, where people are knocking on your door, hounding you looking for free gear and that elusive “free ticket” to stardom!  Whatever the case, I can pretty much guarantee you one thing:  having a company endorsement more than likely isn’t what you thought it would be (in a good and a bad way).

Before moving on, I want to make clear that the intention of this blog is not to be negative, jaded, or to step on anyone’s toes.  I have been on both sides of the coin so far in my professional career and think that I can offer some real advice about Drum Endorsements.  In order to do this, I will be speaking in a very real way and will probably say a few things that some readers don’t want to hear, and possibly some things that some companies don’t want to hear.  Overall, the endorsement “process,” if handled correctly, can be a very rewarding relationship for years between yourself and a company.  The following is not a step-by-step manual of how to ‘score’ that great deal with a major drum manufacturer.  These are some observations that I’ve been able to make through the years of having my own endorsement deals, and also working at a major company where many people were knocking down their door trying to get on the roster.

Notice that I used the word “relationship” when talking about an endorsement deal.  That’s exactly what it is.  This word, relationship, in my opinion, has become quite skewed in our society over the years and I think that people and companies alike have forgotten how to be personable to each other.  That’s what really excites me about the boom that we’re seeing in social media these days.  With the ability to provide instant feedback, major corporations are finding that customer service and maintaining a positive image in the consumer’s eyes is becoming a far more important factor in their business.  I’ll be speaking more about this when I do my ‘networking’ blog; discussing the power of social media for the common artist/musician and how it’s effectively changing our social structure.  Therefore, I believe that first and foremost, you have to ask yourself why you want an endorsement deal.  Is it for free gear?  Is it so that you’ll get “paid to play?”  Is it for exposure?  Is it because you truly believe in a product or company?  Is it so you can brag to all of your friends and proudly display numerous logos on your website and bass drum head?  In these few examples of questions alone, there are myths and truths.  Let’s explore…

Myths:

1) Being a good player is enough to get a deal

2) I’m going to get free gear

3) Being able to display logos on my site will increase my work and give me instant credibility  in the professional world

4) A company will want to pay me to play their products

Facts:

1) Drum companies exist to make money.  Although they may respect your playing ability and sincerely like you as a person; it’s pretty clear cut.  If you get exposure and will potentially sell products for them, you’ll get a deal.

2) Unless you are Vinnie Colaiuta, or someone of that caliber,  you will not get free gear.  You may, however get a pretty good discount on gear, which is certainly helpful.  Almost every company has a hierarchy of artists; an A level, B level, and C level.  All of which have different deals and discount rates depending on the individual deal that is made.  Almost always it comes down to two factors:  1 – your relationship with the company  2 – your level of exposure

3) Once an endorser, a company will most likely be happy to have your picture, bio, website link, etc. on their site which may increase some exposure for yourself and your brand, but they don’t exist to further your career professionally

4) It is extremely rare that an artist will be signed with some sort of monetary agreement.  Companies will sometimes contribute money for clinics, depending on the circumstances, but most likely any of us reading this blog(including me) will never be paid to be an endorser.

Let’s go back to fact number 1, as I feel like this is a pretty important concept that I really think most young (and sometimes old) eager players don’t think about.  A drum company is a business first and foremost.  Although many of the people working there love drums and drumming as much as all of us, they are working there to pay their mortgage, support their families, have a 401K, etc. So obviously, their boss, and of course the owners of the company are interested in making money; not losing it.  If you are in high school or college (unless you just scored the gig with Katy Perry or some mega pop star) just forget about an endorsement deal for now.  If it’s going to happen (and it very well could) – give it time and be patient.  Your best bet for getting discount gear is to go befriend the local drum shop owner and try to get in his/her good graces so that perhaps you’ll get a discount.  In the same respect, if you are a professional drummer and you play a couple of gigs a month locally at the K of C hall, or the occasional private party…don’t worry about getting an endorsement.  It has NO bearing on how good you are.  It’s just simple economics: the drum company wants to make money; your band or brand is only exposed to a few people each month (none of which are drummers); therefore no “deal” will most likely be made.

Quit taking it so personally is basically what I’m getting at.  I know some amazing musicians that don’t have an endorsement deal.  I’ve been very fortunate to have a couple in my career so far and intend on probably having more.  Currently I’m with Tycoon Percussion and Innovative Percussion, two companies that I sincerely believe in (both their products, people, and their vision). Honestly both of these came about from personal relationships that have fostered over time.  It wasn’t about sending out promo packs to everybody and going with the first company that said “yes.”

Again, although a lot of this information may seem negative, I’m only trying to save some younger players some grief (believe me, I’ve seen it!).  Peruse the internet a bit – I’ve seen some good articles and blogs on the subject that are geared more toward the “How To’s” of getting an endorsement deal.  I’m just here to try and give you the low down of what really goes on.  Most artist relation guys at major companies get swamped on a monthly basis with phone calls, letters, emails, promo packs, etc. from guys wanting the next big deal.  Chances are, they may not even see that promo pack that you spent hours of time on and who knows how much money?  Also, here’s a huge tip for all of you.  DON’T go to a trade show, promo pack in hand.  The last thing any of these companies want at that show is your info – most of them will tell you that.  DO go to trade shows to begin meeting some of these artist relations guys and start building a relationship with them.  If what you have to offer is legitimate and is meant to be – it will happen.  Just don’t go to a NAMM show one year and expect to leave the building with 5 contracts signed…it won’t happen.

So why bother?  Well, having an endorsement has its advantages.  The biggest, in my opinion, is if you are doing gigs where traveling is a big factor, especially overseas.  Getting gear through customs can be a hassle, so it’s nice to have a company with arms in Europe or Asia that can ensure that you’ll have gear at your gig or clinic, or whatever.  I did a tour in Colorado awhile back where it wouldn’t be cost effective to fly all of my percussion gear out with me.  David Kelley from Tycoon made sure that when I arrived in Denver, I had some gear for the week.  That was a nice perk!  Also, having an endorsement can over time turn into a nice symbiotic relationship for both the artist and the company.  As your relationship matures there may be room for some creative input, and as your exposure increases, so might your exposure for the company in the form of ads, videos, trade show appearances, and maybe even a chance to have some signature products.

Notice that the two “perks” that I spoke about in the last paragraph were not focused on making money from the company.  Yeah that’s right!  Ultimately and more than likely you do have to be a good player, but that’s just common sense as the better you get the more likely it is that you’ll have a pretty decent gig or will be recognized accordingly with more exposure.  Now, of course, there are exceptions to the rule (on both sides of the issue)…we won’t go into all of that.  All that to say – get it out of your head that the goal of having an endorsement is to 1) have your talent recognized  2) get lots of free gear and money.  If these are your main reasons, do yourself and the companies a favor and don’t bother…rather find some companies that you really believe in and start a conversation; build relationships.  Above all – just work your butt off and concentrate on building your career first and foremost.  That’s the BEST way to go about getting an endorsement deal.  Ironically, by the time your career has begun to take off, an endorsement will most likely be the least thing on your mind!

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