The following is an excerpt from my Modern Drummer Magazine "Concepts Column", regarding the topic of endorsements:
“Endorsements”….Let’s Get Real - Part 1
“People who want the most approval get the least and people who need approval the least get the most” - Wayne Dyer (American Psychologist and Author)
This topic has been requested so much and I have been asked so much about it, I decided to do a two-part column series discussing it. The idea of having "Endorsement" contracts with the instrument companies is a hot topic nowadays. I want to get the truth out about this facet of the drumming industry. I have enlisted three of the top Artist Relations Directors in the drum world to help with this month’s column. They were very candid! I believe their input will help shed some light on the questions regarding this topic.
First and foremost, let's break down the basics of the “endorsement” premise:
"How do endorsements work?”
The job of the companies is to sell drums, not to give them away. The only reason for them to give something at no cost (or for less money) is marketing reasons. If a certain artist of prominence is seen (or heard) playing a particular company’s instruments, the public may be sparked to purchase the same/like gear. This plays to the consumer’s hopes of sounding like or looking like that artist. Hence, shoe endorsements, clothes, golf clubs, etc. are all great marketing deals for any company. Also, top players in any field will help validate the product. The company wants the customer to think “If he/she digs it, it must be good!”. Instrument companies are no different. The first level of confusion about endorsements is… having an endorsement from a company somehow validates you or makes you “famous" as an artist. This is the exact opposite of the truth. If you are not already visible, famous, influential, etc, there is no reason to give you an endorsement deal in the first place. Simply put, it can be cheaper and more effective to give you an instrument to play, than to invest money into other forms of marketing (that is, if you can influence people to buy the gear). In this scenario, the artist and the company both win! I asked veteran player and artist relations manager Bob Terry (Line 6, Yamaha DTX, NFuzed Electronics) about the effectiveness of artist programs these days. He said, “They are still very effective if used properly. It has to add to the bottom line for the company. Both sides need to profit. Too many artists only think about what they are getting out of it. How many people are going to buy this equipment, just because you’re using it?” Joe Testa (Warner Brothers, Yamaha Drums, Director of Artist Relations for Vic Firth), says something similar when posed this question. He states: “The economy has changed the game in endorsements. Artists want to save money by getting a “deal” but the company needs to make money by giving the deal. We are dealing with the same economy”.
Endorsements have changed…why? when?
One thing is for sure, the endorsement game has changed dramatically over the past few years. I recently said in an interview: “The term endorsement has totally flipped meaning in the past ten years or so. When I was a kid, Buddy Rich endorsed Slingerland drums. This meant, if Buddy says they are great, then they are great! It surely didn’t mean, Slingerland says, Buddy Rich is great”. Buddy validated the product, not vice versa. Somewhere in the past 10-15 years, the meaning has totally flipped in the eyes of the artists. There is a running theme of, “I’m endorsed by so and so company, so I must be good”. This has led to the downward slide of this arm of company marketing. AR Legend Joe Hibbs (Pro-Mark, Tama, Premier, Mapex & Sonor) adds, “There is almost an expectation from younger players that they need an endorsement as a part of their resume. You are not going to get hired for a session, tour or band because of what kind of drums you use. Your playing level, sound and professionalism are the key”. If at any point, the company holds the cards in a full endorsement deal, you are not in a position to have one. It should not be about getting famous or especially anything for free. To be honest, when I worked my way up to a position when I was getting free gear from companies, I could afford to buy it all. I was making a really good living playing. When I was a kid, I couldn’t afford an 8” splash cymbal. I sold toys in yard sales to buy cymbals and drums. Even though I didn’t have any money for equipment, I would never of dreamed of contacting Yamaha drums, to try and get an endorsement. Steve Gadd and Vinnie Coliauta were Yamaha endorsees and it represented the best of the best in the drum industry. I never looked at it like Yamaha would validate me. I knew I would need to be in a very influential place as a player for something like that to happen. Companies should be wanting you to endorse there products, because it will effect their sales and perception to the buying public. They are not in business to affect your perception to the public. Of course, I’m not talking about regional influencer relationships… I'm talking about marque, international and national-level deals. Lets talk about these, so we are all clear in knowing the difference.
Endorsement types and levels
One of the key factors to keep in mind is, there are different levels of "endorsements". A smart company will not hand out gear to a player right out of the gate. There are commonly four levels of endorsements. I have been on all four of these levels through the years, with all of my companies. I started as a regional endorsee for Yamaha drums. It has been 25 years since then, working my way through these different levels, with each of my companies that I have deals with. This is how it usually works, from high to low:
The “Marque” level artist: You are the top of the list and represent the company’s image and direction, globally.
The “International” artist: You are recognized internationally in the business and are key to the company's roster.
The “National or Domestic” artist: These players are the top players in the country. They are not really known internationally but have a big influence on their country of origin. These can also be artists in very visible bands, nationally.
The “Regional or Developing” artist: These are players that are influential in a regional market. These can be college department heads, the top teaches in town or great players in an emerging band or scene. The companies will look for some of these types of players to invest in, long-term.
A solid and effective artist roster for a company should include players at all of these levels. If at any point, the roster starts to bloat with too much of any of them, there will be problems. Too many Marque guys will kill the budget. Too many International guys will put a lot of pressure on global branches, regional budgets and resources. A large amount of National level artists will be very difficult for the country’s staff. These are not handled by the International offices and can load down the smaller country’s staff. Way too many developing artists makes a company seem desperate. It also dramatically effects sales to the dealers. You are taking the dealer’s customers and making them the company’s “artists”. Now, they are buying direct from the company, rather than a store. This is a great way to alienate the dealers which are the life-line of any business. This is because most of the Regional deals are just buying equipment at dealer cost. Even the national deals are usually one free set of hardware, maybe a snare and then buying the drums at dealer cost. Only when you get to International level deals, are there free drum sets, etc. Plus, a National level deal usually gets worked up to, unless you blasted out of the gate playing ridiculous on a multi-platinum gig! Joe Hibbs comments on this, “I think that some of the companies out there take too many regional players out of the retail cycle. Having too many regional or non-national level players on a roster, hurts the dealer base. We should all know when it's time to take the artist out of the retail purchase circle. A local retailer can’t support a national or international artist’s needs. Thats when we take over. Doing that too soon hurts everybody”.
There are also two (inner industry and seldom talked about publically) types of endorsements. The title of this column has “Lets Get Real” in it and this is a part of that honesty. There are what is known as a “Branding” artist and a “Influencing” artist. Here is the difference. A branding artist is a player that might not be at a high level of playing, not a drummer’s drummer, etc. But, they are extremely visible. They put the company logo on T.V. frequently, play large tours, award shows etc. They are not going to get drummers to run to the store to buy drums but they do give awareness to the brand name. These types of artists (usually in famous bands), will sometimes get National or International level deals, because of the band’s fan base and visibility, not necessarily because of their playing level. An Influencing artist is a great player, who has a National or International name. They validate the product and will cause consumers to pay attention to the companies products, just because they are playing it. Some of these artists might not even have near the global visibility of a branding artist but they are the best in the field and will have much more effect on the bottom line for the company. The best case scenario for a company is an artist with both facets: a great player who knows their equipment, gets great sounds, works a lot, has a long term career and is very visible (puts the brand name on major records, tours, T.V., etc). These artists are the “Marque” artist candidates.
“Endorsements”….Let’s Get Real - Part 2
“The most splendid achievement of all is the constant striving to surpass yourself and to be worthy of your own approval” - Denis Waitley (Author and Speaker)
"Am I Ready For an Endorsement?”
If you are wondering if you're in a position to have an endorsement, in all honesty, you are probably not. Joe Testa comments on this. “Focus on your playing and the music. I will find you. I will see you play and hear about you from other players, when it is the right time”. Of course there are exceptions to this but you will probably be asked by them first, if you are ready to provide YOUR part of the relationship with the company. I was asked by every one of the companies I have ever been involved with. Have you ever seen a Nike endorsee that you hadn't already heard of? No! They are the biggest names in the sporting world. The Nike endorsee has made a huge impact on their respective sport and the company benefits greatly by the association with them. Bob Terry adds to this, “I speak from the company side now, having been a player before (Bob was the drummer with 80’s superstars Wang Chung). An artist is absolutely wrong in thinking that we are going to make them famous”. As we spoke about last month, you validate the product, it does not validate you. I’m not better because the company says so. Be patient. Wait for the right time and it will all come to you. You will also be approached by the companies who's gear you are already using. Don’t settle for using a lesser company's gear just because it might be provided at less cost or for free. You may be saying right now “Oh yeah, well I see a lot of guys with endorsements, I never heard of”. You’re right! Let’s talk about this.
"This guy has a deal and I should instead!”
A lot of times, this a valid point. Frankly, the music manufacturers are responsible for this attitude and they deserve what they get! There are a lot of guys signed to instrument companies who have never played a national level record or high level gig. There are more than a few guys out there that are questionable “endorsed” artists. Of course in every field, knowing somebody will get things done. But besides the “personal-relationship-got-me-the-deal” situation, we have a virtual epidemic in the drum world of unsubstantiated endorsements. There are a few reasons for this. First, there are a lot more instrument companies out there than in previous decades. All of these new companies are trying to get on the map and are dipping down to find anyone to play their gear. This is understandable. A brand new company will most likely not get the biggest stars in the field to play their gear right away. Second, the companies themselves have gotten into the “we need to sign them before our competition does” battle. This is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make. It lowers the bar of who represents the company to the public. Also, it floods the market with “artists” rather than customers, as I mentioned. Joe Hibbs responds to this, “In the past decade or so, the companies expectations about the artist’s activities and influence, seems to have lowered. This is due to the volume of players signed to companies now. Also, the artist’s expectations from the companies has lowered as well”. Third, the criteria overall, for an endorsing artist, has lowered dramatically in recent years. When I was younger, only the top players in the world endorsed instruments and rightfully so. The top artist in the world kept the company’s perception to its highest level, influenced sales and pushed the company’s design ideas forward. Joe Testa has another great comment about this, “There are way more development artists than superstar artists now. In recent years, the industry keeps signing players that they hope will make it. In years past, you would’ve already had to have “made it” to have a deal. It’s a pressure caused by the companies, trying to get someone before the other guy does. But, in reality, it takes up budgets, time, resources etc. and usually doesn’t yield anything in the long-run”. Don’t be fooled by this rash of unqualified people who have endorsements. Most of them get very little, do very little and have a short existence. These are always the bi-products of anything that lacks validity. Honestly, if some of these companies would spend the time and resources making awesome instruments, they wouldn’t have to spend their budgets trying to make unqualified artists famous. Unqualified artists don’t help to validate their gear anyway. I think all of us want to play great equipment that inspires us. Don’t let the desire to get something for free overshadow your artistry. I bought and played everything I endorsed, before I had relationships with the those companies. Another note on this, is to the amount of artists on a company’s roster. I know some companies that have 2,500 to 3,000 artists. There isn’t 3000 influential drummers working in the music business, period, let alone all playing one kind of instrument! Bob Terry explains, “I teach a class at Musicians Institute, Hollywood. I have students ask me for deals all of the time. They are students! The industry has created the wrong perception of what the 'company endorsement' even means.” Know what each of your roles should be in an endorsement relationship. We spoke about understanding your roles in past concept columns (May, 2015 issue). it holds true here as well!
When it is time? What are the qualifications for my endorsements?
Marque Level: Everybody, including you will know when it is time for this.
1.) First and foremost, playing the gear already that you are talking about endorsing!
How can you legitimately tell someone that you believe in their product and are willing to let them use your name in reference to it, if you have never played it? Also, the intimacy that comes with already owning (and especially working hard to pay for) equipment you’re using, is very important in your knowledge offered to the company. These instruments are a part of my musical voice that has taken 35 years of my life to develop. How can a poster, ad in a magazine or a few free pieces of gear mean more to me than that? Bob Terry says, “AR guys are more interested if you own and are already playing the gear. It means that the endorsement is based on honesty. Guys that come to me and say 'this company offered me this and that, you need to give me more and I will play your gear', turns me off. It starts things off dishonest. You need to believe in what you are telling your fans you are playing”.
2.) Several (more than one) major Label recordings that are commercially successful and/or very musically influential (maybe with slightly less visibility).
3.) A position as the drummer with a National or International level artist. Someone who's work will be seen and/or heard by millions, not a few thousand people.
1.) Playing the gear already that you are talking about endorsing.
2.) A position as an influential drummer (and with a lot of promise) that has a job with a National level artist. Someone's who’s signed to a major label or has a very big following on a National level.
3.) Consistent visibility via recordings, tours, T.V. shows, etc.
1.) Playing the gear already that you are talking about endorsing.
2.) The artist should be holding a position as an influential drummer in a specific geographical area.
If the AR guy sees someone who really sticks out and may eventually end up on a very visible gig, then he may make a move on them early in their career. This is a great opportunity to build a long term relationship with a company. This is usually a developmental opportunity for the artist.
3.) This means a very influential position on a regional level. Usually, department heads of major music programs, authors or the top local guy in a region. This doesn’t mean you have a lot of hits on youtube! You need to be working in the music business.
I think one of the crucial points to every endorsement is both side's effective use of the relationship. Joe Hibbs talks about this: “The deals can still be extremely effective if both parties do their part. If the company gets the right guy to move the needle and makes good use of it, it will have a huge effect. Likewise, the artist needs to commit their efforts as well. Things like, making sure credits in products are listed, social media use, proper displaying of logos on gear and websites. Talking about it in interviews and making sure that their fan base knows a lot about what gear they are using. It can work really well for everybody!”
Honestly, for me, it's never really been about getting free gear. It's always been about support for me, globally. When you are doing major tours and records, you can run into many unforeseen situations with gear, broken parts in remote areas and bizarre requests from producers and artists. All this, as well as access to back-line kits globally, etc. makes the relationship with the company crucial. Finally, in regard to the Artist’s side of this relationship, you need to maintain a valid endorsement status. What I mean by this is first, you don’t switch companies all the time. This lessens your honest endorsement of the product. Second, this is a serious business transaction. The artist needs to keep up their side of the deal by being diligent with promotion, continually working in visible events, using all of their facilities to further the relationship along (web, social media, credits, etc) and always be a positive ambassador for the equipment they are using.
I hope this clears up a little about this particular part of our industry. I am being a little blunt in some of this I know. But, realistically, an endorsement isn't going to make you a star. I wish everybody the best of luck! If I can do it, you can do it. The quote for the month brings up a great point for you to think about why you want an endorsement in the first place. There are no short-cuts… only a road of hard work which brings honesty, joy, humility, honor, blessings and great music to you!!