The ABCs of artist endorsement deals
You see the posters all over every music instrument retailer — “Johnny Rock Star plays XXX Guitars exclusively!” Open a music trade magazine and you’ll find ads with horn players, producers, bassists, drummers, keyboardists – you name it – praising the tools and instruments they use and play.
These are the highly-visible manifestations of endorsements and sponsorship deals, symbiotic relationships between music creators who use, and help promote, a given company's products. And while these deals seem like they're limited to high-visibility, world-renown acts, they can be beneficial to a wide range of indie musicians.
I spoke with indie artists and industry pros to get some insight into the world of endorsement deals to help you figure out if there may be options for you and your music.
You're in a relationship
Plain and simple, an endorsement deal is a partnership where both parties do specific things to help themselves and one another.
Randy Fuchs coordinates endorsement relationships through his company, Artist Relations, for artists with brands like Kurzweil, PreSonus, and Nord. According to Fuchs, artists often receive goods for free or reduced price in an endorsement relationship, as well as “promotion that benefits the artist’s career and the stature of the manufacturer.”
Elizabeth Joy Roe of the virtuosic Anderson and Roe piano duo says of the duo's endorsement partnership with Steinway & Sons: "Our relationship with Steinway is simple and straightforward. We show our commitment to Steinway by performing on their beautiful pianos, and whenever possible, Steinway provides pianos for our use.”
So at its best, an endorsement relationship is a win for all involved. Which means you should...
Only endorse a company whose products you love
“Companies don’t want musicians looking to chalk up another endorsement,” says Fuchs. “They’re looking for advocates who love and use their products, people who will go out and proselytize for their brands.” Which means you should only endorse a product you use regularly, know well, and genuinely like.
“We don't view our relationship with Steinway as ‘corporate’ because it feels like the most natural and sincere choice to use Steinway pianos,” says Roe of Anderson and Roe's endorsement relationship with Steinway & Sons. “Both of us have a deep personal connection to these instruments, and we are proud to be associated with such an iconic brand.”
“I believe that Nord and Kurzweil make amazing keyboards, that Seymour Duncan makes great pickups, and that all the other brands that I work for are truly outstanding," says Fuchs, echoing Roe's sentiments. "I’m proud and honored to work with them, and I sincerely hope any artist embarking on an endorsement deal feels the same way.”
“Audiences can sense insincerity in a heartbeat, and endorsing a product for the wrong reasons will destroy your artistic credibility,” says Greg Anderson, of Anderson and Roe. “You don't want your listeners distracted by any lack of integrity. You want them focused on your performance! So in an endorsement relationship, make certain your priorities are aligned. In our situation, we as artists want to sound our best, and Steinway, as an instrument manufacturer, wants their pianos to sound excellent. The alignment of priorities means we're naturally helping one another.”
The timing has to be right
Fuchs sometimes gets endorsement inquiries from artists who are amazing musicians, but have yet to attain the career momentum required to fulfill their end of an endorsement relationship and bring visibility and prestige to the manufacturer. “When you distill it all down, the ultimate purpose of an endorsement is to help grow a brand," says Fuchs. "An endorsement deal is not an artist getting a product without responsibilities in return. If the artist doesn’t qualify to help grow the brand, then the manufacturer wants that non-qualifying musician to purchase his or her gear from a local dealer or favorite Internet dealer.
“It’s more important to build your career and fan base than to spend energy at the beginning of your career seeking an endorsement." Fuchs continues. "If someone is a brilliant songwriter or player but he doesn’t play any live shows and only has 200 views on YouTube, he’s not going to help a company sell their product. I am the guy who always likes to say ‘yes,’ but I need to have a compelling reason to do so.”
Be positive and professional
If you feel like your band is in position to get an endorsement relationship rolling, “The next step is to reach out to the company and ask for somebody in artist relations,” says Fuchs. “The dialog can begin from there.”
If you attend NAMM, AES, or other music industry trade shows, introducing yourself at various manufacturer's booths never hurts, even if you won’t be ready to approach the manufacturer of your dreams for another several years. Having made a connection within the organization can be a great asset when it comes time to talk business. Landing and maintaining a strong endorsement relationship has a lot to do with positive energy, good will, and enthusiasm. In other words, be positive and professional.
“Blackmail and threats don’t work," says Fuchs. “I’ve known people to say things like, ‘If you don’t give me an endorsement, I’ll go with your competitor.’ Ultimatums like that tell me you don’t care about my company’s product, and that’s not what a company is looking for. If you tell a girl that if she doesn’t date you, you’re going to date the girl next to her, chances are it’s not going to work.”
A better approach is to "Find a potential partner you’re really drawn to, start talking, and build the relationship from there.”
There are all flavors of endorsement deals, so be sure to approach the negotiation with a full understanding of what you are and aren't agreeing to. “In addition to using the manufacturer’s goods," says Fuchs, "an artist will generally be responsible for providing a photo and a quote or some kind of testimonial about the instrument or product. There might be the requirement to include a logo on your website or possibly do an in-store clinic or two, depending on the band.”
One point worth careful consideration is any contract that specifies which instruments from competing companies you can and cannot use in public. “I believe an artist has a right to use multiple brands, as long as he's using my keyboard, for example, for the majority of gigs, and he does not appear in the ad of a competitor,” says Fuchs. Not all companies agree, so you need to study the fine print before signing anything, and be sure whatever you agree to does not limit you or compromise your ability to deliver the best performance and music possible. As with any legal or binding agreement, you should consider showing the document to a lawyer before you sign.
Build your career first
Fuchs says his company crafts endorsement relationships with plenty of up-and-coming artists, and that true dedication to one’s career is a must, regardless of whether a band is selling out small clubs or packing stadiums. He goes on to say the best way to attract endorsers is to build a robust, exciting, and vibrant career. “Sometimes artists will spend a lot of energy trying to get an endorsement when they should be spending that time making connections, handling social media, rehearsing, playing gigs, etc. If you get popular, endorsements will come.”
Michael Gallant’s debut trio album, Completely, received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.