Endorsement deals are as coveted as they are misunderstood, and usually by the same people. They range from lucrative and mutually beneficial to exploitative and parasitic, and everything in between. Brands are always on the lookout for artists whose visibility and brand loyalty will bring them sales galore, and artists are looking to score a deal that will net them free gear, fame and publicity, and money.
But there is a vast canyon of difference between wanting an endorsement deal and needing one. Even farther removed from that is the subtle art of how to go about getting one. That’s not something we’re going to cover here – that’s a somewhat different topic, and one that you shouldn’t even think about if you don’t understand the ideas I’m going to cover here today.
First of all – do you know what an endorsement is? Do you know why they exist and what they entail? I am perpetually hearing musicians spouting wrong understandings of how they work and the business behind them, how easy or difficult they are to get, and where to start.
The endorsement relationship is something I look at as a mutual endorsement – it says to the public that the brand or company likes the artist and approves of them publicly using their product, and that the artist likes the company and their product more than any of the others available on the market. They endorse each other. It’s (usually) a contract that officially states these things, and ensures loyalty between both parties for a set period of time. Exact details of those contracts vary wildly and depend on many factors like the size of the company, the popularity and visibility of the artist, brand policies, and sheer tactical negotiation ability.
Make no mistake – the brand sees the artist as an avenue for higher sales and brand awareness. They want their association with the artist to help them sell more product and for the brand to be viewed a certain way because of that association. This doesn’t mean they don’t like you, or that you can’t legitimately be friends or have a good relationship – it’s just that they’re not going to be handing out endorsements to any old jackass. In order for the company’s business to benefit from the relationship, they must make more in sales from their association with the artist than they put into the deal – otherwise it doesn’t make sense for them to spend the money and effort.
So you have to ask yourself – if a brand decides to ally itself with you in the form of an endorsement, will they sell more instruments as a result? It might not be a direct and immediate result, but you need to be seen using the company’s product skillfully and often by many people in order for them to see a return on their investment. Can you give them the kind of exposure to the kind of people who will actually go out and buy their product because they saw you use it? If you’re the best singer-songwriter the world has ever seen, but you exclusively tour the old folks’ homes of Guatemala, it makes no sense for Martin Guitars to partner with you and give you a guitar and put you in one of their ads in Acoustic Guitar magazine. They will get nothing out of it, because probably none of those elderly Guatemalans will throw down the quetzals it takes to import a nice dreadnaught. It matters exactly zero how talented you are if that talent doesn’t result in success – the artist relations person or company owner won’t care at all how great you are at what you do if you can’t sell products.
So why do you want, or think you need, an endorsement? Do you not have the equipment you need to play the music that you play? I don’t mean do you lack the top-of-the-line flagship gourmet shit – I mean are you literally lacking the gear to do the job of performing music. If so – how are you playing? Let’s assume that you’ve got some alright gear. Do you have something from the brand you wish to endorse? That’s always a good start for a relationship with a company – if you don’t use their gear already, then you probably don’t even know for sure that you want to be on their roster. But then again – you’ve already got one; do you need another? Honestly evaluate where you are in your career – do you tour? Do you have an active and far-reaching social media presence with an audience that fits the brand’s target demographic? Do you have a YouTube channel with lots of subscribers? If not, why do you need anything from a company, and more importantly – why do they need you?
Winter NAMM 2017 is coming up shortly, and as this is now my 4th winter show and 7th NAMM, I’m pretty accustomed to the sight of what I like to call The Dance of The Endorsement Whore. Endorsement grubbing on the show floor of NAMM vacillates between bold and suave to downright pathetic. It’s to be expected to a certain degree – it’s part of what the show is for – but having to actually see it when it’s bad is just painful. I’ll give you the worst example I saw – standing at the booth of a well-known amplifier manufacturer, a group of middle-aged men without a hint of rockstar about them tried to see if they could get an artist deal for their cover band that they bragged had 1000 Facebook likes. They could have done exactly nothing for the brand, and the rep told them as much and sent them (politely) packing. I also witnessed an older woman grubbing for an endorsement from an accessories company whose products she had never used. She acted like they would be lucky to have her using their stuff, even though she had no actual experience with it.
It’s very possible that my initial assumption was wrong – you may very well need an endorsement or sponsorship deal, and there might be a company (or many companies) that would benefit from working with you. You might have a solid following and high visibility, and that is legitimately awesome – I’d be willing to bet, though, that if this is true, you didn’t need to read any of this article because those brands have already sought you out, and you already have a deal or two. The fact is, the deal you have to go looking for is going to be far worse than the deal that finds you. If you are making waves, it’s inevitable that they’ll come after you.
But if I’m right, and you don’t need an endorsement, but you still want one – at this point you need to admit to yourself that you just want unwarranted free stuff or that you want your ego stroked by the prestige that comes with a company endorsing you as an artist.
Endorsements are about relationships – if you had a relationship with a company where your career is at right now, what kind of relationship would it be? Would it be a parasitic one, a commensal one (where one party benefits and the other is unaffected), or a mutual relationship where everyone benefits and there’s room for growth and long-term? If the answer is either of the first two, then you should wait until you’re in a position to make sure it’s a deal you can really be proud of.