I’ve been attending the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) winter show in Anaheim for many years now. It’s the toy store for musicians, and a great place to make and maintain relationships. The musos are looking for free gear and the companies are looking for musos who will influence others to buy their products. This is typically called an endorsement deal and can be as informal or formal as is needed, generally dictated by the amount of financial commitment the company makes to the artist.
Let’s be pragmatic; the company is looking for a return on its investment. This is a symbiotic relationship, one that benefits both parties. The company is not in business to give their products away. They only give away that which will help them generate more sales. Most musicians, however, aren’t thinking about their value to the company but rather, the company’s value to them. They just want free stuff. I want to attempt to clarify the kind of relationship this is or can be, and help the musos know how to help sell themselves to the companies they want to work with. Here are some pointers for the would-be endorser.
1- Approach the companies that make a product that is useful to you. It seems that some musicians just want anything that’s free, no matter if they use it or like it or not. If you are successful at getting loads of stuff, you can clutter your house pretty quickly. Focus in on the companies that can actually help you do what you do better.
2- Talk to companies whose products you already like. I started talking to Audix USA, makers of my favorite microphones, because I had already used their mics and was really impressed. I was enthusiastic about talking about their products because I already believed in them and used them. The same is true of LR Baggs line of guitar pickups and related gear. The iBeam is simply the best mic pickup on the market. I was introduced to Lloyd Baggs by James Goodall, guitar builder, who installed one in a guitar I bought from him. Because I was already enthused about Lloyd’s products, I was happy to talk about them to other musicians.
I own more than a few guitars and love them all for different applications. I own two James Goodall guitars and think that one of them is the best guitar I’ve ever played. I also endorse Avalon Guitars, one of which I play on the road week after week. It has the iBeam in it and is the sweetest marriage between guitar and pickup I’ve ever heard (and the Baggs people thought so, too.) I also work with Taylor Guitars who keep pushing the creative envelope of acoustic guitar building. The Taylor 512 is my current fave from their lineup. Lastly, I picked up one of the new Tom Anderson Crowdster guitars last Spring. I’ve been using it for my multi-media show, This Changes Everything, for both acoustic and electric and it flat rocks. There’s not another guitar that can cover the bases better. I work with these makers because I genuinely like what they make. I used to endorse a well known string maker but stopped because their strings were not to my liking.
3- Find the person who can make the decision to create an endorsing relationship with you and talk to them. It may take you some time to find that person- you may have to work up the ladder to them- but the tenacity will pay off if you really like their products.
4- Be practical and forthright in selling yourself to them. The company has to have a reason to give you gear. If you’re doing 150 concerts a year or are appearing in a new movie, tell them that. If you write a column for Christian Musician (and will mention their products when appropriate), tell them that. It is on your shoulders to give them a reason to partner with you to reach your audience with your endorsement of their product.
5- Be nice. Be patient. No one wants to work with jerks. We’re talking about a relationship, not just between a company and an artist but one maintained by people. If you’re easy and pleasant to work with, they’ll be more inclined to call you. And these relationships take time to create and maintain. Don’t be in a hurry and don’t get discouraged with the passing of time. Keep a good line of contact, be nice and remind them of the benefit you will be to their sales.
6- There’s no free lunch. These days it’s pretty rare to get any gear for free. It happens occasionally but not very often. Don’t be miffed if the company offers to give you their product at the dealer cost. This is normal. Tom Anderson told me that I was getting the same discount on my Crowdster that Keith Richards got on his guitar. The formula is that the more expensive the unit is to produce, the more likely you’ll pay for it. Smaller items that are cheaper to produce are more likely to be given for free.
7- Keep your end of the deal. If you endorse a product in name, you should also endorse it in fact and in public. So, you should talk about the products you endorse to the part of your audience likely to want to buy them. (You will notice that I did this earlier in the article.) This is why the company gave you the things in the first place. I remember hearing a musician say privately that he thought one of the products he endorsed was lousy. I am of the opinion that if he didn’t like the product he should have severed his relationship with that company and/or product. If you can’t truly endorse it, don’t endorse it. Simple.
8- Continue to create the value of your endorsement. Most musicians think that the manufacturer is endorsing them. The reverse is actually true; you are endorsing their products. The more positive exposure you can give to their company, the greater value you have to them. Remember that it’s always a financial relationship first. You should keep in contact with the folks at the company throughout the year, telling them about tours you’ve been on, conferences you’ve spoken at, interviews you’ve done when you mentioned their product. Let them know that their belief in you is well placed.
9- Don’t create a conflict of interest by amassing many and various endorsement deals. You can endorse many guitars, microphones and keyboards but can you really endorse two kinds of guitar picks or acoustic strings? Choose wisely so that the companies don’t feel betrayed. I’ve known musos that were dropped from endorsing relationships because they seemed in the eyes of the companies to be back stabbing.
As you help the company increase their positive public profile for their products, they are helping you by providing and maintaining the gear that you use to make your music. Symbiosis at work! It’s a reciprocal relationship when it’s working properly. So make it work properly!
This article originally appeared in Christian Musician magazine. Bob Kilpatrick wrote the classic worship choruses “In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified” and “Here Am I (Send Me To The Nations)”, has a daily devotional on the KLove radio network and has a new book coming out with Zondervan in 2010. His website is at bobkilpatrick.com