Product endorsements, for many manufacturers of music and sound equipment, are a big part of their marketing strategy. Simply put, endorsements are designed to increase product or brand-name awareness, and ultimately sales, through the use of a familiar spokesperson. To have a big-name artist using and singing the praises of a particular brand of guitar strings, drums or microphones is always valuable. Endorsements by themselves are also cost effective when compared to other means of advertising. Giving a few dozen sets of strings and adding that musician to the manufacturer's site and press releases is a lot cheaper than many other forms of advertising. There is also a "chumming the waters" effect when musicians spread the word about a product based on testimony by a respected performer.
A few words about endorsement terms: You as the artist are the endorser; the manufacturer is the endorsee. I see these two words mixed up many times, not only by the artist but often by the manufacturer. If you are using X Brand drumsticks, you are the endorser. You as the artist are not the endorsee.
Endorsement deals are a partnership and you should think that way when approaching a manufacturer. There are varying degrees to this and a lot of gray area. Frankly, much of the depth in an endorsement situation is what you bring to it. Some product endorsers work closely with the factory to give ideas and suggestions for new product development and ways to improve existing products. You don't necessarily have to be a high-profile musician to lend some insight to the factory and they appreciate it. Other times the partnership is merely based on what I call "mutual bragging rights." That is to say that the factory gets to tell their dealers and customers that you are using the gear. They are happy about it and that's about it. Meanwhile you get to tell your contacts that you endorse a product that you use in your craft.
When you decide to approach a factory about endorsing their product you should only seek deals with products that you love using. That means products that you are proud to use even if you were paying list price for. Okay, maybe not list price, but you get the idea. Manufacturers' artist relations people love passion from musicians; it is the reason that they are still working in the music industry instead of selling insurance. Be selective and have integrity. You will get much further in the process.
The nitty gritty of submitting an endorsement request to a manufacturer is relatively simple at least in the beginning. Send a letter with a press kit and if possible a recent CD of you and your band's music. Chris Walters, who handles artist relations for GHS Strings/Rocktron, gets 30-50 e-mails per week from musicians looking for product endorsements. His number one complaint is that the e-mails often ask for clothing deals or gear from competitive companies. Oops! "Proof and re-proof your e-mail. I can tell when someone is just doing a mass e-mail wanting any kind of free gear. Know what you are talking about!" Know, too, that A&R folks talk to each other. Often if I get a request for Heil Sound microphones from a musician who claims to have an endorsement deal with Drum Workshop, for example. You can bet that I will call Garrison at DW to verify.
So, what exactly does the factory look for in selecting to work with one particular artist? Two things, movement and visibility. They want to know that the gear will be used in front of as many people as possible. To do that, the artist should have some sort of management in place (it can be one of the group members), a touring or performing schedule that is serious, records available via online services or through CD sales, and a good Web site. Be prepared to have links in any and all of these places to the manufacturer's Web site.
I should mention that indie artists and club musicians often play a big role in artist relations. In other words, it's not just for the superstars. The difficulty, though, for the manufacturer is knowing who to work with and bring into their "fold." In this day and age of musical chaos (some would say "good chaos) in the industry, it becomes less clear which artists are going to have "legs" and be around for a period of time. Regardless of stature, the process is remarkably similar for both the club musician and the established artist. Both need to state their case and sell themselves to the manufacturer. Know that when you see Slash walking through the NAMM show, he is doing the work of an artist endorser. You can and should be doing the same.
Once the decision has been made at the factory to work with a given artist, some sort of contract (they vary wildly from one manufacturer to another) will be drawn up stating the terms and conditions and length of the agreement. It will also state what gear will be given and if that gear is free or not. In recent years manufacturers have cut back on the amount of gratis gear even to endorsers. Similar to comp tickets from a band—not gone but hard to come by. All is not lost, though, as the endorsers who are not given free gear may purchase products direct from the factory at discounted prices.
Artist relations and product endorsements, when all parties are focused and on the same page, can be a great experience for an artist. They get the latest and greatest gear and are considered to be a true "friend of the factory." For the manufacturer, there is no better feeling than seeing your logo on stage or on a television broadcast. If you have a chance to pick up Stevie Wonder's DVD, Live at Last, you will see what I mean. Stevie never (or rarely) endorses gear. Believe me, I have tried. But there he is on stage in London singing into a Heil Sound microphone. In fact there are Heil mics all over the stage. And Rocktron talk box tubing. And Pearl drums. All sorts of gear. A million or so people see these products in that DVD. When you go into a relationship with a manufacturer, think about the big picture and its possibilities. Could be a good deal for all!