The Endorsement GameJim Riley

Understanding Product Promotion

by Jim Riley

I’ve always tried to make myself accessible to my fellow musicians, and questions about endorsements invariably come up. This article is a collection of my thoughts on the topic, which developed as a result of those conversations.

A lot of people think having an endorsement means a company is endorsing you as a player, but it’s actually the opposite. The idea is that the company is increasing its exposure and brand recognition by aligning itself with you.

So how do you get to a point where companies will want to work with you? First of all, you should just hone your craft and not worry about endorsements. If you’re committed to being the best musician you can be and are working on the goal of having a successful career, then things like endorsements will fall into place as you progress.

The second thing I would suggest is to play gear that you love and that works for you. This is very important for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that you’ll play better using gear that inspires you. And the better you play, the closer you’ll get to reaching your goals.

Companies really appreciate brand loyalty. They like it when artists can trace their history with a product and explain how using it has made their career better. The worst reason to play gear is because someone gives it to you for free. Players who get a reputation for bouncing around from company to company will find that their endorsement loses its impact.

Once you settle on the gear you truly love, take a trip to a trade show or convention, like the NAMM Show or PASIC, and stop by the booth of your favorite companies and introduce yourself. Do not make the rounds to every booth. Stick with just one cymbal company, one drum company, and so on. Be cool, and ask to speak with the artist relations manager. Don’t give them your promo pack. Just let them know that you love their gear and that one day, when you’re in a position to have something to offer the company, you would love to be able to get in touch. Then get their contact info, and call it a day.

It’s important to remember that endorsement dollars are advertising dollars. These companies are not in the business of rewarding a player strictly because he or she plays great (although that happens occasionally). Providing artists with discounted and sometimes free gear is an expensive endeavor, so it’s the job of the artist relations manager to assess the reciprocal value of an artist to a company. The question is: What do you have to offer the company in return for the gear provided? Here are some attributes that artist relations managers are looking for.

Exposure to the masses. Companies want their products placed in front of as many potential customers as possible. Drummers who play with an act on a major concert tour are seen by hundreds of thousands of people a year. Acts that are frequently booked on national television shows have the potential to place product in front of millions. Think about this: How much does a Super Bowl commercial cost? Millions. If a company sponsors an artist that’s playing halftime at the Super Bowl, its products are seen by viewers for a fraction of the cost of a commercial. My advice is to strike when the iron is hot. In other words, the moment your band has a song on the charts or gets booked on a major tour, give a call to your contacts at the different companies.

Influence over the target audience. Some players may not play in front of big crowds, but the crowds they play for are exactly the people the company is trying to reach. This would apply to heavy metal bands that don’t get a lot of airplay but have a fanatical fan base, or to an amazing drummer who can mesmerize crowds of fellow players with a solo performance in a clinic setting. It all goes
back to my first point: practice!

R&D. One of the secondary roles of an artist program is product development. Who better to help a company stay relevant and move forward than the artists who use the product on the highest level? Touring musicians use gear in the most extreme environment, which really tests its durability. The products are being set up and broken down more than a hundred times a year and are often traveling in searing heat as well as sub-zero temperatures. This will reveal flaws that could take years to discover under more normal playing conditions. Having touring artists on board to test out new gear is invaluable for research and development.

Personality. One last point to remember is that artist relations managers prefer to work with people they like. If you play great but are a jerk, companies may shy away from you, because they have enough problems in their day without having to deal with a drummer who thinks the world revolves around him or her. As a product endorser, you’re essentially a compensated spokesperson for the company. In many cases, endorsing artists are the face of the brand, and the company must feel that you represent it in a positive and professional manner.

If you’re an up-and-coming artist and you’re lucky enough to have a manager, congratulations! But never have your manager call a company to get you an endorsement deal. Remember that these companies are looking for a lasting relationship—not just a business partner. Any feelings you have about a brand will be much better received when they’re expressed directly by you.

What you get from an artist deal depends on the level of the endorsement. An entry-level artist could expect a heavy discount on gear, at about 50 to 75 percent off the retail price. A high-level endorser might be given gear at no cost, but this is not a license to order whatever you want. There is going to be a reasonable limit to the amount of gear you can get. I have a strict “order only what I need” policy that works well and keeps me in the good graces of my sponsors.

Success as a player is not the only avenue for getting in with your favorite drum companies. Successful educators are also very effective product endorsers. Why? Teachers on a local level can influence young students to favor a particular brand very early in their career, which can carry over to a lifetime of purchases. University drum line instructors have control of budgets to purchase enormous amounts of gear, which is then placed on a football field in front of thousands of people on a weekly basis. Instructors of prominent drum corps are also sought after, as they usually have a say in what gear is used. These drum lines have influence over many high school band directors, who often buy the same gear.

Every company is looking to fill its artist roster with talented, friendly, and diverse players to represent the firm on stage, on TV, and in educational settings. This roster acts like a balanced financial portfolio, in that artist relations reps are often searching for the next big thing that might garner huge amounts of exposure over the short term, while also looking for artists whose peaks of visibility may not be as high but who will have a steady amount of exposure over the long term.

Timing is also an issue to consider. The reps may like you, but they might not be in the position to take on new artists at that time. Or they could like you as a person and enjoy your drumming, but they may feel you’re not quite ready in your career for an endorsement deal. Don’t be offended if you’re turned down. Just keep working on your craft, and keep in touch. Your time will come.

Jim Riley is the drummer and bandleader for Rascal Flatts. He is an endorsing artist for Ludwig, Sabian, Remo, Shure, Gibraltar, Vater, and Latin Percussion.