by Russ Miller
Last month we started our discussion of product endorsements with the equipment manufacturers. I encourage you to read through that article again to familiarize yourself with some of the terms we’re using this month. We’ve been joined by three of the top artist-relations directors in the drum industry: Joe Testa of Vic Firth, Joe Hibbs of Mapex, and Bob Terry of NFuzed.
If you’re wondering whether you’re in a position to have an endorsement, in all honesty you’re probably not. Testa comments on this: “Focus on your playing and the music. I will find you. I will see you play, and I will hear about you from other players.” Of course there are exceptions, but when you’re ready you will probably be asked by a company to join its roster.
Have you ever seen a Nike endorser that you hadn’t already heard of? I doubt it, because Nike goes after the biggest names in the sporting world. The endorser has made a huge impact on his or her sport, and the company benefits greatly by the association. Terry, who was the drummer for Wang Chung in the ’80s, says, “I speak from the company side now, having been a player before. An artist is wrong in thinking that we are going to make them famous.”
As I wrote about last month, as an endorser you validate the product—the product does not validate you. Be patient. Wait for the right time, and it will all come to you. You will also likely be approached by the companies whose gear you’re already using. Don’t settle for using a company’s equipment just because it might be provided to you at a low cost or even for free.
You may be thinking to yourself now, But I see a lot of guys with endorsements that I’ve never heard of. And you’re right! Let’s address this.
Why Does This Guy Have a Deal?
Quite frankly, we have an epidemic in the drum world of unsubstantiated endorsements. There are a few reasons for this. First, there are a lot more instrument companies out there than in previous decades. All of these new brands are trying to get on the map and are doing whatever they can to get people to play their gear. This is understandable. A brand-new company will most likely not get big stars to play its equipment right away.
Secondly, many companies have gotten into a battle to sign artists before the competition does. This is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make. It lowers the bar in terms of who represents the company to the public. Also, it floods the market with “artists” rather than customers. Hibbs says, “In the past decade or so, the company’s expectations about the artist’s activities and influence seem to have lowered. This is due to the volume of players signed now.”
The third reason for unsubstantiated endorsements is because the criteria for signing deals have lowered dramatically. When I was younger, only the top players in the world endorsed instruments. They kept the company’s perception at the highest level, influenced sales, and pushed design ideas forward. “There are way more development artists than superstar artists now,” Testa says. “In recent years, the industry has kept signing players in hopes that they’ll make it. In years past, you would’ve already had to have ‘made it’ to get a deal. It’s pressure caused by the companies trying to get someone before the other guy does. But in reality it takes up budgets, time, and resources and usually doesn’t yield anything in the long run.”
All of us want to play great equipment that inspires us. But don’t let the desire to get something for free overshadow your artistry. “I teach a class at Musicians Institute, Hollywood,” Terry says. “I have students ask me for deals all the time. They’re students! The industry has created the wrong perception of what an endorsement even means.” It’s important to know the various roles in an endorsement relationship. I wrote about them in last month’s article, but here’s a little more on the subject.
Qualifications for Endorsements
We’re going to address each level of endorsement: marquee, international, national, and regional. If you’re a marquee-level artist, then you won’t have to ask. For international-level artists seeking an endorsement, they should first and foremost be playing the gear they’re looking to endorse. How can you tell people at the company that you believe in the product, and are willing to let them use your name in reference to it, if you’ve never played it? Also, the intimacy that comes with already owning the equipment is very important in the knowledge you offer to the company. “AR guys are more interested if you own and are already playing the gear,” Terry says. “It means the endorsement is based on honesty. It turns me off when guys come up to me and say, ‘This company offered me this and that, so you need to give me more and I will play your gear.’ It starts things off dishonestly. You need to believe in what you’re telling your fans you’re playing.”
Another qualification for an international artist deal is several—not just one—major-label recording credits that have been commercially successful or musically influential. You also need to hold a position as the drummer with a national or international-level artist whose work will be seen and heard by millions of people.
For a national-level endorsement, you should already be playing the gear that you’re talking about endorsing. (This will be a consistent theme.) And you should hold a position as an influential drummer that has a gig with a national-level artist who’s signed to a major label or has a very big countrywide following. Consistent visibility, via recordings, tours, TV appearances, and so on, is expected as well.
The first requirement on the regional level is—you guessed it—to already be playing the gear you’re talking about endorsing. You should also be an influential drummer in a specific geographical area. If the AR rep sees that you’re someone who really stands out and may eventually end up on a very visible gig, then he or she may make a move to sign you earlier in your career. This is a great opportunity to build a long-term relationship with a company and is considered a developmental opportunity for the artist. Regional deals usually go to department heads of major music programs, authors of highly regarded drum books, and top local drummers. This doesn’t mean a lot of views on YouTube—you need to be out working in the music business.
One of the crucial points in endorsements is that both sides are vital in the relationship. “Deals can be extremely effective if both parties do their part,” Hibbs says. “If the company gets the right guy to move the needle and makes good use of it, it will have a huge effect. Likewise, artists need to commit their efforts as well—things like making sure products are listed in album credits and on social media, properly displaying logos on gear and websites, talking about their equipment in interviews, and making sure that their fan base knows what gear they’re using. It can work really well for everybody.”
For me, endorsements have never been about getting free gear. It’s always been about support. When you’re doing major tours and records, you can run into many unforeseen situations with your equipment, from broken parts to bizarre requests from producers and artists. Being able to service those, as well as having access to backline kits around the world, is what makes my relationship with the company crucial.
In regard to the artist’s side of the relationship, you need to maintain a valid endorsement status. So don’t switch companies all the time. This weakens your honest viewpoint of the product. Also, artist endorsements are serious business transactions. You need to keep up your side of the deal by being diligent with promotion, continually appearing at highly visible events, using all of your faculties to further the relationship, and always being a positive ambassador for the companies.
I hope these two articles help to clear up this particularly murky part of our industry. I’ve been a little blunt, but it’s important to emphasize that an endorsement isn’t going to make you a star. The quote that I chose this month emphasizes the points I’ve made about why you should want an endorsement in the first place. There are no shortcuts to success. It’s hard work that leads to joy, humility, honor, blessings, and great music. Good luck!
Russ Miller has recorded and/or performed with Ray Charles, Cher, Nelly Furtado, and the Psychedelic Furs and has played on soundtracks for The Boondock Saints, Rugrats Go Wild, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, among others. For more info, visit russmiller.com.