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The Endorsement Syndrome

Discover that this means different things to different people — from free gear for life (perhaps) to a half-price plectrum (maybe)


AN IMMUTABLE law of the universe, one which ranks alongside that minor miracle of the teaspoon always left in the bowl when you pour away the washing-up water, is that the richer and more famous you are, the greater the likelihood of companies going out of their way to give you things for free.

But apply this relationship to musical instruments, rather than the musicians who use them, and the inverse applies. The most successful, value-packed product least needs the formal endorsement of influential artists — especially if hundreds of musicians are queueing up at their local stores to buy it anyway.

For instance, it's true to say that the DX7 has never been advertised by Yamaha in the UK (either in isolation, or as a product linked to a specific artist). Reason: it sold like Filofaxes from the word go, thus creating its own disciples as it careered up the keyboard sales charts. Why use precious promotional budgets to publicise a keyboard when your target market sees it in the frontline everytime they go to a gig or switch on to a rock TV prog.?

Yet the DX7 is not typical — rarely does a single instrument stand out from the competition to such an extent and for so long. In fact the search for 'name' and up-and-coming players to sign on the dotted line remains a preoccupation for manufacturers of all complexions.

The reason, not least, is cause and effect. A new or modestly-selling piece of equipment, as long as it fulfils the basic tenets of quality and value, can become a success story for itself or an entire brand name simply because the right person is seen to be out there regularly strutting his stuff with it. Making Music birthday chum Mark King and Jaydee basses is an example which springs quickly to mind.

This one-off approach is just as important, from a manufacturer or distributor's viewpoint, as nurturing long-term mega-muso relationships in the interests of corporate credibility — viz. Clapton and Fender, Gadd and Yamaha, Philips and Tama — and so on. But as much as up-and-coming products are candidates for artist enticement, so too are up-and-coming players. And maybe this is where you come in.

Three things to bear in mind before you get overexcited. One: the days of companies lobbing out huge piles of fun tickets as well as enough free gear to fill a pantechnicon are definitely over. Two: there's no such thing as a free lunch. Last: no one, but no one, likes a blagger.

The blagger is an infestation that plagues instrument firms the world over. Assuming the human form of player himself or upwardly aspiring roadie, blaggers regularly constitute as much as 50% of an Artist Relations chap's daily incoming phone calls. They usually protest star status in a most unlikely part of the country, confide six-figure recording deals just around the corner, and a string of other reasons why they should be given an XYZ1000 for zilch. The blagger often turns nasty when told no.

This goes down like a Richard in a goldfish bowl resulting in rapid end of conversation.

A subtler sub-species of blagger sometimes does persuade with a silken tongue and extracts some kind of deal. This is akin to giving someone enough rope to climb Everest. Thereafter, the company is likely to be subject to constant earbending about freebies on totally unrelated products, and calls from mates various who've graduated from the same finishing school. Whichever, the relationship is destined for early divorce, and understandably so.

What we need is to appreciate the criteria companies will apply when considering an endorsement. First and foremost, they'll need to be convinced that you will influence other players to buy their products over and above what they'd sell anyway. This, in turn, will depend on you or your band's profile, how much work you're doing (live and in the studio), any names you might have played with previously, how competent a player you are, and evidence of genuinely existing or imminent recording deals backed by promotional clout from the record company.

Second, and as one who's sat on the other side of the desk something I'd rate of nearly equal persuasion, is that you're not going to be a primadonna. The promotional benefits accruing to the endorser can easily be outweighed psychologically if day to day dealings spell aggravation and constant tantrums. You shouldn't be totally submissive, but you do need to be reasonable and co-operative. Being a pleasant sort of cove who likes curries will do for starters.

So, reach for the 'phone only to find out the name of the manager in charge of artist relations, then put your presentation in writing. Compile a literate musical biography with all the details to support your case (go easy on the hyperbole), enclose demo tapes, records and record company biogs if available, and whack it in the post. Then hold your breath or go for a drink. If you've heard nothing after a few days then follow up with a phone call, and take it from there.

Drummers will be interested to learn that Zildjian, for instance, even have an endorsee application form. That's as much an indication of the number of calls they constantly receive from aspiring cymbalists as it is for their reasoned and internationally linked approach to artist acquisition.

In the wildest-dreams event that an endorsement from a manufacturer is in the offing, what form is it likely to take?

Usually it would comprise a yearly, renewable contract for specific and itemised products free-of-charge. With a multi-product company, a drummer might expect kit(s) and hardware and perhaps even electronic percussion. For a guitarist it could be the instrument(s) in question plus maybe backline and FX. It is most unlikely that there'll be carte blanche for everything the company makes.

The agreement should outline the extent of assistance with replacement parts, servicing and accessories. In the growing climate of internationally coordinated activities amongst the major industry figureheads, there may even be help with the supply or hire of relevant equipment when you or the band tour abroad. Costs such as storage, transportation, casing etc will almost certainly be excluded. That's your responsibility.

In return you would be agreeing to the 'respectful' use of your name and mugshot for publicity and advertising on a worldwide basis (territorial agreements are becoming less and less acceptable). You'd keep the gear supplied in good condition and use same on all reasonable occasions. That is, most of the time.

Your input to the sponsoring company's product research and development efforts is implicit, as would be volunteering — when available — to do clinics and demonstrations. Expenses here on a job by job basis may be forthcoming, but that's down to the company policy or what's thrashed out when the agreement is entered into.

The worth of an endorsement to both parties is evidently considerable but, forgetting bits of paper for a moment, the best ingredient for long-term success is loyalty. If a company is supportive it can provide exposure as an individual player you might otherwise not have received. The least it should expect in return is your loyalty.

Which is perhaps why drum and cymbal endorsements seem to flourish and remain the most influential forum for artist relations, and so many guitar and backline agreements flounder. Why? Because, apart from a drummer's naturally intense feelings towards his gear, it's impracticable for him to use more than one kit at a time — even though he may have different set-ups for studio and live work.

By contrast, a guitarist who endorses SpringyNeck guitars and Spiffo amps probably owns a whole room full of other brands. And he still ends up on-stage every night with fave Strat or Les Paul plugged into an equally loved Marshall stack. That situation does neither side any favours, convinces no-one and makes a mockery of the whole endorsement can of worms.

What about bassists and keyboard players? Well, I suspect bass players are closer to drummers in staying loyal to a newly discovered workhorse, hence hotshot right-hand wigglers make attractive endorsement propositions. As for keyboard and hi-tech bods, I imagine they're more likely to find a deal if prepared to go the whole hog with a particular manufacturer's system. An agreement linked to one product lost within a MIDI system of other brands is obviously less persuasive.

It would be naive to maintain that no shades of grey exist between the black and white of either paying full retail in the local music shop or signing a freebie deal for the whole known universe. In the real world, direct one-off deals between professional musicians and wholesaler do occur — often for sound marketing reasons. Varying sums of money below retail price will change hands. However, since the emergence over the last few years of more and more franchised retail dealerships this practice is discouraged. Deserving cases that a manufacturer might be loathe to lose to a competitor will, likely as not, be referred to a local stockist arrangement.

The question of retailers protecting their own interests against manufacturers' direct liaison with emerging artists is a delicate, not to say emotive, topic. But every embryo star has to come from somewhere and, in the process, is bound to have patronised a particular store for the stuff of making music. Suffice to say, if you reckon you're on the way to becoming next year's Mel Gaynor, The Edge or whoever, and can convince your favourite manufacturer that an endorsement would be just triff, go for it. Handled properly, everyone's a winner, not least the retailer who stands to benefit from all those additional me — too sales you'll help to generate by your fearsome chops and fetching persona!

Slogan To China

Speaking of endorsements, how about the words that fit below the ads. The slogans. Do you ever read your T-shirt? Go on, throw your richly thewed arm across your manly chest and tell us, without looking, the slogan emblazoned upon it.

See? There you are, using your body as a walking billboard for all sorts of companies (remember you paid them to advertise their product), and you can't even recall what they say.

So, listed below are the slogans of a few well known manufacturers for you to match up and test the grey sludgy.

We design the future Washburn
The only serious choice Peavey
Creative at heart Stepp
Applied magic for the arts Zildjian
Towards perfection Beyer Dynamic
We do not produce guitars, Making Music
we produce satisfaction Korg
Hand crafted in the USA Roland
Mixing art with science Bond
A legend in performance Charvel Jackson
A New step for the guitar Akai
This is just the beginning Fane
Music to your ears for 100 years Emu Systems
Britain's Biggest Musicians' Magazine AHB
Excellence in Sound Yamaha
We put it all together


The only serious choice - Zildjian
A legend in performance - Washburn
We design the future - Roland
A new step for the guitar - Bond
Creative at heart - Akai
This is just the beginning - Stepp
Applied magic for the arts - Emu Systems
Music to your ears for 100 years - Yamaha
Towards Perfection - Fane
BRITAIN'S BIGGEST MUSICIANS' MAGAZINE - Making Music of course, dummos.
We do not produce guitars, we produce satisfaction - Charvel
Excellence in sound - Beyer Dynamic
Hand crafted in the USA - Peavey
We put it all together - Korg
Mixing art with science - AHB

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Stage Fright

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The Jay Arthur Column

Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.


Making Music - May 1987

Feature by Jerry Uwins

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