I still remember the hours I spent browsing my favourite manufacturers’ catalogues as a child. For me, the huge drums and amazingly shiny cymbals had a kind of magical aura – they were something very special indeed. I still recall the positive feelings I came to associate with them. Though it wasn’t all that long ago, there was one key difference between then and now: back then, there was no internet. This meant that the catalogues that my music teacher brought from from music fair in Frankfurt were my only chance to learn about the drums and other equipment on sale. I treasured them and memorised every detail. If I hadn’t been so young, I would have made a fantastic salesman for our local music shop.
An endorsement: my childhood dream
As a teenager, I was fascinated by endorsements and the prospect of free equipment. At the time, of course, I had no idea how the music business worked, and I didn’t understand what manufacturers stood to gain from such deals. Still, I always dreamed of being featured in a catalogue alongside Terry Bozzio or Steward Copeland. For a while, I wanted it more than anything else. Full of enthusiasm, I founded my first band – I knew I needed to be successful if I were ever to be offered such an opportunity. At the time, I would have endorsed anything, so long as it looked cool on stage and sounded okay too. Today, I realise this is entirely the wrong approach – and I’m grateful that in those internet-free days, it wasn’t as easy to get in touch with companies as it is today. (You must keep in mind that at this point, I was only eleven years old…)
What to avoid if you want to be an endorser
Nowadays, I repeatedly see young colleagues sending out batches of identical emails to fish for endorsements from companies. This is something I can only warn against. Let things be and see what comes along! The A&Rs of different companies know one another and, of course, will share ideas about potential endorsement candidates. If they realise you’ve flung out the same pitch to several different companies, you’ll look unprofessional, untrustworthy and ungrateful. It’ll come across as though you don’t genuinely support anyone. Instead, you’ll look like a chancer who just wants to get things for free – a very bad starting position for becoming a successful endorser.
Be professional and friendly in your work
Instead of taking the approach described above, I recommend consistently working on your instrumental skills, playing as many concerts as possible and being friendly and pleasant to your peers. No company will give you free stuff “just because”. If they support you by sending free equipment, they will expect, eventually, that they end up selling more as a result. This means that in order to qualify as an endorser, you must have a degree of familiarity with potential buyers, enabling the company to use your name and reputation to promote themselves.
The business relationship involved in an endorsement deal is similar to the one that arises when a record company contracts your band to their label. As with record deals, not all endorsement deals are created equal, and the different types are discussed briefly in the list at the end of the article to enable you to recognise them. Endorsers almost always fall into one of the following four categories:
- Sidemen playing with top national or international acts
This group includes drummers who have enjoyed an excellent years-long reputation within the music industry, touring regularly and working in the studio with world-class, well-respected musicians. These drummers are usually a manufacturer’s “crown jewels”, because they influence the buying decision of many drummers – consciously or subconsciously – with their opinions about certain equipment.
- Young, emerging drummers
Companies sometimes award endorsement deals to unknown drummers whom they expect to “break through” in the near future. Although these emerging musicians are only known to a niche group of fans, the companies take a chance on the fact that they’ll soon be recognised by a wider audience.
- Drum teachers
Many companies award endorsements to drum schools and respected drum teachers. From a manufacturer’s perspective, the close contact between teacher and student can be a valuable extra string in the drummer’s bow. In addition, many recognised teachers are also authors of educational materials, which presents a further opportunity for targeted advertising by manufacturers (e.g. in books, on blogs and on websites).
- Technical and/or musical high-fliers
Every now and then, a drummer comes along who is able to spontaneously inspire their peers – mainly because of their outstanding technical and/or musical abilities. In this case, the manufacturer does not care whether the endorser tours regularly or plays in big-name studios. Through workshops and master classes, these musicians are able to represent the manufacturers in a form that is almost always profitable: their audience is made up exclusively of drummers, and the advertising is as target group-specific as it gets.
Just as there are different endorsers, there are also different types of endorsement contracts:
- A-level endorsements
This form of endorsement is awarded to the small number of drummers who are either highly reputed, highly successful, or both. This includes people like Thomas Lang, Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta and Billy Cobham. In this type of deal, the manufacturer sends the artist all their equipment for free, and may also compensate the artist for using it. The amounts tend not to be eye-wateringly large, but are more to cover the musician’s cost of living. Unlike in sports, there are no millions to be earned. That said, most amounts are still in the middle of the five-digit range.
- B-level endorsements
Generally, the framework conditions of a B-level endorsement are the same as those of an A-level endorsement – the difference is simply that the amount of equipment is limited. The artist usually receives a free drum set to use during the term of the agreement, which typically lasts for one to three years.
- C-level endorsements
If a manufacturer is not willing to take a big risk with an aspiring drummer, this is the type of deal that will usually be offered. In this case, the artist is able to buy equipment at the manufacturer’s price or just above. Some companies also offer the endorser the chance to choose instruments directly from the factory, and may provide assistance if something needs replacing. At this point, you might be wondering what advantage such a relationship brings to the endorser – after all, retailers no longer charge a significant mark-up, and may also offer benefits such as warranties or write-off options. As far as I see it, the biggest advantage for endorsers is the chance to build a personal relationship with the manufacturer and “work up” from C-level to A-level status – if they have the drive and are prepared to invest the necessary energy.
The type of deal you receive will depend not only on the company (or companies) with whom you are under contract, but also on the relationship you have with the respective A&R manager. Many endorsements are preceded by a good personal relationship, so be sure not to neglect this aspect of the business. In addition, before you seek an endorsement, think about what benefits you can bring to the company. Endorsement relationships are not a one-way street: the success of the manufacturer is your success too, and vice versa.
Are endorsers allowed to use equipment from other manufacturers?
If you officially endorse a manufacturer, you are firmly bound to use their equipment – it has a counterproductive effect if you are seen using other manufacturers’ gear in public, at concerts or in studio sessions. That said, there will sometimes be situations where it is difficult to use your partner’s equipment – and this also applies for renowned drummers playing with internationally recognised artists. Often, the problem is of a logistical nature. Imagine that you’re giving one concert in Milan. What would be the cheaper solution – to haul all your equipment there, or rent a drum set from a local backline provider? I don’t need to tell you the answer!
Equipment is usually paid for by the local concert promoter, which, of course, wants to keep its expenses as low as possible in order to maximise its profits. They do not care which items of your endorsement partner’s equipment you normally use. Nevertheless, you should try – wherever possible – to insist on your preferences and stay loyal to your partner. You owe that to them. Why should you use the equipment of a company whose products you cannot 100% stand behind?
Endorsements: have confidence in yourself – and be a professional partner
When it comes to endorsements, my main advice is to avoid making excessive demands from the outset. Start small and climb the ladder of success gradually: anything else would be unprofessional, and won’t help you in the long term. An endorsement deal can open doors for you in many ways and make life on the road much easier. At the same time, you should never take your partner’s support for granted. Always make sure you fulfil your side of the bargain, too!
What about you? Are you interested in becoming an endorser, or is it more important to you to remain independent? What experiences have you had with your endorsement partners? What stories do you have to share? Let me know in the comments!