One of the most fascinating aspects of the music industry to me is how much free stuff is readily available. And yet, despite this, no one seems to take it. Asides from the fact that many bands eat and drink for free for most of their touring lives, one thing that gets to frequently overlooked is the endorsement. “Those are only for big bands” you say? Not true. I’m here to tell you that even a minor musician with just a little bit of gumption and wherewithal can get a sponsorship and see free goods come in worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Here’s where that underground cred rears its head once more – this is exactly the kind of narrative creating branding opportunity that you need to be taking advantage of if you want to survive.
People are a lot more willing to give musicians free stuff rather than to give them money – even if the free stuff is worth more than they would ever give for a CD. It’s one of those weird things about the human psyche I haven’t quite figured out. It’s a lot easier to ask a company for a drum case than the $300 to buy said case. I get that their only real cost is parts – but even then, companies are always much more willing to shell out a free case and take the $50 loss than give a musician $50.. After all, this way they know their product is being promoted. Even as you are constructing your own narrative be aware that gear companies are constructing stories of their own and you need to help them to see where you fit into that.
As a side note – you need to be aware you’re not always going to get stuff purely for free. At lower levels companies will often give musicians just an artist discount, or ask for the money for parts. These types of deals are still beneficial (And save you money) you just need to be sure to have all your ducks in a row when it comes time to sign that contract. You don’t want a company using your image whilst they give you a $5 discount on a $600 product. Most companies handing out endorsement companies have artist relations people and aren’t trying to screw over musicians, but this is the music industry and you can never be too careful.
Ultimately companies don’t want to give you free stuff because of your skills or even your longtime support of their brand. That’s not what really matters to them. What they care about is finding musicians who help to make them look like the kind of brand musicians want to work with. They want people to show up and say ‘Hey – the drummer of X band works with you. I dig his sound.’ You’re not going to get a commission for that – let’s be real, that sort of situation rarely if ever happens. It pays for these companies though to have a healthy roster of artists though since it paints them as noble caretakers of a scene that we are all beholden to.
You need to take advantage of this. fact You don’t really need to be a big name musician at all to score some free gear. Obviously you need to be in a band and have at least some credits to your name (IE: Opening for bigger bands, about to join a bigger band, a few tours under your belt) but once you’ve got those fairly basic details covered, you are pretty much good to go. What seems to matter most is having a well written bio and some professional shots of you playing. It helps evidence that you are serious. If you seem like just a pretender you won’t get any endorsement deals – but if you can qualify yourself as a capable individual with a very real shot at progressing then the odds are at least one company would be willing to take a risk on you.
Remember, at the end of the day, the people making gear also love music, just as much, if not more than you. They know what it means to play in a tiny unsigned band, pour all your energy into it and come outwith no money to show for it. They understand the fundamental struggles of this generation of musicians and guess what – they are here to help guide you through even as you struggle. That has always been their role. You need to approach them in this way – make them realize that while you are an asset, and you are doing them a favor, you still represent the potent history of the underground. You help them to justify their oftentimes huge profit margins because they are still supporting their scene in perhaps the only way they know how. You are helping them to cultivate an image that they never want to have to let go of.
So yeah – endorsement deals are amazing. Everyone benefits, but companies are never going to reach out to you. They already get hundreds of submissions week – why should they want to email you about giving you free stuff? You need to step up and make sure you come off as sufficiently professional and prepared for this kind of opportunity. The best part – these things stack, the more deals you get the easier it becomes and the more people are willing to work with you. Then you can bring your friends in and really get the ball rolling. So get ready to dive off the deep end and into the world of endorsements – send out roughly a million bio’s and embrace the change it could represent for you.