Want an endorsement deal with your favorite guitar company? This article walks you through exactly what guitar companies are looking for from artists they work with, how brands and artists work together, common mistakes to avoid, and exactly what you can usually get out of a deal with a brand.

Growing up I always wondered exactly how endorsement deals work, and there was never really any reliable information available. Occasionally companies might put up a quick blog or two paragraph explanation but they don’t actually explain much.

After running companies like Horizon Devices, dealing guitars for most major guitar brands via the Wired Guitarist community store, working with a few Artist Relations experts, and speaking with dozens and dozens of artists I have a pretty strong understanding of how an artist can secure an endorsement deal with their favorite guitar brand.

Anyways, let’s jump into it. I recommend making some delicious snack food because this is going to be a pretty long article…

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  1. What companies really want from artists.
  2. What you can get out of an endorsement, and how they are structured.
  3. How you can cut through the noise, meet the right people and get the deal you want.

1. WHAT COMPANIES REALLY WANT FROM ARTISTS

  • A good, professional attitude! (Don’t be a scumbag) That’s right. This is going first. It’s very easy to be a nice guy with a good professional attitude but a lot of people manage to mess this up anyways. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard folks handling artist relations tell me they don’t want to work with someone purely because they act like a 14-year-old diva. Sure, people with a bad attitude can still get deals, but they will have a harder time getting them, and if you gain this kind of reputation in the industry you’ll have a lot more difficulty succeeding. This doesn’t just apply to endorsement deals either! Conversely, I know a few AR guys that have helped someone get a deal with their company even if they don’t meet the usual requirements purely because they loved the artist in question. After all, who doesn’t like to see nice people succeed? Honestly, you don’t really even have to be that nice. You can be pretty average, and you’ll still be far ahead of most guitarists that go looking for endorsement deals. Being professional helps a lot too. I’m not talking about using multi-syllable words and being formal by the way. What I’m talking about is actually doing things you tell people you will do. Be on time, don’t try to cool-guy people, produce content that brands ask you produce, etc… It’s really not rocket science but people are genuinely surprised when they find out that nobody wants to work with them because they’ve built up a reputation for being someone who has to be texted 666 times to get something done. Word gets around very quickly because the industry is so small and brands talk to each other all the time, so don’t be a diva.
  • A large, active, engaged social media following. Even though organic reach is dying off quickly (yes, really), brands still value the targeted impressions that good sized social media following can generate. After all, some reach is better than none, right? What brands really love seeing is when artists take the time to respond to fans, especially when they are explaining to a fan why they use a certain brand of gear. Bonus points if you participate actively on forums frequented by guitarists.
  • People that can produce high-quality content. Can you produce a high-quality demo video for a brand complete with good videography, a killer mix, and some delicious guitar playing? Congrats, you just paid for yourself. Companies have no problem throwing free guitars at you because it costs them $1000 – $3000 to produce a decent quality video in-house anyways. The math is in your favor. If you can do this, then you’re already way ahead of the pack. Seriously.
  • Artists that get them sales. This is incredibly obvious, but somehow people miss it. At the end of the day, brands are looking for people that can help them sell more guitars. Even people with a terrible attitude can score a deal if they can move serious volume for a brand. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way of the world! It’s worth noting that if you play “musician’s music” then your odds of getting a deal are a lot higher just because you have more guitarists watching you than someone playing music that appeals to a wider base of people. Guitarists trust the opinion of people who can play well too, which means an endorsement deal with an artist is worth a lot more money to them. Of course, a huge guitarist (even one without killer chops) is still a good thing for a brand to have to rope in the newbies.

2. WHAT YOU CAN GET OUT OF AN ENDORSEMENT DEAL

Alright, so maybe you’ve managed to get your foot in the door. You’ve already splurged on a nice bottle of booze to celebrate the $50,000 check that your favorite guitar company is about to send you alongside the 10 guitars spec’d out just the way you wanted.

Not so fast, amigo.

You probably aren’t going to be getting any phat checks unless you’re a big boy… like, a really, really big boy.

Typically, a brand will have a few different levels. They aren’t very strict, and these levels mix together sometimes, so don’t take this as gospel or anything. They are also nicer than I, and name their tiers A, B, C, etc… but I’m an honest guy and I like to tell it like it is. Keep in mind that there may be other miscellaneous “terms and conditions” not covered here. Some brands are fine with you playing other guitars, and others are not, it really depends on the deal you can get.

Low tier/Perma-customer:
Nobody calls it perma-customer, but I’ve heard AR guys use the phrase a ton, and at the end of the day that’s basically what you are. You’ll usually receive discounts on gear. Most of the time these discounts are around what you might see the same guitar pop up for on the used market. You’ll get some light promotion on social media from the brand, maybe. I would only go after this kind of deal if you do not suffer from Guitar Addiction Syndrome and you really love the brand that’s offering you a deal.

Mid-tier:
You might get a guitar or two for free every year, and you’ll also get discounts on gear. The brand will go further out of their way to offer you support you via social media, tour support, etc…

High-tier:
More free guitars, likely custom ones. Tons of support via social media and other avenues and…

You might even get offered a signature model at this point!

If you do, you’ll usually be paid a portion of each sale. This is the real way artists really make money on endorsement deals. You might even be paid a little bit of money for signing on, but it’s usually not much or enough to really sway someone one way or another. Depending on how well your model sells, you can make good-ish money in this tier. That’s why you might want to put serious thought into what kind of model the brand you’re working with is missing, and then fill the need for that model with your signature. That kind of kills the “signature” part of things but hey, if you want a fat check…

Godlike:
You’re a household name. The company will do whatever it takes to make you happy. This is when serious money gets involved. You’ll get just about anything you ask for, within reason, and you’ll definitely get a signature model. Think of names like Steve Vai, John Mayer, and Harambe. Just kidding… you’ll never be as big as Harambe.

3. CUT THROUGH THE NOISE & GET THE DEAL YOU WANT!

Time to get into the one thing none of the useless blogs on brand sites actually cover. They’ll tell you to send them some B.S. package that they don’t really even look at properly.

What you need to do is focus on creating a simple one-pager that quickly shows your current relevant metrics like music sales, social following, previous brand promotions that have yielded ROI for the brand in question, your ability to create quality content…basically the stuff that shows them how much money you’re going to make them.

Make sure it’s a slick looking PDF, not some PoS you whipped up in Microsoft word in 15 minutes. Seriously, you’ll stand out. Your grammar should be on point too because roughly 78% of guitarists seem to be illiterate and struggle with proper spelling. I made that statistic up, but it sounds about right based on the emails my friends doing AR have sent me.

Don’t just rely on email either, befriend whoever is responsible for AR on social media, and quickly touch base with them. Don’t bug them. If you have the means to attend NAMM, I highly recommend locating whoever is responsible for AR and at least talking to them! This will go a long way. Don’t sit there pitching yourself, just have a conversation with them so they know you’re a human being and you won’t be a royal PITA to work with if they decide to bring you onboard.

Once you’re talking to the company, don’t settle for the first deal they offer you. In my opinion, signing up to be a perma-customer is a big waste of time unless you intend on growing out of it very quickly. When negotiating, do it politely and do not get upset if they don’t give you what you want. Instead, thank them for their time and let them know that you’d love to reconnect in the future.

Final Thoughts

Getting an endorsement deal can be a lot easier than you think, but you need to know exactly what kind of deal you’re getting into, and how to navigate it. If you stick to these tips and present yourself as a valuable, hard-working, and amicable individual it will be hard for any company NOT to see your value.

 

 

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