Pro Series: insights into sponsorship

Pro Series: insights into sponsorship

Pro Series: insights into sponsorship

Truth In Shredding want to help you with your career prospects and are putting together a series of articles covering the actual work and pitfalls encountered by musicians.  This is the first in the cleverly titled “Pro Series”.  So first up is an article that can give you some insider professional insights  into the world of sponsoring.
Sponsoring... yes, you know, all those little questions that all guitar players ask themselves at sometime in their career.  How do I get it? What does it really mean to get it? Where do I look for it? What’s the selection criteria that instrument manufacturers use to chose their preferred artists?  and are all endorsements the same?
This will be a long and very boring reading for sure... 
If you feel that you are the kind of person who can't get to the end of it or just read small parts here and there you are probably the person who needs to read this the most!

It is good to know that there really are no easy, short, or “one fits all” answers to any of these questions. If you ask 100 sponsored players, you will probably get 75 different answers on how it happened. There are so many variables that come into play, the size of the company in question, what level you at in your career, how much exposure you have, how much you stand out from all the others players out there... yes the same ones asking the same questions.  Factor in personal chemistry, being at the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, luck..., just to name a few of them.  With that said, even if there is no “one” answer that fits all,  there are  better ways to proceed with your ambitions, compared to some others.
The Sure fired way of getting a tier one endorsement is that you are already at the top of your career and have become super famous, for example at Steve Vai’s level. Then you don’t really have to know anything about the process of getting sponsoring, all the sponsors you could ever want and more,   will come to you, without you even asking for it. But as we know, it not really that easy to become super famous as a guitar player these days, almost impossible, but it is for sure the best way in. So let’s look at it from a perspective that will make more relevance to the upcoming guitar player, that’s you right? The guy who who has amazing chops, but you’re just not super famous... yet!

Sponsorship... What it really is.
Before we jump at it is it is a good idea to quickly sort out what sponsorship really is.
And this is the most important part of everything in this text (so read it twice).

Sponsorship is business; and the only purpose of it is for brands to sell more of their gear. 

From the brands side it’s that they believe that having you in their team will sell more of the product in question or that they want a part of the image and exposure you can supply (which really is another way to say “sell more gear”).
From your side is it to get support with instruments (or other gear) and/or parts for gear when they break, a chance to borrow gear if you have a gig far away in another country. Also to get the exposure that being associated with a “name” brand can give you (online adverts,  clinics etc), all of which help you boost your career.  
It will help you tremendously to always have that in mind and to always treat all endorsement or sponsorships as business contracts, just like any other business relationship they do need to be managed for the best to come out of them and for them to go on for a longer time. Think about the way you write, for example, most people you deal with are older than you and not really part of the SMS/Facebook way of writing. So if you are contacting a potential endorser, use proper language, spell check communications, if you are not sure about it then check it with someone else before you send it. Always remember to be respectful, say hello and goodbye in a grownup way and leave all smileys and other Internet ways to write out of there (things like “lol” and other “internet words” grownups don't understand). Write like you would when you would send a CV for a job interview. Mistakes you make when writing in another language other than your native tongue can be okay, but work on your English or work with someone who can check your English if you are not confident about the quality.  

Sponsorship are relationships that rely on trust and credibility. This means you need to act as you say you will act. If, for example, you say “I will send you those pictures / text / info or whatever by tomorrow” then you must send whatever it was, by tomorrow, not in 3 weeks time.  If they ask you to send photos of yourself ASAP, then make sure you do it ASAP. Make sure those pictures meet the standards that are required, a webcam photo will not cut the mustard in today's media rich world. So make sure you get the details of what they require and deliver to that standard or better. If you are meeting face to face then you must be on time or a little early (you just never come late to a business meeting), shake hands and behave like adult.
This is not a one off thing, but is something that you should do with all the contacts you have, AR guys, gig booking guys, record label guys, media guys etc. (even if it is just a guitar website that has asked you to write a little lesson, deliver it in time). Always, always do things when you say you would do them and always do things you get asked for as soon as you possibly can. That way the business relationship is strengthened, your reputation and credibility are enhanced, business people will know you are a reliable guy. The opposite is also true, fail to deliver things, or deliver badly and that news is sure to get around.  
Everyone in the music business is looking for reliable people! 
The people you work with are spending both time and money on the relationship so they need to know that you are trustworthy, reliable and someone that delivers in time, every time. If you are super famous can you sort of forget this part,(you might even have someone who does that work for you) and no doubt if you are  super famous you'll not need to read this anyway!
So sponsorship is not just meant to be a ego boost to make you look cool among your friends, it is not a career measurement to make you look big, it is not a “get me some free stuff thing and get outta my way”, it is not a support of talented guys because someone really likes to be nice to super talented guys like you... (even if it does happen).  It is a business relationship pure and simple, and one that (hopefully) helps the brand sell more gear and (hopefully) help you to boost your career.

Sponsorship... A few words about free photos and other protected material.

One of the parts that an artist is responsible  for in a sponsorship deal is to supply material for the company to use, material that will be used for promotion etc, materials like photos, video etc.
All sponsor contacts you have will expect you to send free photos when you supply pictures. “Free photos” means that you have the right from the photographer to use the photos anyway you like, that you, or people you send them too, can use them in adverts in printed material or on the net without a photographer sending a bill for it.  Photos (text, music, paintings etc) are all owned by the person who took them, the fact that it is you who is looking great in the picture doesn't mean that it is your photo or that you can use it. The fact that the photographer gave a copy to you doesn't mean that you have the right to use it for anything but personal use. The photographer giving you the photo can send you a bill if you publish that photo on your webpage, or even worse, send a bill to the company you gave the photo to. If that happens, you can be pretty sure that this will be the last day of that relationship for you.

A photographer can send you a bill if you edit the photo in Photoshop as well, crop it or whatever Photoshop ideas you have in mind. So make sure you get the full usage rights for the photos from the photographer and preferably  in writing. You will need to get the right to publish, or for someone else to publish, your image to the public in any shape or form. Get it in writing even if it is your friend who took the photos. People can easily become greedy if they see their photo being published all over the world and you will have problem proving that said “use them”. Trust me, a photographer sending a bill for photos you supplied as free will, for sure, be the last you see of that business relationship.
Ensure that the photos you send are high resolution, well taken, pro looking photos. An iPhone snapshot of you in front of your computer in bad light just won't cut it.  
It is worth paying a photographer to get some good photos, especially if you don't have the ability to do them yourself. Good photos are always needed and you really need sets of them ready for promotion purposes, because one photo will not cover all your publishing requirements. If you can't afford a pro photographer, you might be able to find students at college who are studying photography or other media studies who need to build a portfolio of work and they might be happy to have a set of an upcoming player.
While you're at it, really think about your image, how do you want to come across in those photos, what message you want to send? Picture and graphics can also be a great way to stand out, so use it. Everything in the image can be viewed by a sponsor, so you need to think if they reflect the sponsors requirements, for example, don’t pose with another brand of guitar if you are sponsored by another company! Remember too that photos have a lifespan, so keep your stock up to date. So make sure you have good and free photos that you can use.

Sponsoring: Different levels and places.
If you are new to the sponsorship world, then it is good to know that there are many different levels of sponsorship out there, not just one... you know... the one that you want, the one  where you get everything for free...
Sponsorship can be everything from getting massive amounts of money (ask Tiger Wood what he thinks about it), all the gear you could dream of and loads of global exposure,  adverts of your beautiful face in the biggest guitar magazines... right down to getting a bit better price on limited amounts of gear, say a discount of 20% for a year from X brand.
Most companies have something similar to these levels or tiers.
1. Almost unlimited amounts of free gear and getting paid for using it.
2. Almost unlimited amounts of free gear.
3. Limited amounts of free gear (generally 1 or 2 instruments) and better price on all gear above that.
4. Better price on limited amounts of gear.
5. Better price on one (1) instrument.

Sponsorship can also come from many different places, even if it is for the same brand. It can, for example, come from the brand directly, from a countries distributer of the brand or from a local shop. From the brand directly generally means that it is active in all countries where the brand is represented. Sponsorship coming from a countries distributer, is generally  active in that country. And coming from a local shop that it’s generally active in the area where the shop is based. By active, I mean exposure of adverts, size of area to do clinics etc.
The brand (wherever the sponsorship comes from) pays their part of the deal with instrument support and exposure of your name. Instrument support can mean both the instrument itself and fast support when gear breaks while on a tour, or in the studio. The support you get can either be both of them or only one of them, and the last one is by far the best one to have, unless you are a bedroom based YouTube player only. A deal can involve a lot more than that, but all of that will be regulated by the contract you get.
You pay your part of the deal by using the gear in all your public appearances, supplying pictures, videos and other promo material when it’s asked for, being available for clinics when needed, having a good attitude towards the brand, having brand logos in your media (album covers, web pages and so on). What they get from you is also regulated by the contract, but you doing more is always a massive bonus from their point of view.
Most sponsorship deals out there are actually without a written contract; for example that someone might give or sell you some gear but never really use you as an artist in their sponsor team (and not really expect to hear from you again). Maybe giving the player a pedal if they make a demo video of it on YouTube, maybe sell someone a bunch of strings for a recording or a tour (often called tour support) or something like that. It is often a one time thing,  that should be looked at more as a short term support thing, rather than real sponsorship. 
There are several reasons for this “sponsorship without using it” and one of them is to tie an artist to the brand and hope for that he (or she) becomes bigger in the future and... conversely... just drop them if they don't. Have this in mind when someone is offering you a contract, just so you don't get tied to a contract to something you won't get anything, or very little, out of. 4 month later and your album have sold 2 million copies and the brand you really wanted offers you a good contract with massive exposure and you have to say “no thanks” because you are tied to a bad contract with a no-name brand that gave you a 20% discount and no exposure at all... well... It is just not worth it!

Sponsorship: how to outstay your welcome... “Sponsor whore”
There is a stamp/status out there that artists sometimes get from people in the industry that has several different nicknames that all can be summed up in one, “sponsor whore”. This is a negative stamp that gets slapped on artists that changes brands like normal people change their underwear.  An artist that is sponsored by one brand, but is always using another brand or seeking similar things or newer deals, swapping at the drop of the hat.  
Basically a guy (or girl) that jumps on anything they can get their hands on just to get some free gear. These people are not seen as loyal to the contracts they have. This is a stamp that is very, very hard to get rid of and stays with you once it’s been  stamped on you. The industry is small and a lot of the AR guys know each other and talk with each other and reputation spread fast and bad reputation spreads faster still. So what it all comes down to for you, since it really is the only thing you have to offer, is keeping your trustworthiness, your credibility and “sponsor value” intact.
If you change brands all the time what happens, after a while, is your fans stop caring for what you endorse because everybody knows you will move on to the next new toy and play any gear that you can get.  Then your values as a sponsor artist is completely diminished.  You really don’t want to end up there, so really think before you jump at anything, look at the endorsement offer for a bigger perspective.

  • Don't jump for things that are gear you don't really feel like using anyway.
  • Don't jump for brands that you can't see yourself using for many years.
  • Save your trustworthiness for the stuff you really want and/or really need.
The more fame you have, the more you can call on your trustworthiness with sponsors and the more they respect you for not jumping on any available deal. But it’s all like a cat, you only have nine lives to burn. When they are gone are you out of the loop, and most likely for the rest of your career. The value  of someone looking for sponsorship for the gear that they already use is very high. The sponsorship  value of someone who gets sponsorship from Fender after having played Fender for ten year is much, much higher than for the same person suddenly getting a sponsorship from Gibson.  The main advice here is avoid official gear changes unless you really have too and always ensure that when you are leaving a sponsor you do so without prejudice or bad feeling. Remember your new sponsor will see the way you behaved with your old ones.

Sponsorship: What about me... Let’s get started.
All brands are looking actively for artist more or less all the time, bigger brands even have people doing only that, AR (artist relationship) guys. All brands need sponsor artists to give a certain image to the gear, give credibility to the brand, to get the gear out there to be seen, to show the gear being used and so on. Some also use endorsement guys to road test gear, to see if it can take being on the road. It is next to impossible for a brand to get their gear out on the market without getting an artist (and hopefully the right ones) to use the gear.

Keep in mind... brands need artists more than artists needs sponsors.  
A little tip here is to always supply proper feedback on all gear they supply, both good and bad things about it. As mentioned previously, there are many brands using sponsor guys to test and evaluate gear even if they won't always say it or ask for it. But your feedback as a user is important information for product development or products to come, so make sure you always supply that feedback even if nobody asked you specifically for it. Also make sure that you really have tried the gear before you supply it, what you think about the guitar ten minutes after you got it is not really that useful information. Let them also know how the gear behaves after 5 years on the road.

Bigger brands are generally not really looking at the forefront of what is going on in the guitar community (player wise); they are mainly looking for players who already have an amount of fame or someone who is on their way to becoming famous. The artists they work with are mainly artists they have contacted themselves directly, really investigating them, checking them out  before they contract them. They go to festivals and concerts etc to check bands/musicians out and make contact with the players if they like them and they fit the sponsorship requirements.  From the guitar players perspective, just going out and looking for sponsorship from bigger brands by contacting people directly is almost impossible, unless you have good contacts who can put you in touch with the right people.  Knowing the right people is  a good way in a line of business to get anything in life, you’ll have to be social and you’ll have to be an easy going person. There is no time for the guy who his self obsessed.
Smaller brands are generally more on top of things and much more accessible, simply because they need to be just to get more out of the market.  This means that small brands really need artists much more than bigger brands do, and are much more willing to give you a try.  I would say that it is 100 times harder to get into a big name brand’s artist roster, than it is to get into a, for example, small and new brand making overdrive pedals.
Bigger companies have more muscles than smaller companies, they can offer better deals, more publicity, and more contacts with other artists and it is (generally) a higher status to be on their team.  Bigger brands have distributors all over the globe which makes the options for clinics etc so much bigger, so the bigger artists tend to go for as big companies as possible. 

Smaller brands don't really have the budget for that type of publicity and often have no distributors at all and generally have to work with smaller artists.
The most common way to get bigger brand endorsement, like 90% of all of them, is from the distributer in the country you live in. That is where it starts for almost most everyone. The distributors are normally much more on the ball and are aware of what is going on in their local area than the brands themselves. And, generally, much more open about getting someone less famous, maybe because they are good, have the right attitude, are influential in their area, even if they're not really famous etc.
So start by trying to get in contact with the distributors in your country or in the area you are active in.  If you relationship works well with them they will introduce you to the next level, from the brand themselves.  Don't try to rush it with taking too many big bites, let it take some time and get the better deal, if you recall Aesop's famous fable about the tortoise and the hare. And don't jump on anyone asking them for signature stuff as the first thing you do, it will only make you look like a guy who has no idea of how things work. They will ask you about making signature stuff when you are ready for it... and when they can make money out of it.

Wherever you try to start,  there are lots of people working with some kind of AR, someone who is looking for more or less the same thing in the people they choose to work with. They are all looking for someone that has loads of exposure in any of the forms available, live playing, selling albums, media, YouTube or other web related activity. If you are playing 200 gigs (and not super small ones) a year, you are selling massive amounts of albums or are in media all the time, then it will be much easier to get in than if you are playing in your bedroom only.
The AR guy is also looking for an artist that is respected among other artists, guys or girls that will influence other players. For example, these are likely to be the most respected player or teacher in your town, the guy that people look to see what he's using and what are his settings. That is also very attractive for the brands to get hold of, players with kudos. But the truth is, the more of the first you have (fame), the less of the second you need to have.  And vice versa, the more respected you are, the less famous you have to be.

Artists are sort of divided into two categories by AR people, either as artists that make other people want to take up playing an instrument (influence people that aren't musicians) or artists that influence people that already play (influence musicians). The first type of artist is more important for the AR people then the second, but both types are needed for the company to reach out and sell product.
They are also all looking for someone that stands out from the crowd, either image wise, playing wise or even what sex you are. There are 10000 male guitarists for every 1 female guitarist, so the female can have a much higher chance of success at sponsorship and career wise because they have a higher rareness value and have a potential of opening up new markets for female players. Girls are still significantly underrepresented in the guitar field. Guys might find this upsetting from an ego perspective, but that is just the way business works, people can be more interesting just because they stand out.
The female perspective is a big one. All brands would love to see that more  girls starting playing and getting into guitar and gear more (doubling the potential market opportunities) and girls playing can be a much better influence for other girls to pick the instrument, much better guys playing, ten times better. So try your best to be original without going stupid with it.

This might be surprising to you, but how good you are as a player is only a very small part of the all things that are being looked at.   How much exposure you have is a hundred times more important or valuable than how good you are as player. If you are super famous,  you do not really have to know how to play at all, you’re in anyway. If you have something most of the others don’t do you also have doubled your chances.
Being the best player in the world, but only in your bed room, has very little value for anyone beside yourself. Work on getting out there, take all gigs you can get, make yourself seen and heard. Record music and get your playing out there. But, make sure that it is up to the right level before you do so; be hard and critical on yourself. But don't let being your own worst critic drag you down, just use it as a force that pulls you forward and the drive to evolve as a player. Ask people you trust to be honest about where you stand. 

Getting out playing with people is a good way to get a measurement of where you stand in the scheme of things. Being able to play the riff of that Metallica song or being able to pull that cool Petrucci lick off  is not really a good measurement tool of where you stand. You won't really be able to build a music career from anything like that ... both Metallica and Petrucci are already there (and much better at being them than you will ever be).

You have to consider where you are seen, what areas you play, as being important when you are in contact with distributors or shops. A distributor in Spain doesn't really care much for if you are playing 300 gigs a year in Norway. Under those circumstances you’re much better off contacting the distributor in Norway instead.  So contact people on the market where you are active.  
The brands themselves are more global and wants to been seen all over the place, but distributors only care if you are seen in their territory. So again, look for sponsors in the area where you are active, where you are seen, as a player.

For many years having  “loads of views” on the net been a great way to get sponsors attention, finding gigs etc, but over the last year or so it has started to lose a bit of its’ power as a marketing tool for sponsors and gig places. There are three main reasons for this, first people can buy their own video views, both legally and illegally, which means the view stats are of no real use for the AR people or booking people as they have no real idea if the views are credible and where those views actually came from. Are the people looking at you real? are they from their area, maybe where you are looking for a gig or a sponsor? Who knows?
As previously mentioned, a distributor or club in Italy doesn't care much if you have one million views from people in Scotland. Make things so people can see where your audience is, doing gigs and getting an audience for it or album sales is still the best way for that. Whatever you do, do not take short cuts, scams for building online profiles are just that... Where possible, you need to keep real evidence of your popularity, be seen as a goto guy for real reasons, not because you paid for views nefariously .

The second reason why the loads of views model will not work. It has been done too much already and it has lost a bit of its excitement and appeal. Consistently high views counts for your video output is  still a good way to get noticed, or if your video is part of some commercial offering, like Jam Track Central for instance, seeing how your video analytics compare to others with a similar commercial offering. Overall, the industry is looking for something new from players, some new  way of reaching the right people, those who are going to buy guitars and music gear.   If you can invent that “new” then you have a golden egg in your hands. Be creative,  be credible, be knowledgeable, be approachable, be social.  Sit back and think about new ways of doing things, you can learn from other channels, but you have to be aware that the unique quality is what makes the channel sticky, not the fact that it looks the same as another channel. So spend some time, think about your value proposition and try to come up with a new way to get your stuff out there and to make yourself seen.
Sponsorship:  To sum it all up
Fame, being famous will always be the best door opener. So if you really want it, make yourself famous. Throw raw meat at people or paint yourself in the face have worked before and will probably work again, a little tip for your quest for fame.  
Someone that stands out from the crowd by having something that not all the others have.
It can be playing wise, music wise, image wise, personality wise, figure out what you have to offer and remember that you are not static and you grow all the time, so you need to keep reinventing yourself, getting rid of the bad parts and incorporating the good parts, the new connections. So make sure you give all those parts some thought, it won’t happen by magic, you'll need a plan, a plan that changes but has overall direction, take an holistic approach,  think about yourself in the round, the whole artist package. Remember that your future income will come from many sources and each avenue needs to be cultivated and nurtured  or culled if they are unproductive.
When the deals come along, don’t just jump at the first opportunity. Get someone that understands the business side of sponsorship, who understand that it is a business relationship, to read, understand and follow all the contracts you get as they have to be managed during their lifecycle. The bottom line is always, read and understand them before you sign them.

Remember that someone who already plays the brand and who is looking for an endorsement  will have a huge advantage over someone who plays something else.  Remember also that the higher the tier of the brand the less likely you are to get an endorsement.

Remember that responsiveness is a great trait to have, be someone who follows up on things and works with it, sends the pictures when asked for (and make sure they are free), who has pro pictures, featuring the brands in a positive light and not some cell phone snapshots, even if they are much quality now than they used to be.  Pro photos will stand out, will be well posed, will be positive to your brand.

Remember, someone that has a good and positive attitude and has an easy going personality will get on. No one has time for people who are not business orientated and understanding the brands objectives.
Remember, someone who is not stamped as a sponsor prostitute.  This takes some management, you can make mistakes, but make sure they are small ones, saving a few bucks early can cost you a lot more further down the line.
Remember, someone who can play their instrument very well. And here, the most important part,  is not your trick bag of techniques but; timing, tone, intonation (musicality) and/or originality... these are the most important parts.  Technique is something almost every little kid has these days, so you need more to stand out.  Being a one trick pony will get you noticed, but it won’t build your career, regardless of how many plates you can spin with your left foot, whilst tapping out wide interval octave dispersions with both hands.
Remember when you send a presentation mail to someone, make sure you write it properly, but also make sure that it’s short and to the point, have direct links  to everything you want them to hear or see (URLs with their full paths starting http://).  No one has time for novels or to Google you. There is an upside to this in that  you get to present the information in the order in which you want them to view it, with the most important item first.  Present your personal information in a normal way, don’t puff it up or sugar coat it,  so that everything  sounds bigger than it actually is. Be realistic, provide facts that help people to see your business potential.  Don’t ever lie or exaggerate things to make things look better than it is, if you have 200 people to your shows with your band, don’t say 500. It is a small world and lies will catch up with you. Stick to telling people about things that are actually booked or planned.  Your future plans, dreams are what motivate you, but they are not really worth anything to the business. It does not diminish you in anyway and you should have loads of plans and dreams, but keep them to yourself and your friends until they are in writing.
Finally, Remember, present yourself or your band as it is. Write about who you are, why you contacted them, what you have to offer them and what you want in return from them. Attach links and material so it is easy to see and demands minimal amounts of effort from the reader. Make you package as accessible and easy for them as possible, create a check list for your EPK  and make sure it’s professional... don't miss out the important information that shows your ability to sell product, the tours, the records,  the names of record labels, booking agencies etc in there. Quote any professional level attributions from pro players.
And last but not least, don't make no replies or “thanks, but no thanks” an issue,  just keep your head up and keep going, work on your brand and then your day will come!!  

"if you actually read all of this are you the kind of person that can succeed with your goals. You read the fine print too... If not  you are most likely the kind of guy... well what's the point... you didn't get here did you?"