In a saxophonists’ community on Facebook, one poster asked “What’s the point [of endorsements]?” I made a point of responding as a potential teaching moment about a concept in the music business that many young musicians are neglecting in this current age of immediacy and e-commerce:
The point of endorsements is that of establishing relationships. John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” Different types of relationships contribute to our success in life and career, or lack thereof.
Most musicians eventually realize that success in the music business relies very little on skill. The current state of popular music is certainly evidence of that. But let’s look at the word “business” for a moment:
If you had to describe the word “business” with one word, that one word would be “people.” In order to conduct business, you need other people with whom to transact. Therefore, establishing and cultivating relationships with other people is essential to success in the music business. Most musicians are notoriously bad business people. Most of us would much rather focus on our art rather than take care of business.
Have you ever stopped to notice that many band leaders tend to be the weakest musician in their own bands? Much of that has to do with the fact that they need to devote time to the business aspect of their careers. They choose to surround themselves with better musicians in order to make themselves look good.
Good communication skills are necessary in order to conduct business. We need only look at some of the negative interactions in Facebook musician groups for evidence that many musicians are severely lacking in their interpersonal skills. And therein lies a problem when they desire to establish fruitful relationships from which each party can benefit.
Consider the process of networking when trying to break into a local scene: You come across people of all walks of life when playing in a rehearsal band or sitting-in at a jam session. Certainly your skillset as a musician will contribute to the amount of musical activity that you see. But how often do you go out for a bite with your fellow musicians after a rehearsal, gig, or jam session? Do you get to know them on a personal level? Have you ever had a conversation with them when you didn’t talk about music? Have you ever sat with them for 3 hours at a sporting event? Have you ever played golf or gone bowling with them?
Think about all the discussions and gossip that occur when conferring about other musicians. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you:
“So-and-so is a monster player, but I don’t want to work with them because they are a total ass.”
Or how about:
“You should call so-and-so. They’re a solid musician and a good team player.”
On Facebook, how many times have you come across a post that asked, “Where is the cheapest place to find reeds?” or some other product? Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that we all would like to save money. But by shopping online, we lose the opportunity to establish a quality relationship with the personnel at a traditional brick-and-mortar store. When I was in graduate school, for a 3-year period, I got all of my repairs done for free. And the reason for that was simply because I shopped at that establishment on a regular basis and built a relationship with the owner.
I currently have quality relationships with two other stores. At one of them, their repair shop will take me at a moment’s notice, even if they are backed up with repair work. They’ve also given me priority on several discounts not available to the general public, or even some of their other regular professional clientele. The other store will allow me to take equipment out in the field to test without leaving a deposit or a credit card number. And if for some reason I can’t cover a large purchase in one lump sum, they will allow me to make interest-free payments.
Endorsing products is no different. You are establishing a relationship with a company in which the benefits should be mutual. The obvious advantage is that in exchange for the company getting support from a reputable artist, the artist receives product at a discount, as well as publicity from the company. You may have heard the old adage: “All publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.”
But a quality endorsement relationship will go beyond that. I currently have endorsements with multiple companies:
One of them has custom-built non-production-line horns for me to my own specifications. They have also sent me out to do clinics in support of the company. And of course, I always perform at their booth at The NAMM Show.
Another company has sought my input when beta testing new products, and they really do value my opinion. This year at NAMM, they released a new synthetic clarinet reed. One of their reps spent an entire hour and a half with me at the Show, with a reed knife, dialing-in 4 of the new reeds to my liking. And this was at a busy trade show where they didn’t need to sell me on a product.
Are endorsements of value or a total waste of time? That really depends on what you want to get out of your involvement in music. As the saying goes: “Your mileage will vary.”
But learn the value of cultivating quality relationships, both in life and in business. Some of them may even overlap. And remember, success in the music business is not determined by who you know, but rather, by who knows you.