So first up, let's get an understanding of exactly what an “endorsement” actually is. What does it mean?
Well the Oxford dictionary defines an endorsement as “The action of endorsing someone or something”, don't you hate that? When someone defines something by using the word? So if it wasn't completely clear, “endorse” means to “Declare one's public approval or support of”.
So as an example, I endorse Vigier Guitars, I declare my public approval of their product. At the same time, I am endorsed by Vigier Guitars, they have declared approval of my playing of their products. We have a working relationship, you could call this a “mutual endorsement”. I have mutual endorsements with a few companies, I have endless love for Wampler Pedals, V-Picks, and D'addario as they've been extremely helpful to me over the years.
It's also worth considering if the relationship works when it's one sided. I believe it does. I endorse my Playstation 4, it's not mutual, but that doesn't discredit my recommendation of the product. In the music world there are several companies I could accurately say I endorse, but for one reason or another (we'll come to that) there's been no mutual endorsement. Some of these companies have given me free or discounted gear over the years, and some of them I just paid full price for their stuff. As an example, I endorse Transcribe software, Tremol-no, TC Electronic, Seymour Duncan, Toontrack, Gruv Gear, etc. I don't think there is anything wrong with this, if you endorse a product, great! If I respect your integrity, then that means something, but don't use it as a way to get people to take you seriously, or a way to boost your career.
The thing is, making money in this business is hard. There's no shame in admitting that, even if you're working your ass off it's totally possible (in fact VERY common) that you have a day job to keep you going. I think people wear the endorsements like a badge of honour, something that shows how successful they are. Many of us have done this, I was incredibly proud of the fact I had a deal with Suhr, but they never acknowledged my existence publicly... but 19 year old Levi wasn't going to let that get in the way of people thinking I was a big deal (oh to be young and naive!). I knew this deep down, but it didn't stop me having a bit of a “do you know who I am?!” attitude. I see it all the time, people get this idea that endorsements mean free gear, so that's what you need to have made it.
The problem with that approach is that you've displayed a fundamental lack of understanding about what an endorsement actually is, and why you get them.
An endorsement is a relationship with a company you have where both of you are getting something out of it. It has to make business sense for both companies. Obviously back in the day that meant exposure through gigs, but I will concede, in the Youtube generation you can offer serious exposure that way too. If that's the case, then you are offering something. I like to think of it like this:
You buy gear, you work real hard, your hard work pays off and you get some high profile work or a following, at this point companies may want your name to be associated with their brand.
It doesn't work the other way. You can't get your name associated with a brand in the hopes that you'll get a following or some work and at that point you'll work really hard meaning you've avoided buying gear.
The problem we have though is that people think this happens, some people think that's the way it works.
I'm a writer, I'm ok with that now. Yeah, I play guitar, and I don't think I do it bad, some people even enjoy what I do! But my skill set is as an academic. I'm a teacher, a journalist, a transcriber and occasional entertainer. Part of my career is editorial stuff for Guitar Interactive and LickLibrary. All the young musicians and teachers looking for work inevitably end up in my inbox, so I see the same mistakes being made over and over again. I'll go into this subject in a future blog for those of you looking for work, but this week I've had two come in that looked something like this:
“Hey, my name is Dave. I want to work for you guys, here is a video of my playing. I am endorsed by xxx, xxx,q xxx, xxx, xxx, xxx, xxx, and xxx (Oxford comma ftw!), check my website and my album on iTunes (which suspiciously has zero reviews), I look forward to hearing from you.”
Now, I don't want to be a dick... but why do I care if you play Ibanez guitars
Let me also dispel this idea that an endorsement means free gear. It doesn't. If you're the biggest thing in the world, yeah, you'll probably be ok, but at the same time... you probably haven't achieved said success without spades of humility, so you'll probably offer to pay for the gear every step of the way (this is what I'm told by people that deal with endorsement requests on a daily basis). And please, don't contact a company you've heard good things about in the hopes they'll endorse you. If you've never even played their stuff, what place have you got offering to endorse it? Have some damn integrity! Especially when you're sending the same email to multiple companies thinking they don't talk to each other! Haha
There is only one reason you should ever ask for an endorsement, and that's because you have and use a product and you love it, and that you have some sort of benefit you can bring to the table from a business perspective. Just think about that last part, because what I've come to decide is that if I'm of value to any company and they think I could be an ambassador for their product, chances are... they'll find me. Anything else you're just doing to create some sort of illusion of success. Oh cool! You have a signature guitar from a company I've never heard of? You must be a big deal! Has anyone ever actually ordered it? I actively played and said good things about Vigier for a long time before I was endorsed by them, and I would have been 100% happy with that arrangement right up until I wanted a new guitar when it came in handy, but it wasn't a deal breaker. Don't play something you don't love and don't tell people you love something if you don't.