Published Nov 28, 2011Every musician remembers their first love. Whether it was a sleek and shiny Les Paul, an 88-key weighted Yamaha, or a seven-piece Pearl with a double kick pedal, that first instrument will always be your most memorable. After all, you probably saved up your pennies for months, maybe got a second job, or sacrificed a birthday and Christmas gift just to get your hands on your very own tool of creativity. As artists' careers grow, however, so do the costs. Getting new gear is always awesome, of course ― but add it to the costs of touring, recording, marketing, and all the other stuff that goes into making it happen, and artists can quickly start looking for ways to cut down on spending.
Enter the potentially life-saving, often mysterious world of artist sponsorship. Just imagine getting stuff handed to you for nothing, and in exchange, all you really have to do is use and promote it. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? The dream sponsorship scenario is one where you get to visit a warehouse full of guitars and have the company president say "Pick one." This is exactly what happened to Kristen T. Clark, a guitarist from Peterborough, ON. (www.kristentclark.com) Clark scored a sponsorship deal with Carparelli Guitars, a mid-sized guitar company founded in London, ON, whose other endorsees include Artie Kornfield (co-founder of the original Woodstock Festival), Mick Box (of Uriah Heep), and Canadian band Tupelo Honey. But how did it come about?
"It was crazy. I was bidding on a Rik Emmett guitar on their Facebook page, and the owner, Mike, started commenting back to me," says Clark. "From there, we got talking, and eventually, he invited me out to the warehouse to try out the guitars." After falling in love with the sound, Clark was offered an endorsement deal. She was given a guitar for free, was added to their website, and in turn, she agreed to promote the guitars to her fans and friends, both at shows and online.
For brands, this is their big benefit. More people talking about and playing their instruments means more eyeballs, and as the theory goes, more eyeballs means more sales. So if you're looking for a sponsorship deal, having a large, engaged audience is requirement number one.
But there are other benefits that brands consider before sponsoring artists. Marta Pacek (www.musicbymarta.com), an Australian-born solo artist who now splits her time between Toronto and New York, knows all about the sponsorship game, but from an entirely different angle. One of her previous tours was sponsored by Yes brand vodka, a Chicago-based company looking to change their image.
"Yes was trying to re-brand themselves as 'refined classy,'" says Pacek. According to her, the company had a less than favourable image, and needed a new approach to attract a new breed of customers. Using her as the face of the company, Yes created a fully integrated, "Mixes Well with Folk" campaign around Marta's release, including a cash sponsorship to support her tour. In addition, the company paid for the pressing of her CD, gave away a free MP3 download to customers who bought their product, and even had Marta play at private events.
In exchange, all that was required was a small logo placement in the liner notes of her album and signage on-stage while touring. As a small company, Yes took suggestions on marketing, was very open to ideas, and listened to the needs of the artist. In turn, they were able to expand their company not only into new regional markets, but expose their brand to a whole new type of customer.
Another layer of the sponsorship game is the artist development and support role, one that Gibson Guitars takes great pride in. In fact, in cities around the world, the guitar maker has opened Gibson Lounges, where, while on tour, endorsees can stop by, pick up loaners, and even host parties.
Aside from these practical benefits, however, are the intangible advantages, primarily in the form of connections and networking. Looking to pair up with another artist? Well, if they're a co-endorsee, chances are Gibson can make it happen, or at least co-ordinate an introduction. So mutual benefit is key to a sponsorship, but what exactly are brands looking for in endorsees?
"For Carparelli, it's important to have good representatives for their brand," says Clark. "That means being nice as much as it does being talented. If they have good, friendly people using their guitars, that'll help spread the word in a positive way."
Shopping for a deal means having all your ducks in a row: keep a record of show attendance, album sales, website/social media traffic, etc. The bigger brands typically will want to work with artists with large audiences, so if you're still in the beginning or middle stages of your career, consider approaching a smaller company. An added bonus is that you'll probably have a closer relationship with their team, and can work collectively to create a sponsorship strategy that will benefit both sides.
Apart from size, you'll need to consider the companies' image when deciding who to work with. It may seem tempting to take money from whoever's dishing it out, but remember that the brands that you agree to endorse say something about who you are. If you're not careful, you send the wrong message and turn off potential fans or alienate existing ones simply by the brands you're endorsing.
Sponsorships and endorsements can help support your growth as an artist, with money, opportunities, and exposure. If you play nice, have a following, and know your audience, one day, you too may be able to walk into a warehouse and "pick one."
Scott Honsberger is a consultant and founder of music industry blog Your Band's Best Friend.