Session Drumming Month: Getting yourself an endorsement
© Rob Shanahan
A lorry-load of drum gear is high up on our Christmas lists each and every year. But how about those lucky few signed up to company endorsements? They get handed free gear morning, noon and night don't they? Hmmm...not quite. Take a look below to see what Zildjian's John DeChristopher has to say about some of the many endorsement myths.
How does the artist relations program work at Zildjian?
"There are several facets to how our Artist Relations Program works. Fundamentally, the program is a sales tool to promote Zildjian products. At its core, the objective of Zildjian's Artist Relations Program is to utilise high profile/influential artist endorsements to promote (and ultimately sell) our instruments to drummers/end users. In exchange for promoting Zildjian, we provide our artists with the tools they need, as well as support and service around the world, which is very important to a working drummer. It's a two-way street and artists reciprocate by promoting the Zildjian brand and offering feedback and input on product development. Unlike the professional sports industry, we don't pay artists for their endorsements."
"...we couldn't stay in business almost 400 years if we gave free gear to everyone."
What do you look for in a new endorsee? Are there any specific criteria you follow when evaluating an individual?
"Technically, the artist is an endorser, since he or she endorses Zildjian. Zildjian is the endorsee since it's what the artist endorses. Ok, now to answer the question… We look for someone to be a good ambassador for the Zildjian brand and of course loyalty is an important quality. There are several criteria we look for when evaluating potential artists, such as visibility, level of exposure they provide, influence in the marketplace and a given demographic, their ability on the instrument, career longevity etc. We evaluate everyone on an individual/case by case basis, so some or all of the above criteria may apply."
Should drummers send in a portfolio and, if so, what should they include?
"They should send a professional press kit including a bio or resume and an example of their playing (CD or DVD). If they're in a band selling millions of records and playing stadiums, or a known commodity, those things are a little less important, but we like to see a candidate's background i.e. their education, work history, teacher, references etc, as well as their ability on the instrument."
Are there any major no-nos that individuals should avoid when making contact for the first time?
"Don't misspell 'Zildjian' or my last name! But in all seriousness, don't be pushy or take the tack "I've played Zildjian my whole life, they're the only cymbals for me, but if you don't sign me I've got offers from other companies..." You want to make the best possible impression the first time and making a statement that basically amounts to a threat won't win you any fans at any company. You're selling yourself not only as a drummer and ambassador for the brand, but as someone the company will enjoy working with for years to come."
How important is it for an individual to already be using your company's product before they contact you?
"It's very important. It says that he or she loves the product and will be a good ambassador for the brand. There's no greater endorsement (for any product) than someone going out and buying and using said product. Sometimes an artist will contact us and they're endorsing another brand, and it's important their interest in endorsing Zildjian is motivated by their love of our instruments. We've had several 'big' artists join the Zildjian Family in recent years due to new K Constantinople models we've brought to market as well as products like K Custom Hybrids and that's how endorsements are supposed to work - they loved the product then approached us to join the Zildjian Family."
A major misconception is that an endorsement instantly means free gear. What's the reality?
"Well, we couldn't stay in business almost 400 years if we gave free gear to everyone. It's that simple. There are many artists who are happy to purchase cymbals at a professional discount and develop a relationship with Zildjian, but even at that level, an artist needs to have something to offer. I could go on for days about how endorsements have become devalued due to companies offering endorsements to artists with no influence in the marketplace, which equates to selling factory direct to consumers and cutting out the drum shops. Product endorsements are about promoting a company's brand to consumers through the association of influential endorsers. Those of us who work in Artist Relations have a responsibility to use good judgment and not perpetuate a situation that's getting out of control. I'll use a crude analogy: I'm an avid runner and run 4-5 days/20-25 miles per week, and have purchased a lot of Nike products throughout the years. Now, would I contact Nike for a shoe endorsement?"
On average how many people approach you each year to enquire about endorsements?
"I don't review all the press kits personally, they're reviewed by Artist Relations Managers at Zildjian HQ, Los Angeles and London offices, but we receive hundreds, if not thousands of endorsement inquiries every year.
What do you expect in return from an artist that successfully secures an endorsement?
Loyalty is very important. Playing our cymbals exclusively and promoting the brand whenever possible i.e. live performances, mentioning Zildjian in interviews, on their website etc. Respecting their endorsement and not abusing it. Communication is important – we don't always know what artists are up to, so it's their responsibility to update us on their activities. We expect artists to want to build a long-term mutually beneficial relationship."
Is there any other advice you can offer up-and-coming drummers looking to build a relationship with Zildjian?
"Remember that having an endorsement should help enhance an already established career, not make it. Contrary to popular belief, having a Zildjian (or any) endorsement or being in a company's magazine advert won't get you the gig with Sting. Your greatest asset to Zildjian (or any company) is your realm of influence in the marketplace, so be realistic in your expectations, especially if your profile is relatively low.
"If you apply for an endorsement and are turned down initially, open a dialogue and build a relationship, rather than going after any endorsement you can get. This illustrates that you believe in the products you want to endorse. When someone tells me after they've been turned down initially "I'm going to continue to play your cymbals…" that resonates with me and in many cases that person gets a second look and our full consideration if they apply again.
"Keeping us updated on your activities is important. Getting out there and playing and promoting the brand go a long way in building a relationship, as well as simply being a good and honorable person. We treat all of our artists equally and with respect, so we expect them to treat us with respect, as well as their relationship with Zildjian.