The Thinking Drummer: The Case for Less Endorsement Deals

Musicians sometimes see endorsements with musical instrument and gear companies as a badge of honor. The gear company is agreeing to have you represent them as an artist (remember that you endorse their products, they don’t endorse you). That is appealing; we musician and artist types want to be appreciated for our art. When a company agrees to be associated with us in an official way, it appeals to our ego. It’s a validation of our musicianship or success.

It’s great that someone likes you, but, how valuable is this to your career? To the outsider, it is a validation of you as an artist. But will it get you gigs? I would argue that it won’t. What will get you gigs is your playing and personality. What other value is there?

Marketing? If the company has a big platform and reach, you can get a lot of views on your videos if they will support you. There may be other avenues of promotion that they can help you with. But, will they do that? And how important is that?

Free gear? Usually, you won’t get much free gear unless you are at a pretty high level in the food chain professionally. Discounts? Yes. Free gear? Sometimes.

Regardless of the above, there is something very important to consider: endorsement deals are usually exclusive. That means that if you agree to endorse Sabian cymbals, you are officially saying, “I love these cymbals more than any other brand of cymbals and I will play ONLY these cymbals for the duration of my agreement with Sabian.”

You better really love Sabian if you do this. Because you can’t have Zildjian or Paiste or Meinl or Dream or Bosphorus in your set-up when you play. Well, you can, but the company you endorse better not find out.

Before you sign up to exclusively endorse some company’s gear, you should think it over. Are you truly confident that these products are the only ones in that category that you like? Do you really like them that much more than any other brand?

I started to think about this last night. I was playing a show, and after I arrived at the venue and set up my drums, I took a step back and admired my drum kit. I love doing this; it makes me happy to hop off the stage and look at my gear. But as I enjoyed taking it in, I realized that I had lots of different brands mixed together in my drum set.

My cymbals? I had Zildjian New Beat 14″ hi-hats, an old 17″ Zildjian K from the ’70s, a brand new 20″ Paiste 2002 ride (which I LOVE), and a Sabian 19″ crash circa 1989.

Drums? I had brand new Yamaha toms and a new Yamaha bass drum. The snare drum was an old Ludwig Supraphonic I’ve had since I was a teenager.

Even the drum heads I use are mixed brands. My toms have Evans G2’s on top. My snare has an Evans coated ST Dry on the batter side and a Remo clear Ambassador on the snare side. My bass drum has Remos on both sides.

I have a Yamaha Direct Drive pedal that is awesome, but I’ve also used DW pedals and Tama pedals at various times.

You get the picture? My gear is all over the place, but with one goal in mind: what sounds good to me. That’s all. What sounds the best and feels the best? That’s how I decide. Given all this, why would I endorse any gear? There would have to be a really good reason. I want to experiment and keep improving my sound. Why accept any limitation on that?

As a matter of full disclosure, I have a Vic Firth endorsement deal. That’s the only endorsement I have right now. I don’t see how I’d ever need any other company’s sticks. Vic truly makes the best. But a stick endorsement doesn’t seem like one that would be limiting to my sound. Am I missing out on opportunities to improve my sound by being exclusive to Vic Firth? Highly doubtful.

However, when it comes to cymbals, drums and heads, more possibilities seem like a good thing to me.

Not having endorsement deals is a valid thing to consider. Make sure you have the flexibility to have the sound you want. After all, your sound is much more important than just a feather in your cap.