FYI: We’ve got an updated 2020 version of this blog post which you can find here!
I manage Orange’s Artist Relations (AR) team. Every day someone asks me how to get an endorsement, which we call an “Ambassadorship” (because, except for me, we’re British). I usually give a canned response with ridiculously high standards so that I can finish the conversation faster. The reason is that while we do have some minimal criteria in mind when selecting artists for our Ambassador program, what we desire the most is a stable, long-term relationship that is beneficial to all parties. And how one goes about meeting that criteria can’t always be explained on paper.
But I’ll try anyways…
This is a quick guide I’ve created for you to decide if you need an endorsement, think you qualify for an endorsement, and are willing to work to maintain your endorsement. While it’s written from the perspective of someone running AR for an amp company, I believe it does apply to most musical instrument manufacturers. Again, there’s not going to be a straight-up answer to “how do you get endorsed?” contained in this article. At any given point in time we all have different approaches, different philosophies, and, more importantly, different needs relating to our endorsed artists. This is really more of a sneak-peak into the decisions AR people make and why we make them.
I’ve also included an overview of what benefits Orange Ambassadors receive and what I expect in return from them. Just in case you were curious…
How I choose to endorse someone
Receiving an endorsement doesn’t mean free gear. I should say that first. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, during the heyday of guitar-centric music, amp companies had more money and therefore were giving away more gear. These days, every dollar is hard-earned due to competition between amp companies and price wars occurring at the retail register. That means there’s less money in the marketing coffers for Artist Relations teams.
Some of the biggest names in guitar don’t get their amps for free. Occasionally they may receive a few pieces to get them hooked on a brand. But long-term, anything else they need or want will be billed to them at a reduced cost. If you do receive something for free, it usually means that a committee made up of executives decided to give it to you. You should feel very special. You’re obviously playing in front of thousands of people on a regular basis, internationally, and whatever content you release to the internet must be getting a lot of impressions.
Even if you aren’t one of the lucky few who gets free gear, an endorsement can still help build your band’s presence, make touring easier, and save you money. Orange endorsements are based on special artist pricing, backline (loan) support, priority tech support, and content-sharing/cross-promotion. I’ll expand on each of these below. But before I do, I wanted to shed some light on what I look for in a band when deciding whether or not to endorse them.
I get to introduce my personal taste into endorsement decisions about 10% of the time. The other 90% of it based on factors I’ll talk about shortly. Nobody told me to do this. It’s a decision I had to make so that our approach to Artist Relations could remain objective. The choice to endorse a band needs to be based on more stable measures of success than whether or not it sounds good to my ear. And while I consider myself a person who loves good music regardless of the genre, this isn’t necessarily a trait my successor will possess.
When I first started in Artist Relations for Orange (around 2008) I went hard after endorsing pop-punk, hardcore, and any kind of metal bands. If you fit into one of these categories then you went straight to the top of my list. This wasn’t because I particularly loved these genres. It was because they were popular at the time. Some of the music I appreciated, some of it less-so. The idea was to “come up” with these bands and to follow the trend.
It worked but I soon realized Orange needed a more balance endorsement roster. When bands from the genres I had so highly sought out began breaking up or took breaks, I wouldn’t immediately replace them with another band from the same genre. I began to seek out more rock, classic rock, punk, R&B, and country artists. Again, I was allowing a bit more leeway in whether or not they met my minimal criteria for endorsement. And my personal taste was very rarely a mitigating factor.
Leaving your home country and touring overseas is a big deal. For 90% of the bands I work with it means they’re taking a huge risk. Touring is expensive no matter where are you, but costs increase the moment you take a step outside of your home country. Phone and internet, gas prices, van repairs, merch shipments, backline, lodging…these must all be taken into account and the costs fluctuate greatly depending on the country and continent. If your promoter sucks at his job and can’t get anyone to come to your shows, then you deal with all of the above, without income while band morale is low.
Touring overseas can make or break your band. If you’ve done it a couple of times, I’ll be far more likely to consider your band for endorsement.
Social Media Interest
Are you a US-based guitarist with a million Facebook fans and 200K Twitter followers? Congratulations! I’ll probably endorse you regardless of what your music sounds like. Why? Because I’d be dumb if I didn’t. If an A-list artist is willing to stand in front of an Orange stack and smile for the camera then my job is to make sure they’re happy.
Most of the bands I endorse have between 15K-1,000,000 social media followers across all of their sites. If you have more than a million there’s a good chance you fit into the A-list category. If you have less than 15K, my attention begins to turn more towards your tour schedule, industry partners (management, booking agent, sponsoring companies).
However, even if your band has 10K Facebook fans and 100 Twitter followers, there’s still a chance you could get endorsed. In that case what I’m looking for is the engagement fans have with your content, the quality of the content, and how quickly your fan base is growing. I’ve seen bands with 1000 Facebook fans post about a tour and receive 300 likes and 100 comments. If you have 30+% of your social audience engaging with your content then you are doing something right. Even if you aren’t getting a super high engagement rate, if your content is high quality then I see potential in sharing it with Orange’s audience.
The people your band knows are often as important as the band itself. I acknowledge that a lot of bands today are making their own waves and doing so without the help of outside management. I think that’s a great thing. However, very few bands don’t have at least some people or companies working on their behalf. Whether it’s for distribution, booking, merchandising, licensing, advertising, or getting out of jail after an all-night bender, bands that have friends in high places tend to fair better in the long-term.
When your band truly “makes it” there’s almost no way to avoid these relationships. They become more necessary as your band grows in popularity. So while I view these relationships as nonessential for some bands, for others the lack of connections can be worrisome.
Lastly, while my position entails mainly artist relations, part of what I do is business development. The connections I make are often a direct result of the bands I’ve endorsed. It might seem overtly “suit”-like, but if you’re a garage-rock band with no management or booking agent and you’ve managed to get a sponsorship with promotional-guarantees from Levi’s Jeans, then you have my attention.
Appreciation for Orange
When an artist is borderline for meeting our endorsement criteria, I start to look at whether or not they currently play Orange and, if so, how enthusiastically they promote it. Do you need Orange tone because if you don’t have Orange tone you will literally die? That’s a damn good reason to cite when completing the endorsement request form. (You’ll need a doctor’s note to prove that to me though.)
Other things you might consider doing to prove your love of Orange:
– Include a picture of yourself that actually features Orange when you submit for endorsement.
– Record a video demo with your Orange amp and put it on YouTube. Send me the link.
– Offer an explanation of why you’ve developed this crush on Orange, which of our amps you love and why, and which amps you hope to own in the future. It doesn’t have to be specific.
– Get an Orange tattoo
And finally, don’t use form letters. And definitely don’t use form letters if you aren’t smart enough to remove the name of the other amp company you just emailed before you sent it to me.
What I offer endorsed artists
When you become an Orange Ambassador you not only get to tell your mom you’re endorsed (as well as all your mom’s neighborhood friends), you also genuinely benefit from the relationship. The relationship works best for all parties when bands are open with us and just keep asking us for help. Even if we can’t help them in every situation, there are plenty of times when something we do either makes the show happen or saves the Ambassador serious cash. As the relationships grow and blossom, our AR team and the Ambassadors develop a pattern for supporting one another.
To reiterate, the four main support-systems of our Ambassador program are: special artist pricing, backline support, priority tech support, and content-sharing/cross-promotion. I’m going to expand on each of these below.
Special Artist Pricing
This is the crux of our endorsement and the name says it all: you get discounts on anything we sell. This is a touchy topic because everyone assumes there are varying levels of pricing and that some artists are getting gear cheaper than others. There are simply some things you have to keep a secret in AR. This is one of them. It’s too bad I learned my lesson after 5+ years of sending out artist pricing lists.
At the end of the day, if you want to play Orange, and you want to help us keep making amps, then special artist pricing is the absolute awesomeness and a massive blessing. Who we offer it to is usually well thought-out.
Backline (Loan) Support
Ok, now that we’re past that, let’s talk about backline, which is more commonly known as loaner gear. On average, I receive 50 backline requests a week. Most of them look like this:
“Hey, I need some amps for Euro tour in December. Should have info by end of November. Need everything in blue. May need them to shoot fireworks. Can u help?!?!”
Our team then goes to work to extrapolate all of the details from the band.
First, we make sure we’re talking to the person who actually has the details (we’ve lost many a man-hour to this mistake).
Next up, we determine, based on the tour routing, whether or not the loan needs to come from one (preferred) or many (not preferred) backline providers. These backline providers are 3rd party companies that maintain a supply of amps and speaker cabs that Orange has usually placed there at no cost. It’s technically on loan to the backline provider. They, in turn, maintain it and loan it back out to bands for a nominal fee. If the band’s tour is routed with a bunch of fly-in dates – or breaks between shows – we have to organize shorter loans from a greater number of backline providers.
Thirdly, the chain of introduction emails begin. After we’ve determined where we have backline providers, which ones are best suited to loan out the product, and how we can do it for the cheapest possible amount of money, we write separate introductions between the band’s representatives, the backline providers, and occasionally Orange distributors.
And finally, we offer follow-up support in situations where things go sour between the band and backline provider, or when our equipment has technical issues on the road.
It’s a lot of work. It’s so much work in fact that it requires three of us. It also eats up a huge portion of our worldwide marketing budget. But we don’t blink at the cost because having our gear on stage is worth every penny.
The common misconception about backline support is that it means all loans are free of charge. 99% of the time the band is going to incur costs. The backline providers always charge a prep fee (flat-rate, per item), case rental fees (between $5-$7 per day, per item), and delivery (if necessary). In the USA, there are some providers who also charge a “long-term loan fee.” This fee kicks in if the loan is longer than 14 days, and is equal to 50% off the normal rental rate until the loan has been completed. The band is on the hook for all of these fees. But you know what? It still usually cuts the cost in half.
Priority Tech Support
If a band becomes part of the Ambassador program I make sure they know to send me an email as soon as their amp experiences technical issues. Don’t take it to a service center. Don’t ship it somewhere. Wait for me to respond with the best solutions. Sometimes that means a loan until we repair the amp in-house. Other times it means a straight-up replacement. But most often it means customized support to walk the artist through repairing the amp themselves. Explaining how to replace a pre-amp tube and then expediting one to meet the artist on the road is a hell of a lot cheaper than an emergency repair at a local service center.
In the past, amp companies spent a lot of money promoting artists in print advertisements. They plastered them all over the big guitar magazines. They also sent the artists out to appear at events. For these things the artists were compensated very well. Since then, the landscape has changed drastically.
In 2014 the buzz-term is “content-sharing.” And it’s done almost exclusively online.
If receiving special artist pricing is what’s most important for our Ambassadors, then having a solid content-sharing relationship with Ambassadors is what’s most important to Orange. I’m always describing Orange as a “blank palette for content.” Ambassadors send me their content (photos, videos, and pre-packaged promotions such as giveaways and tour announcements), and I sort through it and choose what I feel will be most enjoyable for an entirely Orange-centric audience. The content is shared in one of six places: our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website, blog, or monthly email newsletter. The combined audience of these online places is 410,000 currently.
The content most likely to get shared features Orange products. The content most likely to get shared across ALL of our platforms not only features Orange, but also conveys a sense of UNBRIDLED LOVE for the product. Obviously it helps if the content is super high quality and well executed, but don’t undervalue sheer enthusiasm. The core 30% of our social media and online followers positively love excitement and creativity, especially when it comes to Orange amps.
As an example, here are some of my favorite Ambassador-created videos. I simply told them to “use me as a blank palette” and this is what they delivered:
The idea behind content-sharing is simple: it’s beneficial for both Orange and our Ambassadors while remaining extremely cost-effective. It reaches an audience for which we can view feedback in real time. If someone has a question about the promotion we can answer it immediately. It’s the most effective way to engage our audience. When both Orange and the Ambassador’s online presence promotes at the same time, everyone benefits and we can literally SEE the benefits on our web browsers.
Of course, it’s still not the entire audience, and that’s why we do continue to book full page ads in magazines. Print isn’t dead…at least not yet. It is becoming less valuable to amp companies though. Who wants to look at an amp when they can hear it in a sound clip or video? If do you happen to get your face on an amp company’s print ad, you should go ahead and retire, because you’ve basically reached the pinnacle of endorsement worthiness.
The “Anything” Rule
I will always make my best attempt to help out an Ambassador with any needs they have, even if their request has little to do with their endorsement. In the past this has ranged from letting them crash on my floor, driving them to a Guitar Center, or finding them the best hotdog in Atlanta, right on up to discarding their pee-bottle and keeping them out of jail. These are extremes. Normally it’s more mundane, endorsement-related requests I get, like help sponsoring a tour or finding an Ambassador backstage access to another Ambassador’s tour. The point is that I want Orange facilitating these kinds of interactions with our Ambassadors because they serve to boost our goodwill and expand our business relationships.
At the end of the day, “it’s always worth asking.”
And finally, I will leave you with a list of things that specifically don’t help you get, and keep, an endorsement. These are real situations that I’ve actually experienced. I hope you can learn from them:
Don’t start off by asking me to loan you something. Literally start any other way than that.
Don’t send me examples of your music that are “just demos with scratch guitar tracks, sorry, but the end result will be way better.” I’m not an A&R guy for a music label. I’m an AR guy for an amp company. All I care about is the guitar.
Don’t try to friend me on Facebook, you stalker.
Don’t copy every industry contact you’ve ever met on a mass email asking which one of them is prepared to give you things for free. The answer will be “none of us.”
Don’t walk into a music store, announce you are an Orange Ambassador, and brag about the special pricing you’re receiving. You should especially avoid doing this if you haven’t signed the contracts yet (because the offer will be off the table).
Don’t give out my email to your brother’s girlfriend’s neo-rap electronic jam band without asking first.
Don’t use scrims. Or, at least, try not to use scrims. Scrims are a sign of weakness. #NoScrims.