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Note: I originally wrote this article in 2014. Over the years the response has been extremely positive. I appreciate everyone, from newbie AR reps to guitarists on the hunt for sponsorships, who have told me that it helped them better understand instrument endorsements. This update is minor but necessary. Online platforms like Instagram and TikTok now hold more relevance than Facebook and Twitter (though Facebook is still #1 for the older demographic). Additionally, I’ve made changes to the cumulative number of fans I’d want to see across an artist’s social media, increasing the numbers to reflect the fact Orange now has a higher threshold for approving endorsements. As a brand grows, so does it’s endorsed artist roster and the budget necessary to effectively service and maintain said roster. New additions to the roster must be of the highest quality. Cheers! – Alex

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.

The Music

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.

International Touring

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 100K Instagram followers? Do you have 50,000 people following you on TikTok or YouTube? Are you just super popular on LinkedIn for some reason? 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 50K-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 50K, 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 Instagram 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 Instagram followers 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.

Management/PR/Brand Partners

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

OR50 faceplate tattoo...this man is a HERO
OR50 faceplate tattoo…this man is a HERO

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.

Content-Sharing/Cross-Promotion

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, Instagram, Twitter, website, blog, or monthly email newsletter. The combined audience of these online platforms is over 1.5 million.

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:

Sef from Your Favorite Enemies demos the OR50

Bass Legend Mark Walker demos the Terror Bass 500

A Tribute to the TH30 Guitar Head

Simone Vignola – 5 Slap Riffs through Terror Bass 1000

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.

What about print media? Orange has stopped buying print except for in a couple of territories. 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. They cover our gear and we hate that. Scrims are a sign of weakness. #NoScrims.

Look, man, I can’t come see your show. Not tonight, not at that festival in a month, and not in Japan (although thanks for the invite…but seriously how did you expect me to afford that?)

It’s not that I dislike you. It’s that I’m not in the mood to listen to your band play music. Because I don’t like the music your band plays all that much. In fact, I don’t even like the genre of music you play. And I consider myself a genuine connoisseur of music. That’s probably one of the main reasons I work in music actually.

But your band? No. It’s not my style. It was maybe my style 10 years ago. My tastes have changed.

The fact is, I go to lots of shows already. I’m out a couple of nights a week (though I’ve slowed down recently). I have a family. My wife doesn’t exactly love it when I stay out until 1 AM. But it’s reached the point where she’s subscribed to the Orange YouTube so she can be sure I’m actually doing interviews with artists and not just using my job as an excuse to get out of the house.

In other words: we’re going to have to figure out a different way to make the most of this endorsement. Because I’m not finding a reward in moshing with 19 year olds and there’s nothing in it for me to stand side stage without a reference monitor. Your live show is not enough to make me like or support you.

There’s a bit of a misnomer when it comes to artist relations reps. Everyone seems to think we like all the bands we work with. Well, we don’t. I mean personally, sure, I think they’re cool people and I admire all of the hard work they’ve put into becoming full-time musicians. But that doesn’t mean I want to listen to their music. In fact, I’d rather get electrocuted by the power transformer from a Thunderverb 200 than listen to some of the bands I support.

I just spilled the beans and admitted my disdain for the music of bands that not only do I support, but that also support me. Their loyalty to Orange is the backbone of our brand. How will they take the news I may not choose their music for my long Sunday drives?

Well, if they’re professionals, they’ll tell me to get bent and then we’ll get a beer together. And they do this all the time actually. They do it because we’re friends.

My opinion is pointless. It’s so loaded with the cynicism of a failed musician who just hates for the sake of hating that I wouldn’t want my bands to ever be affected by it. No matter what I think of their new album, or how far they’ve strayed from their “core sound,” or how the snare is mixed on “that one track,” or how the singer’s hair has changed for the worse, I am not qualified to judge ANYTHING about these bands other than their guitar playing and their love of Orange amps. I’d be shitty at my job if I did.

What I’m laying out for you is a path to getting the most out of your endorsement. You need to be friends with your artist relations rep. You need to ignore my tastes and my subjective opinions. You need to learn how to work with me as much I need to learn to work with you. We don’t all like every band we endorse. Coming to your show isn’t necessarily the most enjoyable thing for us. Coming to see YOU is where we often derive the most reward.

Some quick tips when it comes to having an artist out to your show:

  • Remember where we live and remind us about your concert a couple of weeks in advance.
  • Invite us to your soundcheck. This is a great time for us to get some one on one time on stage in front of your rig. We can snag pictures and video clips of you talking about your gear in a more relaxed environment.
  • Please give us All Access passes. Aftershow passes are usually pointless (and many of us can’t stay to hang out anyways). We want to be able to get great content for social media and marketing purposes. All Access ensures we can move around freely and capture awesome B-Roll footage. If you’re worried about your Artist Rep having All Access because you don’t trust them, then you need to reevaluate your relationship.
  • Feel free to put us off on your tech or TM if you’re busy. Artist Reps love the crew. They are usually the ones we work with most often for logistics and support anyways. Plus, the crew is a great resource for us when it comes to meeting other bands, since many of them work with more than one band.
  • Let us drink your free beer. Maybe we’ll buy you hard liquor with our company credit card.

Take some time with your Artist Rep to understand their company. You play their brand on stage, but do you really know how the company operates? If you don’t, then you are probably either A) the type of artist who complains about not being supported enough, or B) lazy. I know this because if you had taken the time to learn the inner-workings of the company you’re dealing with, you’d be cross-promoting your relationship with them right now instead of reading this article.

Music instrument companies come in all shapes and sizes. It just happens that about 98% of them come in Size Extra Small. We’ve all got minimal operational budgets, 10-30 employees, and one Facebook page. What I’m trying to say is that the bulk of the work is often up to you. You truly have to make your endorsement what you want it to be.

Put me on your email list, send me the link to like your social media pages, and send me pics or videos of you playing live when they feature the product you endorse. Let me know when you’ve got a tour, music video shoot, or PR scheduled. Going into the studio? Let me know. Coming into my hometown and want to invite me to a show? Yes, absolutely. Even if I can’t go, it’s always worth asking. Because when you keep me in the loop I’m able to line up YOUR plans with MY marketing promotions and product releases.

There’s only one of me working with 1000 of you. Every AR guy feels this way. Try to be their friend and keep them up to date. They don’t have to love your music. They just need to love you!

 

 

We are a partner in this year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands, a competition that gives unsigned acts the chance to showcase their musical talents and be in with a chance of winning a great set of prizes.

Entries are now closed but 6 spotlighted artists have been chosen by us and campaign partner PMT and a public vote to choose the 3 finalists opens on Monday 13th November.

Keep an eye on our social media and Firestone’s Facebook, vote, share and #BeHeard