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Why You Should Consider (NOT) Getting A Brand Endorsement… For Now

Remember, no matter what anyone says, it’s still the artist who is endorsing the brand, not the brand endorsing the artist.

My 193 pair mallet collection at the end of 2019.

Nowadays, you will see brand endorsements pretty much everywhere you look.

For example, sports players will endorse brands of sporting equipment and shoes, makeup artists will endorse brands of beauty products, YouTubers might endorse a certain brand of camera gear… the list goes on.


And in the world of percussion, percussionists can endorse all kinds of brands, including mallets, percussion accessories, drum heads and full-blown instruments. Depending on how famous you are, brand endorsements can range from free gear and discounts to full-on sponsorship payouts every time you are seen using a certain brand. It’s no surprise that when you see endorsed artists as a student or emerging artist, it sounds like a great idea to pursue endorsements for your own career. Right?


Therese and I playing as a duo at Marimba One's booth in PASIC 2018. We aren't Marimba One endorsers though!

What is an endorsement and what makes it so desirable?


By nature, a brand endorsement is a type of ‘outreach’ strategy, forming part of a company’s marketing plan.


The brand will often reach out to artists who are popular (e.g. professors at famous schools, internationally touring concert soloists, marching corps who attract big audiences, orchestral players in famous orchestras etc.) and maybe strike a deal where the artist gets some sort of company-side benefit (e.g. discount, free gear, small financial assistance) and in return, the artist has to constantly promote the brand passively and actively.


Remember, no matter what anyone says, it’s still the artist who is endorsing the brand, not the brand endorsing the artist.


Now hold on a second - this blog post is not about criticising brand endorsements! It’s just that I’ve met a lot of people who tell me that their dream is to be sponsored by a famous mallet or instrument brand, and I think it’s important to disseminate the bigger picture by thinking of why you want the endorsement, and how it is going to affect your career.


The first demo instrument that ever got sent to my studio, the Marimba One One Vibe.

As a YouTube content creator who makes content about percussion, I am regularly sent free sample items from all kinds of big and small percussion brands, including instruments, mallets, accessories and more. My keyboard mallet collection is nearing the 200 pair mark, and at one point I had 3 sponsored marimbas and a vibraphone sitting in my studio. And yet, despite all that, with the exception of my awesome sheet music publisher Edition Svitzer (who still lets me self-publish at the same time), when it comes to instruments, mallets and accessories I still remain endorsement-free.


I personally like the idea of not limiting my sound or ideas to one or two specific brands. Just a year ago, I was using Encore Mallets Nanae Mimura mallets as my daily drivers for concert performances. And now, although I still like the Mimuras, I prefer the Innovative Percussion Pius Cheung graduated set.


Industry trends change almost every month and new gear is released all the time by everyone. I want to be able to try it all!



Ivan Trevino, who is one of the most popular percussion soloists and composers right now, and is an endorsed artist with various brands.

But I obviously don’t speak for everyone, and there are people who still want to chase endorsements as a way of increasing their own prestige in the industry. So, let’s first distinguish between when an endorsement is effective and useful to an artist, and when it isn’t.


An example where the endorsement is helpful and useful to both parties


One of my percussionist friends endorses three percussion brands – a large instrument brand called Brand A, a pretty well-known mallet brand (Brand B) and a percussion accessory brand (Brand C). As a result, he must always use Brand A instruments, his signature Brand B mallets and Brand C accessories. He is an established artist who tours regularly and gives a huge amount of masterclasses every year.


In this situation:

· The instrument brand (Brand A) gives an artist discount and also helps get a Brand A marimba or vibraphone sent to any country that he performs in, so that he always has an instrument that is familiar and of a good standard

· The mallet brand (Brand B) has designed a signature series with his name and made to his specifications, meaning that he gets a marketable product made by Brand B that helps his personal brand (and of course free Brand B mallets for both personal use and resale)

· Brand C sends him free accessories to use for his setups that are more complex

· Brand A, Brand B and Brand C promote him through their channels regularly as he is more established and tours to countries where the brands have less reach

· There is some flexibility in their deals, where if there is no Brand A instrument available, he may use an alternate brand instead


As you can see, the artist gets a huge amount of logistical help with instruments and, given the prestige of the brands that he is endorsed by, he has increased visibility in stores, distributors and conventions across the world. The brands also respect him more because he has an established international presence.


Also, because he has a desired sound after many years of professional practice, limiting his sound to these brands is exactly what he wants anyway, meaning he does not sacrifice his artistic integrity.


So, this is an amazing deal for both the brands and the artist, and is a good example of how endorsements are co-operative when done properly.



Robert Oetomo, one of the most popular composers for marimba in the world, is another example of an established endorsed artist.

An example where the endorsement is not helpful to the artist


Imagine you are a big fan of Brand X, which is a large mallet company. You have just finished university and are fresh in the professional world. As you are looking for ways to get your name out there, you ask Brand X to endorse you, and after a long wait they eventually add you to their artist lineup as the lowest tier artist (usually called ‘educational artist’, ‘young artist’ etc).


Brand X makes you sign a contract that says you will always use Brand X products when in public performance. Brand X makes it clear that they aren’t going to pay you any commissions or artist fees, but they will give you free Brand X mallets every year, and a small discount on certain Brand X mallets if you buy directly from them.


So in this situation:

· You are obviously restricted to using Brand X mallets indefinitely, which is not so useful for an early career artist or current student

· You must always promote Brand X to everyone you know, even if it’s disingenuous (e.g. promoting expensive Brand X mallets to your beginner students)

· You get a small amount of free Brand X mallets, but you don’t get any form of payment

· Everything you make (posters, cards etc) must have the Brand X logo on it

· Brand X will promote you in a minimal manner compared to their more ‘signature’ artists


Basically, Brand X is getting a whole lot of marketing (potentially $1000s worth in direct face-to-face marketing) for sending out a small quantity of their product that costs maybe $50 to make. In return, you end up giving up your own integrity for a tiny slice of the Brand X pie.


And despite all that, you can’t blame Brand X, because you asked for the endorsement.


The road ahead - should we never think about endorsements again?


It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to endorsements for emerging artists. Nowadays, companies are far more practical with endorsement arrangements and it seems like they are more flexible in general. There are also far more independent/small business percussion brands popping up that are beginning to favour endorsement deals with young and emerging artists more than established professionals. This is all good news!


So the moral of the story is, when it comes to endorsements, be careful for what you wish for!


HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Thank you for all the support once again on the show, on my website and even on this blog. You guys are awesome. You can always catch me on THE STUDIO show or follow me @thestudiofamily on Instagram.

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© 2019 ADAM TAN // Photography by Nik Babic (re-edited by Adam Tan) and website design by Adam Tan