on selling out and endorsement

An earlier posting about monetizing my time and efforts as a social media kinda guy, garnered a lot of responses from fellow social media types.  Particularly when dealing with events that I am being asked to attend that I truly was not planning on attending for various reasons (lack of interest, cost, etc.)

In the long run, I have decided to draw the line in the sand.  I’m sure some people will take offense to this but all I have throughout the various social media outlets are the following:

  • My opinions and voice
  • My integrity

One I will always have, as I am not afraid to voice my opinions, sometimes to my detriment (a less than stellar review of local restaurant led to my being banned from that restaurant and another fine establishment run by the same couple).  But I am not willing to sacrifice what little integrity I have in exchange for money or product.  To this end:

If I am attending an event, if I happen upon something that tickles me or that I feel is of interest to my followers on Twitter or my blog, I will pass on said information.  I will not promote events that I was not planning on attending, nor will I promote a product that I would not personally buy using my own money.  Everything I pass on or endorse is a reflection of me and my feelings, if I cannot support a product or idea, I won’t be passing it on.

In the past, I have written product reviews for print magazines and in every instance, the review is sent back to the company to comment and correct prior to their being printed (for obvious legal reasons).  On a couple of occasions, the companies I reviewed were so happy with my reviews that they allowed me to keep the product.  I was honoured by this, however the review process felt “tainted” in that it seemed they were buying my endorsement with free stuff.  I usually passed these items on or returned them regardless.

As a musician I’ve had the opportunity to have product endorsements, where I would use one or more companies’ products exclusively in exchange for a discount, product and tour support or other considerations.   In my experience, this could be a good thing and it can backfire on you as well.

Case Study One:  I was a huge fan of one particular company’s basses as several of my musical heroes (including a Beatle) played a particular instrument.  This company’s instruments are particularly hard to find as they are a low production manufacturer and pride themselves on their exclusivity and craftsmanship.  I ordered a bass from them from a local music store and, while the tone was what I desired, I had problems with certain aspects of the craftsmanship of the bass. 

Knowing the store I ordered it from would not have another instrument in stock, I contacted the company directly, sent them a copy of my CD and they immediately had me send back the instrument.  They sent me two instruments in return for use with my band, which I used, despite problems with one of the two instruments.  The main problem with the one bass was that a certain note on the neck was constantly fretting sharp and sounded out of tune.

I thought it was a simple intonation and setup issue, so I performed a quick setup on the bass and found that the problem was highlighted.  I had my repair tech look at the bass and tried a setup and once again, that note was fretting sharp.

We then tried changing the strings to a different brand, thinking it was a flaw with the strings manufacturers and things remained sharp on that note.  When we finally took the bass apart and measured things, it was discovered that one fret of the instrument was actually misplaced, causing all notes to play sharp on that fret, it’s just the one note on the particular string was more noticeable than others.  When I sent the bass back to the manufacturer as fixing the placement of the fret would have involved extensive finish work, they informed me that by changing the strings to a different manufacturer’s nullified their warranty and told me they’d send me back the bass if I didn’t want to pay for the refinishing work to be done.  Apparently I had to use their strings as an endorsing artist and changing them in the effort to compensate for their poor craftsmanship, voided my warranty and had me labelled as a “difficult” artist.

The cost of this refinishing work would have added up to 75% if the cost of a new instrument, so I suggested they could keep the bass and I’d use the other.  They informed me that the instrument in question was “my” bass and the other instrument was the “endorsement bass” and asked for it back, still sending me the bass with the incorrect fret on it so they wouldn’t have to refinish it.  This was the second instrument I had received from them with quality control issues and I was sorely disappointed, noting the high cost of their instruments.  I could not support and put my name towards a company that could not put out consistent and quality product…

Long story short, I sent back both basses, thanking the company for their consideration but obviously we could not work together.  I further contacted the store for a refund of my funds noting I had return receipts for both basses.  The store would not refund my money and there was a little back and forth with the company and they refunded the wholesale portion of the cost of the instrument.  I was not impressed and still out a portion of the money, but I could not fault the store as they are simply the distributor – however I do vote with my wallet and choose to spend my money elsewhere to this day. 

Case Study Two:  A company known for producing custom guitars to order and also manufactures amplifiers and public address systems.  I was looking for a portable PA system for festival and house concert use and found this company.  As they specifically do mail order, I contacted them, explaining who I was and what I was looking for, sent them a press kit and demo package and paid for a PA system. 

After the bad experience I had with the prior manufacturer, I was not looking for any freebies or other consideration, however they were willing to help me out as a solo artist and provide support on the road.  I ended up with a discount on the PA system and an acoustic guitar at the artist’s discount rate, as well as supplies of strings and picks to last me a tour or two.

I loved the PA system (and still use it to this day), however found the guitar to not be to my liking and offered to send it back after the tour.  They thanked me for the offer and told me to keep it, asking me for leftover strings and picks that were still in their sealed packages (which I didn’t send back but paid them for).  I still order (and pay for) speakers, cables and other supplies from them, not as an artist but as a customer and some of the old guys still send me swag every now and again, even though I’m no longer an endorser.  To this day, when asked for ideas about purchasing a PA system, I recommend them heartily for their quality, consistency and customer service.

I’ve been lucky to have musician friends whom have hooked me up with companies that they endorse for one time assistance with shows, tours, etc.  I’m willing to try these items out and am thankful that these companies have given me the chance to “try before I buy” and test stuff out in the real world.  If I like their product, I will happily pay for it, if I don’t like (or cannot use it), I will thank them politely and return it with my comments. 

I have a lovely acoustic guitar from a wonderful company, who loaned me an instrument on the recommendation of a friend (thanks MK!) for a tour where I was doing a fair amount of live looping.  I was so happy with this guitar that I purchased it (at full price) and it has replaced my 20 year old workhorse for live gigs – it’s simply one of the best acoustic guitars with a pickup for live use that I have played.  Does it touch my main guitar tonally or playing wise?  Not in the least, but it fulfills a need.  Will I endorse either company?  Not officially, but I’ll let folks know that they are my recommendations for quality guitars by companies who care about their customers.  And I’ll say that for free!

So to event organizers:  if you want me to attend your event and tweet or blog about it – “sell” your event to me – make me excited and want to go!  Make it affordable so I can indeed go!  Make the events and proceedings worthy of being talked about!  I will be more than happy to tweet and blog about the goings on, if I find that there is something that my readers and followers will find of interest or use.  If I’m not interested in attending, I simply won’t go, even if you offer me compensation – life’s too short and busy to spend cycles, worrying about things that I can’t see having impact on my future these days.

To products and manufacturers who have offered me stuff in exchange for a few kind words or consideration.  If I would normally consider purchasing this product, I will happily accept what you offer me, however will inform folks that I have received this product or service gratis.  If I can provide a positive endorsement, expect one publically – but  – it will be a “warts and all” assessment.  If I can provide constructive criticism, expect it privately along with the returned product.

If I normally would not consider purchasing this product, expect a “thanks but no thanks” response from me along with the returned product.  Don’t get me wrong, I am truly honoured when people and companies offer me stuff, really I am (and am damn lucky). 

But all I have in this brave new world is me and my reputation!  And there is no such thing as a free ride in this day and age and no ride is worth the price of my soul!

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