It’s a long-standing dogma of the alternative music universe that using your platform to flog products or services for huge corporations is well and truly haram. It’s extremely undignified, often creepy, and, should you choose to break that convention, it takes a hugely respectable career to live it down. Nas just about got away with it, because he’s Nas. Same deal for Lemmy. Still, hundreds did not, and it’s generally accepted that shilling products is utterly incompatible with artistic purity, and that anyone guilty of this winds up, to paraphrase the late Bill Hicks, “off the artistic roll call”; often irreversibly so.

Even as a libertarian-leaning capitalist, I subscribe to this theory wholeheartedly. I might enjoy the occasional Snickers in my personal life, but I sure as shit don’t want to see Tom Waits or Neil Young holding one aloft, instructing me to “Get some nuts”.

Still, there is a grey area in all of this; one which often sees aspiring artists flout this command with reckless abandon – the shady world of gear endorsement. For the uninitiated, this is a very common arrangement whereby an artist with a respectably-sized fanbase appears in a magazine/TV/internet ad to profess their love for a particular brand of guitar/bass/amp/banjolele.

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One of the douchier examples, from time past.

It’s a practice that is, I would argue, every bit as crass as putting your name to a bespoke jingle for an energy drink. Sure, you might have a genuine love for that Warwick bass that you’re posing awkwardly with for your promo photo. Hell, it might even be your absolute favorite bass on the market. But still, using your presence as an artist to hawk that product on their behalf is no less seedy than it would be if you were endorsing your favoured brand of chewing gum, bagels, or buttplugs. The fact that you’re shilling something that you happen to genuinely enjoy is of ultimately of little consequence – you’ll still come across as a greasy-palmed chancer, rather than the respectable, worldly musician that you were hoping for.

For all my righteous grandstanding, I’m no purist. I know that everyone has to make a buck, and it’s famously difficult to reconcile your musical passion and artistic purity with making a reasonable living from your music alone. This is particularly cogent in later life, when incredibly un-punk things like children and marriages happen, and your artistic resolve is stretched to its very limit. Still, if you’ve put the miles in and paid your dues on the toilet circuit, the muso community won’t judge you quite as harshly when you finally decide to cash in on your fanbase years down the line.

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Pic unr£lat£d.

I’d be much more understanding if these deals paid for at least a few months’ rent; kept our beloved musicians away from the foodbanks. But, more often than not, they don’t. Gear endorsement deals might sound glamorous on the surface, but unless you’re Joe Satriani (which you’re fucking not), the tangible rewards on offer are pitiful. More often that not, the deal simply entails a discount on your guitar/bass of choice; sometimes as little as 25%. Sure, it’s worth it for the guitar company – they get to associate themselves with your music, which they obviously thought artistically worthy of putting their name to. But, if the financial rewards are negligible, often intangible, what do you, the artist, get out of it, aside from a brief smattering of ego rubs from your closest peers?

I would argue that, by endorsing a brand and/or product, particularly one that is completely unrelated to music (see below), you, as an artist, are losing every bit as much face as you would by signing to a major label and pumping out a watered-down version of your sound to company deadlines. Worse; while the weight of artistic shame is comparably heavy, the rewards on offer are infinitesimally smaller – at the end of the day, that’s the only difference.

There seems to be no lower limit of free shit that bands won’t debase themselves for. A classic example was when, in the late noughties, Jagermeister threw free bottles of their concoction (along with some tacky merch) at a seemingly endless number of burgeoning rawk bands in a graceless attempt to cement their image association with the alternative community worldwide. Somehow, it seems to have worked. But while Jager’s profits grow year-on-year, most of those bands are long gone, leaving a digital graveyard of discomforting promo shots like this:

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Pull that ironic face all you want mate; you’re still a filthy whore.

The most depressing aspect of these endorsement deals, particularly for emerging artists, is that, if you are not yet at a level where people are willing to compensate your indignity with a handsome fee – as the vast majority of gear/merch endorsees are not – then you are probably not famed or respected enough to justify putting yourself out there like that in the first place. It just looks a bit, well, self-important.

At the end of the day, it’s your choice which path you take in the industry. As alluded to above, it’s harder than ever to reconcile your love for making music with making a decent living from it. It’s up to you to decide whether that battle is still one worth fighting. But for god’s sake, if you’re going to jeapordise your artistic integrity, at least make sure that the prize on offer is one worth having.

Alex Holbourn

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