I think getting an endorsement deal really comes down to a musician’s visibility through either live gigs and/or recordings. Of course, the musician has to come up with the goods, so to speak. Do they have to be virtuosos? No, but of a higher caliber. Some mediocre players sneak past the radar but virtually all these musicians are likely in high visibility situations.
Usually "A&R," or Artist Relations people, are inundated with promo packages from players looking for an endorsement deal. So wading through materials is an immense task. I asked an A&R person how they do it. He told me his system: he'll listen to a CD’s first track and if the first 3 seconds grab his attention he'll listen on for 10 more seconds, then 20, and so on. He claims this is enough to know if the musicianship is indeed of the caliber they want for some one to represent them. So in my case, a really long artsy intro to a song with no bass guitar would not be a good idea for a bass endorsement.
To be honest I don't really pursue endorsements. If I like a certain product, or need it, I buy it. I mean really, how much stuff does one need anyway? Does it make me a better musician? No.
My endorsement deal with Warwick was rather fortuitous and had more to do with timing. I was approached by Warwick years ago. I actually owned a Warwick bass. I used it for all my gigs and session work and bought it at retail price because I really loved the bass. I still have it and use it as one of my primary axes. At the time the person who handled endorsement deals at Warwick had copies of CD’s from 2 bands I played with on a regular basis. He dug my playing and knew I had a strong reputation in Chicago, a region where Warwick likely needed to strengthen sales. Sometimes it's your rep that will precede you. Thus, that’s how they learned of my playing, by word of mouth.
Write a letter or email to the company of choice and direct it to AR. Ask about their endorsement policy. Establish a relationship. Follow up with a phone call if possible. You'll find a lot just by doing this. The more together you are the better your chances. Multiple CD’s featuring your playing shows diversity. An itinerary of your performances is good too, just to show you’re out there promoting yourself and performing. Character is important. Some musicians just want free stuff and peddle themselves to obtain gear.
The truth about the benefits that come with endorsement
Most think an endorsement is getting free gear for saying "I play this gear." Nothing is free. Only in a rare instance, if say you are a mega star, would you get things absolutely free. Usually the benefits are a percentage off the cost or at cost for product. Sometimes a company will use your image to show that you use their products and as an official user you may be called upon for a clinic, performance, or product training at a store in you area.
In order to maintain your endorsement, the main thing is to pump out more music, which is what I do.
Keeping good lines of communication are always necessary and showing that you genuinely use the product is key. In my case, I bought a fretless bass at 70% of cost. I had it custom made. For this, I received a low end line model. Later, I bought some amps which I needed anyway. Shortly thereafter, I received a big rig after doing some clinic/training gigs. Once again I actually love this stuff and used it extensively. Do I use gear by other brands? Of course.
On a final note, it’s important to maintain a high level of respect for the products you may endorse. What used to kill me at the NAMM show was seeing musicians trying to get free stuff from budding luthiers. Here you have a guitar builder trying to sell his instrument and showcase his craft and some other guy who just wants it for free. I doubt that musician would ever play for free. Y'dig?
Chris Clemente plays both electric and acoustic bass and is endorsed by Warwick. He received his formal training in jazz studies at Roosevelt University and University of Miami, FL and in 2009 will complete his Masters in jazz studies from DePaul University. Noted bands and projects are numerous and can be found on his website.