What Indie Artists Should Know About Brand Sponsorships

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November 23, 2021
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This column originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Canadian Musician magazine.

By Anthony OKS

In an age where staying in the public eye for as long as possible is key to an artist’s success, sometimes you have to look outside of your own circle to help you do that. Some work directly with like-minded artists, using collaborations, co-signs, and social media support to grow their network. Others find new opportunities performing at festivals, showcases, or events that put them in front of brand-new audiences. Expanding beyond the music industry, however, can open up even more potential to reach new people, gain new fans, and diversify your revenue streams. One way to do this is through brand sponsorships.

What is a brand sponsorship?

A brand sponsorship is a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship between an artist and a company. Each side “gets” something out of the deal. For example, the artist gets clothing from a designer in exchange for wearing those clothes on stage, in videos, in social media posts, and in public, and the company gets heightened exposure out in the world. In the world of sponsorship, when a brand provides an artist with merchandise, this is often called a “seeding program.” The envisioned outcome is a win-win for both, swapping and sharing their followers and fans.

How do you find a brand sponsorship?

Since brand sponsorships are built on reciprocity, then they need to be cemented in relationships. Companies need to know that you’re out there and that you have an audience before they’ll start considering a seeding program. It's really all about being seen and known throughout your community before you approach any brand. Play shows, play festivals, go to conferences and events. Meet as many people as you can. Don't just go to music-related events. Keep your finger on the pulse of fashion-related events, brand activations, and what kind of other artist/company campaigns are happening out there. Do the homework on the companies you want to work with, figure out what you can bring to their table, then start making connections with the people who make these decisions. My first brand sponsorship came from knowing someone in the industry who I had already been working with on a different project. Once they got a new role, they contacted me to see if I'd be interested in a seeding relationship.

How can brand sponsorships help grow your career?

Partnering with the right company can get your music into the hands of new audiences and help you find new fans. I currently have an artist sponsorship with Dickies, a clothing brand that has an international footprint. They use my music in some of their outbound commercials and also seed me, and whenever they post or use my work it helps build my base.

A good partnership should ideally grow into something more substantial. A seed program might eventually turn into an endorsement deal with a brand offering up financial contributions to an artist's tour, merch, or videos in exchange for the partnership. Some brands go as far as signing artists to exclusive deals where an artist can only wear clothing from that company.

As an artist, your goal should be to work with brands over periods of time to get to a point where, in addition to trading networks, fans, and followers, you actually get paid. Landing one sponsorship can inevitably lead to others. Once you’ve demonstrated your value – what you can offer a brand, what makes you a unique spokesperson, and what you can help them build through your work together – you can take those strategies to other companies.

Is it the right fit?

Faking brand love will be really apparent in the work you do and the relationship you have. A bad partnership that doesn't fit can also be damaging to the artist. Your audience wants to see you connect with products that fit your brand story. They want to believe what they see. So, too, does the company you’re working with and vice versa. This relies on fostering that interdependent connection. You’re working together to mutually benefit each other and grow your own brands, not just to get free stuff. It’s important to make sure this relationship also aligns with your values, both as an artist and a person.

Unlocking new creative avenues

In addition to tapping into each other's networks, finding mutual benefit in growing audiences, and developing relationships that will ideally turn into long-lasting partnerships, brand sponsorships can also help you find new, exciting ways to be creative. I recently teamed up with Vessel Beer in Winnipeg for a beer named after my latest EP release, In the Garden. We worked on the flavour profile together, the art, the name, and the rollout plan. As an artist it allowed me to flex my creative muscles in new ways while also finding a new revenue source (I receive a percentage of every can sold).

Anthony OKS is an emcee and songwriter based in Winnipeg, MB who currently has brand sponsorship deals with Dickies and Vessel Beer. As part of the acclaimed hip-hop duo The Lytics he has also worked with Apple, Converse, and Gymshark. His new EP, In the Garden, is available now via LHM Records. www.anthonyoks.ca.