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New trial program helps major gear companies connect with unsigned artists

Musicians love gear, and it's no wonder why - without it, we're limited in what we can do from a musical standpoint. Musical instruments and equipment are the fundamental tools of our trade. And let's be honest - among the perks of being signed to a major label contract and "making it big" that appeal to many musicians are the endorsement deals that star musicians often have with musical equipment manufacturers. And who wouldn't love to have an endorsement deal, with manufacturers hooking you up with deals or samples of their latest offerings? But short of being a household name or in a nationally recognized act, how do you obtain an endorsement? Most musicians, regardless of how exceptionally talented they may be, have little idea of how to go about getting an endorsement from a big-name musical equipment manufacturer. But it's about much more than just getting some free gear - more importantly, it's about building relationships. Exploring a potential means of addressing this issue that was initially conceived by David Missal, Sennheiser's Manager of Technical Services and Market Development for USA and Latin America and musician Brian Hardgroove, Sennheiser, Impulse Groove Foundation and Harmony Central recently came together to "beta test" an idea aimed at providing musicians and manufacturers with an opportunity to connect.


On Friday and Saturday, October 17-18 2014 Impulse Groove Foundation performed its first "Silent Performance" concerts for Sennheiser and Harmony Central at Skylight Night Club in Santa Fe New Mexico. The two hour events ran from 5-7 PM both evenings. While admission was free and open to the general public, the primary purpose of this concert was to provide an avenue for talented local musicians, bands and singers to show the endorsement company that Santa Fe has an active and mutually supportive music community that will turn out to support the artists who reside in the area. Impulse Groove Foundation were the exclusive performers at the event. Founded by Brian Hardgroove (who will no doubt be familiar to many readers as a longtime member of Public Enemy), the concept for the band came from the melding of two ideas - expressing the most important thing about us as humans, which Brian feels is examining our own motivations and getting others to identify theirs as well, and to serve as a vehicle for Brian and his bandmates to do good things in the world and encourage positive motivations through their artistic expression.


Upon entering the venue, audience members were given a pair of Sennheiser HDR-120 wireless headphones (Fig.1) to wear for the event, and returned them at the end of the evening. The concert was then broadcast to the audience by way of a Sennheiser wireless transmission system, allowing the audience to enjoy the performance by Impulse Groove Foundation over the wireless headphones. The band also monitored wirelessly, utilizing Sennheiser SR 300 G3 in-ear monitoring systems.


Figure 1 - Sennheiser HDR 120 wireless headphones

Unsigned artists in the Santa Fe area were encouraged to bring a two-song compilation of their best recorded material to the show on CD, memory card, DVD or thumb drive. No email or Internet submissions were accepted. All submissions from attendees were accepted, and no entry fee was required for submissions. There were approximately 50 submissions and all of them will be reviewed, and the top twenty submissions will be evaluated by Sennheiser and Harmony Central to determine the recipient of a Sennheiser "Dream Package." Since a singer/ songwriter would have different needs than a band, the Dream Package will be based on the eventual winner, and an appropriate package will be tailored to their specific needs by Sennheiser. The disbursement of a “Dream Package” is not an official endorsement deal with Sennheiser or any of the participating sponsors of the event, and the recipient of the Dream Package is under no obligation to sign any such deal/agreement with Sennheiser or any of the event sponsors.

The original idea for the Silent Performances came from David Missal at Sennheiser. They initially experimented with classical performances and DJs with promising results and enthusiastic audience reaction, but then David approached Brian Hardgroove and Impulse Groove Foundation with the idea of trying a Silent Performance with modern music from a full band. Of course, this meant they'd have to use electronic instruments and route them direct, but this was not a significant hurdle. When David approached Brian and asked if he'd like to try it, his response was enthusiastically affirmative. Brian suggested the idea of taking musical submissions from local bands and offering them an opportunity to win a equipment Dream Package from Sennheiser. Since there is no major music industry in the Santa Fe area, and the nearest city with an industry presence is 45 minutes away in Albuquerque, he saw it as an opportunity to excite the musicians in the local area and shine the spotlight on them. The result? The musicians in Impulse Groove Foundation were happy, the engineers were happy, and by all accounts the event was a success with the audience too, while simultaneously providing local musicians with an exciting opportunity.

When asked for his thoughts about the concept for the concerts and how it might benefit local musicians, bassist Brian Hardgroove from Impulse Groove Foundation said that today "recording contracts are just as difficult to attain as ever and arguably far less beneficial to the act. Endorsement deals however, are much easier to realize and can be instrumental in helping a self-sufficient act reach a profitable margin of operation earlier through live performances than otherwise possible without such support. Official association with a reputable manufacturer substantially boosts the credibility and visibility of a new act. These are valuable advantages in today’s marketplace." Brian also advises musicians not to approach endorsement deals as way to get free gear, but as a way to get companies to broadcast and support you in a mutually beneficial way. "It's the value of the relationship that is so important" says Hardgroove. The trial event at Skylight in Santa Fe provided just such an opportunity for local musicians and the submitted material is now in the process of being reviewed, with the winner to be announced on December 1 2014 on the Impulse Groove Foundation website and on Harmony Central.

Sennheiser's mission is The Pursuit Of Perfect Sound, and Harmony Central's goal is to help musicians Make Better Music. With the success of the initial proof of concept show in Santa Fe, the organizations involved are considering a nationwide "tour" of similar concerts, with the goal of providing the opportunity for local musicians to build community, connect with equipment manufacturers, and share their music with other artists and music fans.

Other companies have also expressed interest in the idea, with other manufacturers considering participating in future concerts as endorsement sponsors. Furthermore, additional Silent Performance concerts are planned, including three silent performances at the upcoming 2015 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim California. Scheduled at NAMM are events with guitarists Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Friday), Steve Morse (Saturday) and a surprise "special guest" on Sunday, January 25 2015. These will be held in the Hot Zone at NAMM, Room 202B at 12-1 PM on each of the three days and will consist of Hardgroove's interviews with the musicians, playback of some of their previously recorded works, and then a Silent Jam performance by the artist with Impulse Groove Foundation serving as the host band. 

Stay tuned to Harmony Central for more information on upcoming events.

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