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Meet Artist Relations dude Hugh Gilmartin of D’Addario. One of the best in the business. He has a crazy sense of humor and very honest.

D'Addario Artist Page

You went from being a mushroom gatherer to a quarter horse jockey to AR guy at a couple companies, now you are at D’Addario. How’d you get into the business and how long have you been at it? Do you even play an instrument or are you still trying to make it as a soprano for the Long Island Metropolitan Opera?
I never gathered one single mushroom. I focused on truffles, the mushroom’s often overlooked cousin. While on the ground searching for truffles, I stumbled upon a horseshoe. It turned out that a quarterhorse had been spending time nearby & left me a gift. This piqued my interest & led to my interest in donning satin jockey outfits. Oh, & riding horses, too…

I started off in this industry like many others. I took an entry level customer service rep position with a company in the industry. When my boss quit, I was asked if I wanted the customer service manager gig. After a couple of weeks of the new gig, my boss came to me & said, “How do you feel about handling artist relations, too? You play guitar & know gear. It should be easy for you.” I jumped at the chance. I had no idea that I was in for one hell of a ride! That was during the fall of 1997. Wow, I’m getting old.

I still play daily. I try to keep my chops up. However, my gig is definitely not a 9-5 scenario. So, it’s quite difficult to maintain a band/gig schedule. I hope to again someday.

What sort of things have changed in the instrument world since you have started? Has it gotten bigger, smaller? There always seems to be mergers and acquisitions, yet there always seems to be something new popping up that people are gravitating to.
It’s a good time to be a musician in the market for gear. As all musicians know, the advent of inexpensive digital recording gear/software has been a major boon for the community (unless you own a traditional studio). Instead of having to pay for studio time, an engineer, etc. you can do it all yourself. That has forced many companies to re-think how they do business & follow the needs of their customer. The ones that don’t, will have trouble staying afloat, for the most part.

Also, the amazing amount of instruments/related products being produced abroad, has forced manufacturers to cut costs & be more competitive. I’m no captain of industry, but that sure does make things tough for US manufacturers. I’m fortunate to work for D’Addario, & we’re steadily increasing the amount of products that we produce here in the US. Our string factory is 100 feet from where I sit daily & our drum head factory is just across the street.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m no Steve Jobs. However, during my time in the industry, there definitely has been growth. In recent history, I’ve seen that level off & with more of a focus on consolidation, as well as acquisition. For example, D’Addario acquired ProMark drumsticks in January 2011. That’s another product that we make in the US (Houston, TX).

How has technology changed the business you do and the products you make?
Technological advances in machinery & production methods have allowed our industry to produce consistent spec products, made to very tight tolerances. As musicians have become more & more accustomed to that scenario, their demand for even more precision produced instruments/accessories has increased…and rightfully so. I’m one of them!

I’m in a band and I want a deal. You deal with a ton of artists.
What are you looking for these days so it’s worthwhile to all parties? Everyone wants and thinks they deserve free strings. How does one earn them?
We ‘re fortunate to have the best products & brands on the market. That said, we receive over 100 endorsement inquiries per week. At the risk of sounding overly business-like, the bottom line is, will you act as an ambassador for our products & influence other musicians to buy our products?

We seek relationship with artists that are mutually beneficial. Signing an artist is a bit like a marriage. The wedding happens, a big party takes place & everyone is happy. However, the real work/relationship building takes place in the years following the wedding. That’s where things truly blossom for both parties involved.

Does the artist faithfully use/rely on our products, or are they looking for a deal on whatever they can get their hands on? Are they soliciting every manufacturer in the industry for a deal? It means a great deal when an artist already uses our gear & wants to establish a relationship. Of course, we’re happy to have converts, as well.

Is the artist touring nationally/internationally, exposed to a variety of markets? Are they active in the social media realm/web marketing & willing to place our logos on their site? These are all very important. By the same token, we will do the same to help promote the artist. It comes down to more than just sending product to an artist for them to play. There needs to be reciprocity that takes place. I have to be able to justify why I’m taking a sale away from one of our dealers, when I send a product directly to an artist.

That’s not to say that we don’t sign up & coming artists/tomorrow’s legends. We definitely do. However, it has to be mutually beneficial, as mentioned before. I play guitar, but wouldn’t give myself a deal, based on those qualifications. I’m very angry at myself, for that!

What’s a deal breaker for a band asking for a deal? What about one that has a deal and it is about to expire?
Worst thing to do is to ask for free/discounted product, right off the bat. I admire people for cutting to the chase & being honest right up front, but that’s not the relationship we’re looking for. Simply put, that’s not a relationship.

If a deal is about to expire, both parties need to review what the relationship has yielded for all involved. If determined to be mutually beneficial, the relationship continues.

All the AR guys at D’Addario & Co made a video about endorsements.
What brought that about? Any feedback from folks?

Essentially, we wanted to provide potential artists some insight on how they can effectively work with companies they endorse & how to solicit companies effectively. The feedback has ranged from a bevy of “thank you” comments, to “Wow, that bald guy needs to get out in the sun more often. He’s painfully white.” Yes, I’m that bald, pale fellow. We genuinely feel that the video has provided some guidance.

We’ve shared drinks at Metal Fest, NAMM, and SXSW. What are some of your favorite events to travel to and what have you taken away from each?
We most definitely have shared a few rounds at various events around the country, my friend. May those occasions continue to happen, especially on your tab! All of these events, shows, gathering share one thing in common. It affords us the luxury of getting in the trenches with musicians of all genres, ability levels, age groups, markets, regions & profiles. The time that we get to speak directly with them is priceless. I’ve been very fortunate to meet/speak with some very talented musicians ranging from baby bands, on up to legend level artists.

With a company that sells everything from guitar to ukelele strings, what sort of open-mindedness do you need to have to stay aware on all angles? Obviously everyone is going to have a preference for what they like to listen to but I’d assume you need to like a little bit of everything or even just know who is popular or has potential.
It truly pays to be a music fan. With this gig, you really have to be willing to check out music that you wouldn’t normally listen to & do research in many cases to determine if an endorsement relationship is a good fit. I have stumbled upon some great music/players during this process. Sometimes, your musical preferences/opinions need to be put aside in order to truly evaluate an artist.

You guys opened a spot in New York and do events all over the place. What are some things the company is doing to ‘get out there’ so to speak?
In this case, the sky is the limit. D’Addario is always looking for a new way to reach our customers & support our artists. We incorporate traditional methods, as well as avenues of promotion & communication that we’re lead to by our consumers, as well as technology.

What are some random bands you are listening to these days?
This week: Alabama Shakes, Ghost, The London Souls, Andy McKee & some classical guitar by the likes of Ricardo Cobo. Diversity is key. There’s something of value in every style of music. Simply put, of its good, it’s good!

What’s the best way to get in touch and get you to check something out? Press pack, short bio and a song, rent a plane to fly a banner?
Plane rentals/skywriting are always welcome. An EPK is the best way to convey your interest. I recommend putting yourself in the AR rep’s shoes. What would you want to see in an EPK if you were trying to decide on an endorsement? The best way to reach us is via emailartistrelations@daddario.com. Keep in mind that we are inundated with requests/inquiries on a daily basis & that it may take a couple of weeks before we’re in touch.

Boxers or briefs?
I’ve been sporting a thong for years. Try to erase that image from your mind’s eye.

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