An artist needs equipment and electronic devices – to turn their vision into reality, or even to come up with new ideas. But gear, kind of good, isn’t usually affordable. And when a talented artist can take some quality equipment and create magic, they need reliance to create that magic over and over again. So how does a young musician need to grow and improve if they don’t have cash? The answer often comes from gear sponsors to gear gear company artist-relationship experts, who either save grants or materials for the working musician.
Tom Cusimano has been with the gear company Carg for more than five years, during which time he assisted Vox and Black Star Line and is now senior manager of artist relations. Cusimano has also worked with Yamaha, Universal, and Warner, and was a guitarist and vocalist for the rock band The Riders. Walcots. With experience in both the creative and business aspects of the industry, Cusimano has a deep understanding of the needs and aspirations of the game, and comes to work with a supportive perspective.
We spoke with Cusimano about how a band could aim for gear sponsorship and what he was looking for in terms of potential artist relationships.
Tom Cusimano and Brian May (Queen), Vox artists
Spotify for Artists: Is there ever a “hunting season” to find new artists?
Tom Kusimano: The heaviest time is during the festive season. Festivals are usually a great place to meet artists because there is already a filter. If you’ve made it to CMA Fest or Coachella or Stagecoach or Bonnaroo or whatever, someone who’s already looked at the band. For these festivals, I’ll be going early to check out the small bands. If you go on the radar of GoldenVoice where they are putting you in the coach, I’m interested in what you’re using and maybe meeting you.
What kind of artist are you looking for? You have signed everything from the talented sideman to the lead musician.
It really runs the spectrum, and I’m in a unique position because I manage not only the keyboard, guitar gear and these, but also the huge workstations that literally handle the huge concert. Music director for Beyonc, JZ, Or Justin Timberlake– This huge travel entity – they are using the core of the Cronos, which is a huge part of the gear. So I work with people of all levels and types who need their gear, he works with a session guitarist with amazing skills, a music director, a “guitar player with a guitar player” or even someone with a distinctive musical style. I’ve got artists we work with who are incredible lead guitar players you probably don’t know unless you’re a guitar idiot and I’ve got artists who are in the front of the spotlight.
What are you looking for from an artist in exchange for using your gear?
Well, that’s any number. It depends on the level of comfort of the artist and I am always at the forefront of what we expect. I don’t put a gun to anyone’s head and say, “Look, I have to do this.” If we were going to work together, I would say these are the things we want to see and what are you comfortable with? This will help us determine what we can do in the end.
For example, suppose you Herbie Hancock, Who is one of our iconic artists. There is no one else like him, and he has been with the company for 30 years. It’s a lot with Herbie, “Hey, here’s a new product, check it out, it’s your alley.” I don’t put everything in front of him because I know what he’s interested in right now. But I can also ask Herbie to come with us [the National Association of Music Merchants conference]. Depending on the artist, their size and their level of comfort it is really relative and worrying. My job is to make sure that our alignment with the artists is resonating with the people who are going to buy the product. So it all depends on the product, gear and situation.
Courtesy of Herbie Hancock, Karg
If an artist agrees to use your gear, are they looking to use all types of gear from that product line?
It depends on the depth of the relationship and primarily the type of contract. Without a name or example, an artist wanted to play a pair of amps on stage left and right in stereo. The amps we gave them didn’t make any sense. One amp does one thing, another does another – it’s a “different arrow in your arrow” thing. There are tools, and I’m not trying to stop an artist from using the tools they need on stage. There have been cases where a band has requested extra gear, so I would say, “Look, you guys have five keyboards, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here.”
Conversely, I have artists who exclusively use only Korg stuff and they like it because we create a range of everything at the moment – multi-voice analog synthesizer, workstation, vocoder, small keyboard which can be a great variety Kind words.
So usage and monopoly are never the real factor. If it comes down to trade tools, I’m not trying to conquer and control what artists are using, but obviously I would recommend first and foremost, “Oh, you’re looking for Sound X, why don’t you try this first? Can’t meet the need, then I understand why you have to use another thing.
How can someone draw your attention?
I live and die by referrals, it’s another artist I work with, or an artist I have an eye on, an agent, a manager, a label … it can be any number of things and they all happen . I reached out to the directors and said, “Hey, we got this young artist and we don’t have a ton of budget here, but can you help us?” I’m all trying to develop the artist and help the ground floor. As a musician myself, I know what it’s like to not have money but need gear – it’s really hard to stay in position.
Although my best clients come through referrals, I read every email that comes to me and I reply to every email, and if you call me, I call you again. I’ll do it at least once. I think people deserve time and I can easily say, “Hey, thanks for arriving but at the moment I can’t do anything for you but please update me on what’s happening to you.” I have sent thousands of emails and some of them have turned into profitable relationships.