March 15, 2019

Pay for play: is it coming?

The pipe brand . . .

Sponsorship issues carry over to other aspects of pipe bands, of course. Highland dress is probably the single biggest total outlay of cash for a band, so partnering with a kiltmaker can be good for both band and manufacturer. Just as a bagpipe maker wants a sponsored band to sound great, a kiltmaker would want their sponsored competitor to look excellent. They’re essentially living sales mannequins for the products. Or they should be.

In each instance, publicizing the fact that certain gear is being used is a challenge. G1 seemed to recognize that all pipe chanters are similar, so they created an embossed logo in distinctive blue so that people can see what they’re playing. Kilts and jackets are different, and haven’t embraced the logo-displaying of major fashion brands – yet.

The lack of awareness that certain merchandise is being used can be an irritant for the maker when bands don’t help to spread the word. Again, it generally comes down to those handshake agreements rather than formal contracts.

Bagpipe reeds are a tricky sponsorship piece. They can be provided gratis, but, for the simple reason that they are not visible, there’s no assurance that a band is actually playing them. Barring a tuning park inspection, it’s all good faith. There are rumours that not a few Grade 1 pipe-majors even order their pipers to hide their reeds, so as not to provide proof that they’re using something different from what is assumed or advertised. Accusations fly that some reedmakers tout and promote that hyper-successful competitors are playing their products, but the whole truth is almost impossible to determine.

“There are some pipers and bands that are used in adverts, claiming they play certain products, but in reality they don’t play the products they are advertising,” Kenny MacLeod stressed. “That’s just plain wrong. Some people might call it misleading and some might call it lying.”

MacLeod would not go into specific allegations, and, even then, they’re still only alleged. But such frustrations might again be solved with formal contracts rather than handshake agreements. Even then, when a sponsored guitarist says they use a certain type of string, it’s easy to use a different brand from time to time and no one’s the wiser. There’s hardly any stopping a performer who’s always striving for the very best sound.

“It’s very rare that one product holds a universal characteristic of quality and sound,” Doug MacRae said. “For example, the chanter itself is not the only contributor to its tonal quality. The sound it produces depends on the chanter reed, pipe bag, drone quality and tuning, tuning contributions from bass/mid-section, climate, etc. It’s all interdependent. I suppose this is to say that with all the independent variables to affect the chanter sound, we should be open to the probability that all chanters, with the right combination, can produce a quality sound. It’s a matter of working with what you know.”

When a bagpipe, drum or Highland dress maker sponsors a band or solo player with gear, it makes sense for the competitor to declare it, particularly when there is a judge connected with the company. Adding a monetary sponsorship to the relationship makes it even more vital.

Despite the apparent wishes of the majority of member competitors, there are no rules yet to mitigate the risk of such conflicts of interest. Some top-flight pipers and drummers who are, or are involved with, product manufacturers already self-police.

McCallum Bagpipes’ Kenny MacLeod said that he has made the personal decision not to judge, seeing it as a no-win for both his company and the competitors. Other manufacturer-judges don’t see it as a problem, so freely continue to judge their customers and those who are customers of their business competition. With no business conflict of interest rules, it’s perfectly within their right not to recuse themselves.

As the piping and drumming world continues to expand and mature as an industry, and sponsorship agreements become more complex, the conflict of interest debate will inevitably intensify. Competitor-customers and judge-manufacturers who have been allowed to have it both ways will likely have to discontinue the tradition of perceived or real conflict.


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