Your new album has just been released, or maybe you've just booked a huge show. Time to email everybody you know! Before you add your entire address book to the To:" field of a new email, consider a few points of email list etiquette. By respecting the recipients of your mass emails, you'll have far better results from your efforts, build stronger relationships with your fans, and build a healthy email list.
I've been maintaining my own email list for about seven years, and along the way have found many ways to gain, and lose, subscribers. I've also been added to many email lists, sometimes willingly, often not,but always tried to learn from other artists' email newsletters.
There are numerous services available to help you maintain your email list. Some are free, others cost money depending on the size of your list and the features you want to install. Look at the bottom of the emails you get from different bands and you'll find links to some of these services. I highly recommend you find one that suits you to make this whole process easier.
Build a List of Volunteer Subscribers
When I repeatedly receive email I don't want, I apply a setting that sends any messages from that email address straight to the trash. They can keep sending me emails and pretend it's doing them some good, but the message never even hits my inbox. When enough people on their list take a similar action, the unwanted email eventually causes more harm than good.
On the other hand, when I sign up for a band's email list I'm far more likely to not only read the emails, but take whatever action they are suggesting, be it listen to some new music, mark their next show on my calendar, or pre-order their new album. There's also a better chance I'll forward the email to friends and help spread the word.
If you want your list to be effective, make sure everyone on it wants to be there. A smaller list of dedicated fans is more valuable than a large list of people who think you are annoying.
Here are some ideas to help you build your email list:
- Pass around a sign up sheet at your shows.
- Add sign up forms to your website(s).
- Offer a free download or other incentive in exchange for joining your email list.
- Add a check box on your website's contact form giving people who email you the option to subscribe to your list.
- At the end of your emails, ask your subscribers to forward the email to any of their friends that would like your music. Give them an incentive to help you spread the word.
I sell my music through several services that give me the customer's email address. I never assume this person wants to be on my mailing list. Instead, I email them at the end of the year, thank them for their support, and ask them if they'd like to subscribe to my email list. They usually do, and these subscribers have become the core of my fan base. I see more activity (responses, purchases, etc.) from these fans than I do from those that I've never spoken to or emailed individually. A little personal interaction can go a long way.
Easy Unsubscribe Option
Unfortunately, some people will decide to opt out of your email list. Give fans an easy way out. The less confrontational, the better.
Every email list service will automatically have this option. If you choose to send mass emails without one of these services, include a line at the bottom of each email that says:
Reply with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line to stop receiving these emails.
People don't always unsubscribe because they never want to hear from you again. Between Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, and everything else connecting people online, there's more than one way to keep fans updated. If you're using several of this tools to update your fans, it's understandable that some people choose to only get Facebook invites while others may prefer to hear about your upcoming shows via email.
Losing a subscriber doesn't always mean you're losing a fan. However, if the only way for people to stop receiving your emails is to block you or designate your email as spam, then you're probably running the risk of losing fans.
Send Emails Regularly, but Sparingly
It's important that you stay in touch with your fans, but only when you have something new to report. If you send too many emails that don't say much, people are less likely to notice when you have big news. At most, I recommending sending one email per month.
Make sure your emails have some value to your fans. Don't just tell them about your upcoming shows, because many people might not live in your town. Include links to new blog posts, videos, demo recordings, etc. The key word here is new content, not the same video you told them about last month. In fact, use your email list as motivation to create new content!
Use Bcc: to Protect Email Addresses
One of the most common rookie mistakes I've seen is people adding all the recipients to the To:" field of the email, which allows everyone on the list to see everyone else's email address. The best solution is to simply use an email list service, but if you don't have one yet, be sure to add the email addresses to the Bcc:" field.
Bcc: stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Email addresses in this field are kept hidden from all recipients of the message.
Inadvertently sharing everybody's email address with everyone else is usually harmless, but most musicians send their emails to other musicians, and some of them might add every email they get their hands on to their own email list. Protect your friends' email addresses by using the Bcc: field on emails going to a bunch of people that don't know each other.
Never Send Attachments
This should be a no-brainer, but it's another common rookie mistake. Sending emails with big attachments like MP3s can clog people's inboxes. Only send MP3s to people that are expecting them.
A far better approach is to send a download link, especially a link that allows you to track clicks, downloads, plays, etc. Whenever you can track metrics, you have a chance to learn about your fans and yourself. If nobody is downloading your music, wouldn't it be nice to know so you could figure out a better approach?
Respond to Your Fans
The most important thing independent musicians can do to build a fan base is to communicate with them. When somebody responds to your newsletter, write them back! Even if just to say thanks, your acknowledgement can go a long way. We should all be so lucky to someday have more fan emails than we could possibly respond to, but meanwhile, take advantage of every opportunity to interact with your fans. Even the biggest stars respond to fan mail!