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The money is in the list!

Money in an envelope - image accompanying an article about building a band mailing list

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ll have noticed that selling records has become more and more difficult.

And you don't need a degree in rocket science to see why: ever since records became ‘files’ rather than physical items, it’s been getting easier and easier to obtain music for free – either through file-sharing or legal, ad-funded services like Spotify. So, in a world of free music, how do you actually make any cash out of your tunes?

One important answer to this tricky question is this: the money is in the list.

What list? The list of people who have given you an email address. Generating a decent database is one of the most important things that a band can do these days, but, perhaps understandably – as “data management” isn’t exactly the sexiest aspect of a rock career – it can get overlooked by bands.

So, in this article we’re going to spell out the benefits of having a good fan database, suggest ways to build one, show you how it can generate income and outline some pitfalls to avoid.

Why an email database matters

Having a good email database of your fans is a really important for a number of reasons:

  • The people who are interested enough to give you an email address are probably the people who are most likely to buy your music and merch. They are amongst your warmest "leads".

  • Communicating with your list is extremely cost-effective. If you’re on a budget, you can technically email everybody for free, or if you want to be a little more sophisticated about things, you can use an inexpensive but very useful email marketing tool (more on which anon).

  • Email addresses can be used not only for direct-to-fan communication but for building up fanbases on social networks. For example, Facebook and Twitter allow you to connect contact lists and identify profiles of people who are on them.

  • When used in conjunction with a half-decent email marketing system, your database of email addresses can tell you a hell of a lot about your fans – where in the world they are based; how many of them open your emails; what sort of content they particularly like and so on. You can use all this data to decide what sort of merchandise to sell them and where to do gigs.

But how do you build an email database?

Ok, having spelt out the benefits of an email database, how do you actually create one? There are a few different ways you can go about it.

  • At the very simplest level, you can just whack an email address on your site that people can send a message to if they want to join your list. You could then store these email addresses in Outlook, or an Excel spreadsheet. However, this is a very 1990s, less-than-ideal way of going about things – not only will ‘spambots’ find your publicly-listed email address and send you a load of junk mail, but the above method relies on you manually filing a bunch of email addresses. It is a quick way of getting a list on the go, but I’d personally avoid this method.

  • Getting a little bit more sophisticated, you could use a free service like JotForm to build a form that captures email addresses; this lets you capture more details about your fans and will send an email to you every time somebody completes your form. However, it's all still a rather manual process requiring Outlook lists or Excel spreadsheets.

  • Getting more sophisticated again, you can use a professional email marketing app such as Getresponse or Mailchimp. These are nifty tools that allow you to do a whole host of useful things, like create HTML emails (emails that involve graphics and photos); send pre-written, automated emails (autoresponders) to subscribers; see who’s opening your emails; find out where your fans live (!) and much more. Unsubscribes are handled automatically too.

Ok, so how do I actually use my list to make money?

First, you’ve got to be realistic about things: despite your list containing your ‘warmest leads’, only a very small proportion of them will actually part for cash for anything – as a rule of thumb, around 1% to 5%. So if you have 1,000 people on your mailing list, you can expect 10 to 50 sales of something.

So, the best way to generate income out of a mailing list is to grow it so that it is as large as possible.

And how do you do that?

  • Incentivise things – spell out the benefits of joining your list (this usually involves giving away music).

  • Consider using online adverts on Facebook or elsewhere to encourage people to sign up to your list. However, be aware that this can be an expensive activity which is full of pitfalls…see our article on Facebook advertising for more information on how to go about this.

  • Make it easy for people to sign up. Keep things basic: capturing name and email address is usually enough (although if you’re planning on touring, a postcode field is a good idea).

  • Mention the mailing list at every gig you play, and always capture email addresses at the door of events – ask every paying gig-goer you have to join your mailing list as soon as they walk in the door of the venue. Leave sign-up forms on any tables in the venue.

  • Ensure that your website features data capture forms prominently in all areas - on the home page, in the side bar etc.. Pop-ups and welcome mats, when used wisely, can also increase the number of email addresses captured.

Once you’ve got a large number of subscribers on your mailing list, you can send them e-newsletters about about physical releases, downloads, merchandise and gigs.

You should try to do this in as personal a way as possible — don’t talk to your fans as though you’re an airline emailing its customers; rather, communicate in a genuine, heartfelt way that lets your listeners know that you value them.

And think out of the box when it comes to what you actually sell to your subscribers. Yes, you can try to encourage them to purchase CDs and downloads, but in the streaming era this is always a hard sell. So think out of the box — innovative merch, crowdfunding and unique live experiences can potentially raise more revenue than CDs. See our ‘Let’s get physical’ article for a few suggestions on this front.

Using your mailing list wisely

Remember that once you have a huge mailing list, don’t overdo things. Think long and hard before you hit the send button on every e-newsletter. Do you really need to email everybody once a week with inane news about your granny? 

Also, remember that with mailing lists, it's incredibly easy to break the law; there are quite a few data protection regulations that you really need to adhere to if you're capturing email addresses (especially in the GDPR era). The key things to remember from a legal viewpoint are as follows:

  • Make it clear to users what they are signing up to

  • Use a 'subscribe' button or 'Yes, sign me up to your updates' checkbox

  • Give users an easy way to unsubscribe from you newsletters.

  • Store your data securely

And finally, although the money may be in the list, it isn’t ALL going to come from flogging recordings.

You may find that even if you have a large mailing list packed with enthuastic supporters, they may still not be arsed buying a record which they can listen to on Spotify for nothing.

But they may very well pay to see you live, wear your t-shirt or drink from your mug. (Check out our article on Ryanair’s business model (yes, really) for some ideas on how to make money from fans who will happily listen to your music for free but won’t buy any albums from you.)

See also

If you’re investigating the world of email marketing, there are a few reviews on email marketing apps I’ve written which will help:

And finally, you may find my guide on how to create an e-newsletter helpful.

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Top online tools for promoting your music

An old computer

An old computer

Although there is still a place for CDs, records and tapes in my, er, book, selling music is, for the vast majority of DIY musicians, all about the internet these days. So in this week’s Prescription article, I thought I’d talk about some of my favourite online tools for shoving your music in unsuspecting punters' faces (which is why you're really reading this isn't it? Anyway).

1. Building websites that let you sell music

Shopify is a tool that allows you to create a really nice-looking website that lets you sell music easily. Even if you don’t have a huge amount of technical knowledge, you can build a site fairly easily with the platform, which also comes with useful blogging tools. But crucially, it makes selling digital and physical goods direct to fan very easy, which is absolutely vital for any musician. There is a monthly fee for using it – depending on your requirements, you can expect to pay between £9 and £20 a month. Grab a free Shopify trial here.

2. Sending e-newsletters – Mad Mimi or GetResponse

A crucial part of any band promotion shenanigans is beating your fans into submission with e-newsletters, and Mad Mimi and Getresponse win my vote for the best all-round ‘e-newsletter-sending’ tools.

Madmimi is great simply because it is very, very competitive on price. For $36 (£22) a month you can send great-looking HTML emails to up to 10,000 fans. If you don’t have as many fans as that, Mad Mimi has a range of other packages that enable you to send to a smaller number of contacts – all of which seem to cost considerably less than the equivalents offered by Mad Mimi’s main competitors. On top of that, using Mad Mimi to manage data and create attractive HTML e-newsletters is very straightforward. Find out more about Mad Mimi and get a free trial here.

For a richer feature-set, including more control over design, autoresponders and social sharing, I'd probably plump for Getresponse. The pricing is still pretty competitive too. One thing worth noting though is that Getresponse doesn't allow you to import data - you have to start building your list from scratch with it.

3. Sharing files – Dropbox

Dropbox is a great way to store data ‘in the cloud’ which means three things: you can back up your files easily, access them from anywhere, and – probably most importantly from the music promo point of view – share content incredibly easily. At Prescription we use frequently use Dropbox to share songs, videos, hi-res pics and press releases with journalists; on top of that, we even use it as an office network and a data-backup solution. We love it, and I’ve come across fewer handier tools for musicians (or indeed anyone in need of somewhere to store/share a load of stuff online). Most importantly for me, it means that the days of clunky uploads to Yousendit or attaching large files to emails and hoping for the best are over. You get a 2GB with a free Dropbox account, and if you want more, a 100GB package costs around £6 per month. Find out more about Dropbox here.

4. Productivity – Google Apps

If you are a DIY musician you’ll know that really, you're trying to run a business as much as you are trying to write music. As such you’ll need a truckload of tools that let you do the former (and far more boring) activity effectively. Fortunately “don’t be evil” Google (who may or may not be evil these days but let’s put that momentarily to one side) have come to the rescue with a suite of free goodies that let you manage your time (via Google calendars), send IMAP emails using your own domain name (thanks to Gmail), set up a basic band email list (via Feedburner), find out what people are saying about you online (using Google Alerts) and see when your mum is visiting your website (via Google Analytics). There's also Google Docs, for those of you who are too cheap to buy a copy of Microsoft Office. I wrote a post last year about how you can use Google apps to further your music career – you might want to check it out.

5. Making your Facebook page better – Woobox’s static Iframe app

Back in the days of yore (well, until about a year ago I think), you used to be able to add ‘static HTML’ pages to Facebook fan pages. This meant that, providing you were prepared to fiddle about a bit with some HTML code, you could add a whole load of funky stuff to your Facebook fan page – content embedded from your site, mailing list sign-up forms, ‘fan-gated’ content (where people have to like a page to get a free song etc.) and more. Then Facebook took this functionality away, which was Very Annoying. Fortunately a crowd called Woobox came along and created a great thing – the-not-very sexily titled ‘Static Iframe App’ – which allows you to add your own custom tabs to Facebook again. What’s more, the app actually makes it much easier than it was before to add the funky stuff I was talking about above. The app itself is available at https://apps.facebook.com/iframehost-heart/?fb_source=search&ref=ts; for an example of it in action may we suggest you check out a bit of work we did recently for ex-Seahorse and now fantastic solo artist Chris Helme, where we used it to embed a mailing list sign-up form on his Facebook page and offer a track in exchange for a like.

6. Checking how good your website is - Marketing Grader

So good is Hubspot's Marketing Grader that I thought it deserved a mention all of its own in a recent Prescription article - and it's worth mentioning again here. Basically it's a tool that looks at your website and tells you everything that's wrong with it from a content / SEO / social media point of view. But thankfully, it also gives you a list of things you need to do to improve your site. You can take a look at Marketing Grader here.

7. Testing your band's name out in a variety of fonts - Myfonts.com

Most band logos aren't really logos at all - they are simply the band's name displayed in a particular typeface. And how good or bad that typeface is can make the difference between your band looking like rookies or pros. Rather than relying on whatever default fonts came pre-installed with Windows, you should be a bit more adventurous - you can use Myfonts.com to experiment with different fonts and use your band name as the 'test text'.

That's it for now, musical chums. Hope the above tools help you in your quest for glory.

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