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Data capture

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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A simple but effective way to grow your band’s mailing list

A mailbox - image accompanies article about growing a band's mailing list

A question we routinely get asked here at Prescription PR is this: “how do I grow my band’s mailing list?” Whilst it’s tempting to reply with “ask if your mum has more than one email address,” there is actually a simple trick for improving sign-up rates on your website, and in this blog post we’re going to share it with you.

Basically, improving data capture conversion rates on a website involves putting all the fabulous content you might have on your website to one side for a moment, and focusing on getting your visitor to do one thing, and one thing only: submit their email address into a form. So in essence, it means making a completely unmissable form the first thing your visitors encounter when they land on your site.

There’s essentially two ways you can do this:

1. By presenting visitors to your website with a full-page ‘welcome mat’ – a full-screen call to action that users see before any other content
2. By using a 'popover form' which appears over your content when your visitors arrive on a page of your site.

To see how welcome mats work, check out this Appsumo blog post (it’s a bit salesy but it explains the concept in simple terms). Appsumo claim that welcome mats provide up to three times the number of signups compared to forms placed elsewhere on a website.

To see an example of popover forms in action, you can check out a site we built for Five Grand Stereo. Note that a popover form is different from the old, annoying ‘popup’ box of yore, which opened a new window without asking you (and was routinely blocked by browsers). Popovers are a bit more subtle; typically javascript is used to present a form in the window that you are currently browsing in. Sometimes, to emphasise the form, the script will darken the content behind it until you’ve either clicked to remove it or have submitted your details.

When we’ve taken either approach with band websites, we’ve definitely seen a significant increase in their mailing list signup rates. (Now all that remains really is to implement something similar on the Prescription site.)

Finally, even if you’re successfully using welcome mats or popovers, you should still make an effort to position regular data capture forms prominently throughout your site – a visitor to your site might initially ignore the ‘in-your-face’ form but subsequently decide, upon having a peruse of your website that they do want your content…in which case, make it easy for them by having a prominent form on every page.

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Why bands shouldn’t put all their eggs in Facebook’s basket

Facebook

by Chris Singleton

An article in today’s Guardian caught my eye: “Ello might or might not replace Facebook, but the giant social network won’t last forever.” To save you the hassle of actually reading the article, Ello is a relatively new social network (an ‘anti-Facebook with a conscience’ apparently – given that it’s funded by venture finance capital, I won’t hold my breath about the conscience bit); it is growing at a rapid rate and might one day replace Facebook as the world’s dominant social network (or not).

I suspect that reports of Facebook’s death are likely to be much exaggerated at this point – however, it is worth thinking, from a band’s point of view, about what would happen if Facebook did pop its clogs; it could have serious ramifications for an act.

Right now, bands often focus on building up a Facebook following at the expense of a lot of other stuff. This is usually because a label wants to see a big one before getting the chequebook out (ooh er). As such bands go to huge lengths – sometimes spending a lot of money on advertising – to ensure that they have a healthy number of fans associated with their Facebook page. It makes sense on paper to do this: you get the ability to communicate with a group of people who might one day fork out for a t-shirt, and an A&R guy gets to think that you’re actually popular.

But what happens if Facebook disappears? It sounds like a crazy thought, but it’s not. We’ve been here before after all - remember getting RSI from clicking ‘add friend’ repeatedly on Myspace, and building up an impressive number of said friends…only for those friends (fairweather at best; saucy ladies punting saucy services at worst) to bugger off to Facebook a year or so later?

If Facebook does get supplanted by a newer, hipper network then you may find yourself in the situation of having spent thousands of pounds developing a following that is no longer there. You may have promoted your Facebook page religiously whilst on tour…only to find that the fans you made on tour can’t be contacted, because the only relationship you had with them was one that took place on a now defunct Facebook. This is not a good place to be in.

So how do you protect yourself? Well, by all means continue to advertise your band on Facebook; but don’t just focus on using advertising spend simply to generate ‘likes’ (this, after all, sort amounts to paying Mark Zuckerberg so that YOU can segment his database). Try to capture email addresses as well, by offering people content in exchange for their email address (at the moment, most bands just offer this content in exchange for a like). Or, if you are dead set on generating likes for your advertising spend, follow this up with some Facebook ad promotions aimed at converting the new ‘likers’ into subscribers to your mailing list (run an ad which offers them a second free track by going to your website and joining a mailing list, for example). At gigs, prioritise capturing email addresses over Facebook likes.

The reason it’s so important to capture email addresses is because 1) you are future-proofing yourself somewhat from the doomsday scenario of your Facebook following disappearing and 2) you gain more ownership over the artist-fan relationship – you are in control, generally speaking, of whether somebody sees a communication about your band or not (i.e., you are not relying on a Facebook algorithm). And email addresses allow you to invite people to follow you on other social networks too – you can generally just import your list and send out invites automatically. It’s much easier to convert an email address into a ‘like’ or a follow than the other way round.

I reckon our Facebook followings are safe for a little while yet; but it is worth thinking about what’s round the corner, and considering other ways to bombard people with information. Speaking of which it would be rude at this point not to invite you to join Prescription’s mailing list (please see below).

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Getting data capture at gigs right

Clipboard - image accompanying an article about capturing data / email addresses at gigs

In a recent post we looked at how to put a good newsletter together – and a large part of that article dealt with sorting out your database before actually emailing anybody. Of course for musicians, a hugely important aspect of building a database involves collecting email addresses at your live performances, so in this post we give you some quick and simple tips to ensure that you’re not missing any tricks when it comes to capturing your fans’ info at shows.

1. Start capturing attendees’ data BEFORE the gig

Eh? How do I do that? Surely I have to wait until there are punters streaming through the door of the venue before I can get them to scribble down their email address? Well, actually, no – you can capture data well before you get anywhere near the stage, by selling tickets online in advance. You don’t have to be in the ‘Ticketmaster’ league of bands to do this – there are lots of low-cost tools like Stubmatic or Wegottickets that allow you to sell e-tickets in advance of your shows and, just as importantly, capture relevant data about your fans (the main thing you want, obviously, being their email addresses). Even simple Paypal transactions let you do this. No matter how you go about selling tickets in advance online though, make sure that you are able to export a list of attendees which you can then import into your e-newsletter tool (Mailchimp, Mad Mimi etc.) or database.

2. Get somebody reliable involved to capture the data

When people think of mailing lists generated at gigs, they are usually visualising a disinterested hairy guy at the door of the venue stamping people's hand with a stampy thing and only very occasionally asking for email addresses. And yes, that hairy guy is unreliable. He’s a bit stoned, or he’s a bit shy about talking to punters, or he just doesn’t like your band. Either way you end up with less email addresses than you should. So don’t leave things to the hairy guy. Put somebody you trust to do a good job at data capture on the case. This could be your best friend, your girlfriend or your mum – it doesn’t matter so long as they know how to charm people into handing over their data.

3. Use technology to capture the email addresses

Don’t forget that it is 2014 and there are a few more options than the old pen and paper method of collecting email addresses available. You can capture them direct to iPad, for example - and before you complain about the lack of wifi signal in the toilet venue you are playing, you don’t actually have to be online to capture email addresses (many e-newsletter tools, such as Campaign Monitor or Mailchimp have apps that store data locally on your iPad and then upload it for you when you go online). Various services also exist that allow you to capture email addresses by SMS. One thing though: don’t forget to insure your iPad, and pin-lock it…

4. Don’t just leave your sign-up form at the door - take it round the venue

Depending on the kind of gig you are playing, you can be quite proactive about data capture – i.e., you don't have to simply rely on the ‘leave a clipboard at the door and hope that people sign up’ approach. For example, you could ask the ‘designated data capture person’ we discussed earlier to go around the venue, asking punters if they’d like to hand over their details. Or make announcements from the stage asking people to sign up (if nothing else, this will give you a bit of free – but admittedly quite dull – stage patter). Or finally, you could leave a clipboard at each table, or cute little cards people can fill out with their details. Whether this sort of data capture is appropriate at your gig or not will depend on the nature of your act, the type of venue you are playing in and how comfortable you feel with hounding people for an email address, but the thing to remember is that there are always ways and means of boosting your email sign-up rate at gigs that go beyond leaving a scrap of paper at front of house that nobody writes on.

5. Incentivise

As with the data capture you carry out on your website, you should ‘incentivise’ the data capture you do at gigs. Offer a free track or EP in exchange for an email address, or a discount code for a future gig. By offering a ‘quid pro quo’ you will find a significantly higher number of people are willing to subscribe to your list. 

Finally, on the face of it, data capture doesn't seem like the sexiest of topics - and it seems a crying shame to be talking about gigs in terms of sending your mum around with an iPad to collect email addresses from unsuspecting fans rather than as an excuse for you to wear leather trousers, play lengthy guitar solos, do a spot of crowd-surfing and impress groupies with witty post-show banter. But when somebody who subscribed to your mailing list at a gig goes on to pledge £100 towards a crowdfunding campaign a couple of months down the line…well, that feels kind of sexy, and may mean that you are now able to afford the leather pants for the next show – that is, if you can convince a bunch of fans to crowdfund some hosiery. Now THAT would be an achievement.

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How to create a great band e-newsletter

Band e-newsletter

For a lot of bands I talk to, an email database or e-newsletter is really a bit of an afterthought; they are more concerned with building up a Facebook or Twitter following that is big enough to impress that A&R guy from Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar." But actually, a good email list and a great series of e-newsletters represent an extremely important way to stay in touch with your fans. You are in control of the communication - not a Facebook algorithm - and, through use of strong visuals, you can really make a statement about your act, and hopefully, flog some t-shirts. Below you'll find some tips on how to turbo-charge your e-newsletters.

1. Start with the most important thing: your database

Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, think about the ‘who’. You probably have an existing database of fans tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, your fans live in several very messy spreadsheets (or indeed on scraps of paper that you brought along to gigs to scribble punters' names down on). Before even thinking about sending an e-newsletter to anybody on your mailing list, it is a good idea to consolidate all your files into one clean, well-organised spreadsheet. You should also ensure that this is ‘segmented’ as well as possible – i.e., ideally you should have a field in it containing information which lets you flag data as people who attended gigs, people who've bought your albums in the past, music industry contacts and so on. If at all possible, try to get some geographical info onto your database - this can be invaluable for you if you intend to tour (because you'll be inform alert fans living beside the Dog and Duck in Scunthorpe exactly when you'll be playing). The basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to the appropriate person at the right time.

2. Create an e-newsletter schedule

The next step is to plan your communications carefully - ideally by creating an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out what you are going to send out in an e-newsletter, to whom, and when. As you might expect, this can be very handy if you intend to promote particular gigs in particular areas, or map out a series of communications around the time of an album release. You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go. And because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see above) you will always be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts - i.e., when your latest single comes out fans will receive an e-newsletter imploring them to buy it, and your radio DJ contacts will get an email beseeching them to play it.

3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletter

For many bands, sending e-newsletters means compiling a mailing list in Excel, then copying and pasting the addresses into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Hotmail message. This is a horrendously time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also very ineffective, because it doesn’t allow you to a) send very nice-looking e-newsletters or b) accurately measure important stats like open rate and clickthroughs.

It is a much better idea to use a dedicated tool for sending your e-newsletter. There are many web-based solutions available now: big-hitters include Aweber, Getresponse, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and MadMimi. These all allow you to import your database, create attractive templates, and send out proper ‘HTML e-newsletters’ that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!). At Prescription, our favourites for band use are Getresponse and Mad Mimi, chiefly because they are inexpensive by comparison to their competitors, easy to use, and pack in an awful lot of functionality. Both come with free trials:

4. Get the visuals right

Once you’ve decided upon which bit of software you’re going to use for your e-newsletters, you need to design a nice HTML template for it. Getresponse in particular comes with a lot of designs that you can modify easily enough. If your design skills are not all that strong, you might consider hiring a designer to set up your email templates. Ultimately your e-newsletter template should look professional and uncluttered, and should feature your band logo and photographs prominently. 

5. Split test!

Once you’ve got your database, your e-communications schedule, your choice of software and your template sorted, it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters. But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible. This generally means 'split testing' your subject headers and/or content. Split testing means trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your database. You might, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with different subject headers, and send it to 500 fans on your database – after a day or so, you can identify which subject header led to the best open rate, and then use that header for the remainder of your data. Note that this is only worth doing if you have a relatively large database – if your band database is only a few hundred records in size, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly informative results (whilst taking a fair bit of time to set up).

6. Use good landing pages

It’s not just essential to have attractive, well-constructed e-newsletters: it’s important that the links in those e-newsletters take you to pages that actually ‘convert’ readers into taking further action too. Generally speaking you don’t want to send people to a page that contains a huge number of competing calls to action or links – it’s better to present a page that encourages users to take one specific action, be that buying a CD, liking a Facebook page or completing a form. Your landing pages should be attractive, easy-to-use and focused firmly on 'conversion'.

7. Measure success

Most e-newsletter tools come with detailed reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate and more. Study these stats carefully, as they will help you create better e-newsletters that generate more sales of tacky merch in future.

8. Allow people to sign up to your mailing list directly from your site

Most e-newsletter tools allow you to easily embed sign-up forms for your mailing list directly on your website. Make sure you do this, as it will save you having to repeatedly upload spreadsheets of data to your e-newsletter service. Additionally, by connecting your website’s mailing list form directly to your e-newsletter software, you can make use of autoresponders or ‘drips’ – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list via your website, they will automatically receive messages of your choosing at intervals of your choosing. For example, a subscriber could get a welcome message immediately upon signup; a discount code for a download one week later; an encouragement to follow your band on Facebook two weeks later and so on.

It's also important to 'incentivise' data capture on your website, for example by giving people who sign up access to an exclusive download or stream. 'Join our mailing list' enthuses nobody...

9. Allow fans to share your e-newsletters

Most e-newsletter tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletter. Make use of them! It means that your content and offers get a better chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list.

10. Oh, do be nice

And finally, if you want to run an effective e-newsletter campaign, there are five important things to remember:

  • Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it
  • Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages
  • Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimise unsubscribes
  • Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe
  • Adhere to data protection laws

Now off you go to create an e-newsletter in Hotmail that you send out 20 times a week to 5 people.

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