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Getresponse

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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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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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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The death of email?

A visual interpretation of death

Mark Zuckerburg is in the news again; and this time it’s for pronouncing the email dead. This official pronouncement of death conveniently went hand in hand with the launch of Facebook’s new messaging system, but we’ll leave cynicism about what makes a good headline to one side (you are reading this on a PR company’s website, after all) and take a look at his bold claim and what the implications are for musicians. Should you shred your virtual mailing lists and start spamming potential fans using yet another Zuckerburg invention?

We don’t think so. There are several good reasons to hold onto your mailing list and your beautifully crafted HTML email templates. The first is that er, email isn’t dead. In fact, as one Very Important Email Boffin, Nathaniel Borenstein, told the BBC recently, its use is actually growing. And, although teenagers may currently be eschewing it, they are effectively forced upon entering the world of work to start using email; most businesses do not encourage their staff to spend all day on Facebook (they encourage them to CC everybody on pointless round robin emails instead). If you saw Prescription PR’s inboxes, you would know that the email is, perhaps sadly, rather too alive and well.

Having established that email isn’t actually dead, the second reason for continuing to communicate with your fans via email rather than relying solely on whatever Facebook offers you is that – as hard as it may be to believe now – Facebook could just be a fad. You may think that with its 500 million plus users I’m mad making a statement like that. However, the pace of change in web technology is frenetic and in the space of just five years we have already seen the rise and fall of another huge social network, Myspace. The point is that if you invest all your time, energy and money exclusively in Facebook communications – whether that’s spending money on advertising to increase ‘likes’ of your page, or trying to work out how best to use Facebook Messenger to give your ten fans the impression that you are huge in Japan – you are screwed if things in Facebook land go tits up and everybody who liked you on that network has upped sticks and is now hanging out somewhere else. That’s precisely what happened with Myspace – just remember all those bands who got RSI from clicking ‘add friend’ on Myspace only to have all those very dear pals bugger off to an entirely new network altogether. Harlots.

The third reason you should value the humble email address is the degree of control it offers you. When you post a message up on your Facebook page, not everybody reads it or even sees it (you can find out why here). Admittedly, the same can be true of email – particularly if you write very boring messages to people all the time – but you know that when you send an email to a fan, it will generally go into their inbox (unless you are flogging saucily-titled albums that spam filters don’t like; how very dare you). Additionally, you can format the email how you like – add branding, photos, links and so on. And, depending on how clever you are, you can use a tool like Mad Mimi or Getresponse to run A-B subject header tests; schedule a broadcast time; measure open rates and clickthroughs; even see where your fans live (yes, seriously). Facebook messages or status updates do not offer anything like this level of control over communications.

Finally, regardless of what happens in the future, and whichever social network is king in 2050, the email address is probably going to be involved in some shape or form, and the more of them you have the better. For all Zuckerburg’s hyperbole about the death of the email, you still need an email address to er, sign up to Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Myspace. And all of those networks encourage you to ‘find your friends’ or invite people to become fans of your band (poor sods) using your email address book or by importing your mailing list. So in effect, email addresses are turnkeys to every social network out there – both in terms of joining them or, more importantly from the musician’s point of view, locating existing fans who use them.

So given all the above, the official Prescription line is to hold onto that mailing list, and continue to grow it if you can. We’ll leave you with a parting thought though: if you are reading this article in email form, it’s further proof that the email address is still alive, unless this article is an email ghostie haunting your spooky Hotmail account. 

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E-newsletters for bands on a budget

We often get approached by bands and artists wanting to know how to sort themselves out with e-newsletters. They usually ask for a data capture form that allows people to sign up to news, and a means of sending news updates to their mailing list.

We generally set them up with a dedicated e-communications system like Getresponse, which allows bands to do a lot of snazzy things - create custom data capture forms, program automated follow-ups, view detailed stats, design fancy HTML email templates and the like.

A system like that is still our preferred option for clients, because users are provided with the means to create highly targeted, professional e-communications, and to monitor open and click-through rates effectively.

However, if you're looking for something very simple, or you don't have any cash, there is another option: using your blog and a service called Feedburner to generate newsletters.

Here's how it works:

1. Register with Feedburner and 'burn' a feed using your blog's RSS feed (it's all very simple, the Feedburner site takes you through the process in an easy-to-follow set of steps).
2. Go to their 'Publicise' tab.
3. Click 'Email subscriptions' and activate the service.

(If you don't have a blog, there are a host of free blogging services you can use - Blogger being perhaps the most obvious example).

Once you've followed the above three steps, you are then provided with simple bit of HTML code which you can embed on your site. This gives you a form which captures email addresses. From then on, whenever you post a new blog entry, the content will automatically be emailed to the people who have used the form to sign up for updates. The email that gets sent is a simple affair, but it is in HTML format and you can tweak things slightly (add logos, change fonts etc.). And it's an entirely free service.

The only thing to remember is that once you've set Feedburner up to work in this way, whenever you post a blog entry, it always goes out to your entire mailing list. So you may need to think carefully about what you post and how often. If people are receiving frivolous items in their inbox every five minutes, they may quickly unsubscribe from the list.

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