How to Market Like Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor, frontman for industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, has earned a reputation as a marketing maverick. He engages fans, building loyalty and watching sales naturally follow.

In the Nine Inch Nails online forum, Reznor tells musicians they can be their own best marketers:

“If you are young and use the Internet, you know more about your audience than [labels] do – for sure. This is a revolution and you can be a part of it. The old guard is dying; if you have good ideas – try them.”

Email marketing is the perfect medium to try out these new ideas. With the following game plan, we’ll show you how.

Your Music + AWeber = Marketing In Tune

In 2007, the band began marketing independently when its contract with Interscope Records ended. Reznor organized an online scavenger hunt to entertain fans. He even scattered free, shareable USB keys loaded with their music at a few concerts.

While these strategies are specific to musicians and bands, the underlying principles hold true for all email campaigns.

“If you have nothing in common with American Idol and you don’t want to be the Pussycat Dolls, then you don’t really want to be on a label.”

To a label, Reznor points out, your vision and your longevity won’t be important. He suggests using new media and modern communication – such as email marketing – instead.

For example, you could use your email list to rally street teams. Segment your list by location and contact your fans in the cities you’ll be playing in.

Offer them free music, show tickets, or band paraphernalia in exchange for promoting you. Email lets you market remotely so the city is ready when you roll in.

“The role of an independent musician these days requires a mastery of first hand use of these tools,” Reznor says.

“Give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers.”

In 2008, Reznor gave away NIN’s album The Slip in exchange for fans’ email addresses. Coldplay did the same with their album Left Right Left Right Left in 2009.

A new full-length album costs about $14.99. The average fan email address is worth $111 yearly. So these groups scored not only a higher return on their investment, but also invitations into their fans’ inboxes, which are priceless.

To try this with your own tracks, post offers with web forms on your website, to your Facebook profile, in your blog – and link to them everywhere. Deliver the MP3s upon confirmation by including the link on a web page or in a follow-up message.

“Offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions/scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan.”

Ghosts I – IV, a 36-track album, was offered in a variety of packages. Although the attribution license let fans digitally share the album for free without penalty, the packages grossed $1.6 million within one week of their release.

These packages can also help if you are interested in growing your email list. Announce beforehand that your subscribers will get first dibs – and make sure to link to or embed your sign-up form!

“There are a lot more bands today, a lot more clutter. Try to identify what it is you’re trying to do. Play up your strengths and present them.”

Your look, your sound, your attitude – what makes you stand out? What resonates with your fans? What kind of an impact are you making with them?

You don’t have to guess what these things are. Your email reports show what attracts your subscribers. Open rates, click through rates and sales tracking all tell a story. Read that story, and follow its advice.

“Engage your fans. …Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. …Be interesting. Be real.”

Though common in social media outlets, these ideas translate nicely to email.

Pearl Jam’s official fan group, Ten Club, rewards their fans with ticket upgrades, member giveaways and a community forum. To top things off, they send members a vinyl single of a live or unreleased track every spring.

Make your email list your official fan club. Include exclusive content: slice-of-life video clips, backstage passes, presale concert tickets.

And when you create this content, remember: be transparent. Stay relevant to your fans’ interests. Be yourself, and have fun building relationships with your followers.

We’re In This Together

We enjoy when you share your feedback with us and each other, so let us know:

Have you seen bands market in these ways? Has your own band used any of these strategies? What other ways have you seen musicians market?

If you are not musically inclined, do you still find this advice useful? What ideas will you take away with you?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. BRLM

    2/23/2010 2:41 pm

    Killer post. We’re a huge fan of Reznors. His scavenger hunt was genius. Can you recommend any additional tips geared to tourism/hotels?

  2. Nereida

    2/23/2010 7:01 pm

    This is great stuff. Thanks for making it so simple.
    I will be sharing this with all of our listeners.

  3. Charles Kirkland

    2/23/2010 10:11 pm

    This has to be the best post I have seen by any marketer this year. Just keep up the good work.

    Aweber Rocks

  4. Ghazal Alvi

    2/23/2010 11:51 pm

    Amanda, nice post!

    You’ve shared perfect examples of how email marketing could be used in any niche to build your brand.

    Thanks for sharing this information.

  5. Codrut Turcanu

    2/24/2010 3:27 pm

    I love these niche mini-case studies; music is a great industry we can learn from; IM and blogging are not the only place on Earth where we can learn from other’s marketing list building strategies 🙂

  6. Jim Hoy

    2/24/2010 5:38 pm

    Excellent information! This is a great example of how to market online.

    I love the fact that Trent Reznor took matters into his own hands and was successful!

    Thanks again

  7. Sean Breslin

    2/25/2010 8:21 am

    I liked the originality of what the Reznor did for the nine inch nails and his, break the mold message to up and coming bands…

    Hits the nail right on the head (Sorry could’nt resist it)

    Non guru teaches a valuable lesson!

    Originality and knowing his market cracked it! Best post I’ve read today… not counting mine of course!

  8. Kevin Powe

    2/25/2010 9:18 am

    Hi Amanda – fantastic post! It’s great to see Trent Reznor being recognised for something he does amazingly well, which is support the fans that support him. Amanda Palmer is another great artist who operates outside of traditional channels too, and enjoys an incredible relationship with her fans.

    One quick (possible) correction – if the USB keys you’ve mentioned were related to the Year Zero album (the year matches up) NIN were still signed to Interscope at the time. Also, the USB keys were part of an alternate reality game (ARG) that Trent put together around the backstory of the album, by himself. A HUGE effort.

  9. Rhonda Giarraffa

    2/25/2010 9:33 am

    Once again guys…

    Awesome Post.

    Aweber ROCKS!

  10. Amanda Gagnon

    2/25/2010 10:03 am

    Kevin – Thank you for that information. It’s a strong example of how passion for our craft can be the best marketing tool of all.

  11. Ariane B. Louis-Seize

    2/25/2010 11:38 am

    "Be interesting. Be real." – I like that. I definitly think that this is a key. Reznor’s example is a great one. It shows that when you truly care about someting and are passionate about it, you can achieve a lot more. I would add: "Be interesting. Be Real. Be creative."

    Thanks for the post, it inspires me even if I’m not in the music industry.

  12. Alvin Poh

    2/25/2010 2:49 pm

    This is a fantastic case study, and is what keeps me coming back to read what you guys put out. I especially love how the bands gave away albums in return their fans’ email addresses – simple, breaks away from the crowd, and utterly brilliant!

  13. Melody

    2/25/2010 4:24 pm

    Thanks for the article! Very informative. A recent album launch here in New Zealand had an interesting approach. The album was released on memory stick. I thought that was a really cool idea.

  14. Terri Szymczak

    2/25/2010 8:04 pm

    Trent’s always been way ahead of the curve as far as marketing. Genius ideas, a great example of how to grow things right and steady. His music is just as inspiring as his marketing

  15. Lyle Kannenberg

    2/26/2010 4:39 pm

    Getting the upside edge of the marketing knife can be a tough task.
    Thinking outside of the box, and recognizing what you can offer and get a later return by giving away what people want.

    Nice post.

  16. Independent Musician vs. Independent Author | Scribbles

    2/26/2010 9:05 pm

    […] names. They sell millions of downloads and can fill stadiums with fans. A recent post on the marketing strategies of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails trumpets them as an example for all to follow. How about […]

  17. Robert C

    3/6/2010 3:10 pm

    “If you have nothing in common with American Idol and you don?t want to be the Pussycat Dolls, then you don?t really want to be on a label.”

    Wow, so true…

    I really don’t follow Nine Inch Nails and was not a big fan of their music. I liked Pearl Jam, but was of the mind that most bands from the nineties just did the occasional tour and "gave way" to the current music scene.

    I had no idea that either band was so involved in using the Internet and Social Media to get their music heard. I was wondering, overall, how bands do make it today if you are not “pigeon” holed into what seems like a narrow field of musical genres..

    I am just glad that there is a completely different outlet for artists that don’t force you into a particular “musical mold”. If they serve their audience correctly and the music connects, then they don’t have to deal with the “recording powers that be”.

    It is comforting to know that the money you make is yours without having to hand it over to a label, as well as being artistically free to create the type of music you want without editorial oversight.

    Coud you imagine if the Beetles, Bruce Springsteen, or Neil Young started their careers today? Don’t think that they would make it.

    Great post..

  18. G. Alan Brown

    3/23/2010 9:22 am

    Having been in the Music Industry for over 30 years … I want to affirm that this article is the NOW and future of the Industry … RIP to the Major Labels.

  19. Atul Rana

    3/23/2010 10:46 am

    Nice one, really loved this article as I initially registered for the aweber stuff as I wanted to market my band through it. Really useful marketing tips here, thanks so much guys!

  20. Beth Jones

    3/23/2010 2:41 pm

    Nine Inch Nails name caught my eye in the email. This was excellent, very encouraging and inspiring, and affirming some of the best marketing tips I’ve heard this year. Thanks so much for posting this and I retweeted it.

  21. Matt Cassity

    3/31/2010 12:27 pm

    Thanks! I like the advice about engaging the audience through videos that can be given away.

  22. N.T.

    4/10/2010 5:37 pm

    Thanks for these great tips. They are simple but they work.

  23. Lisa Kato

    6/3/2010 1:25 pm

    Thank you Thank you THANK YOU for sharing this marketing information with us. Incredibly relevant.

  24. Brian McKinney

    6/30/2010 7:00 am

    You say the value of an email address is $11 annually, yet the article you link to says $111 annually. You also say Reznor and Coldplay are getting a higher return on their investment for a $14.99 album in exchange for email address. Maybe you need to fix a typo?

  25. Amanda Gagnon

    6/30/2010 8:15 am

    Brian ~ Yes, that was a typo, and a big one. Thank you for catching it!

  26. How Bands Drum Up Email Subscribers

    8/26/2010 8:28 am

    […] Once this is done, you’ll need to send some messages. For ideas on what to write, check out this advice from Trent Reznor. […]

  27. Mike

    8/27/2010 8:58 am

    Great article, it is very encouraging to see such a large band connecting with their audience and finding such success with it.

  28. Mijanur Rahman

    8/28/2010 5:34 am

    Thanks man! This is really nice. I love the Music.

  29. Email Marketing Tips From HARD Fest

    9/14/2010 8:20 am

    […] like Nine Inch Nails, HARD offers free music in exchange for subscribing to their […]

  30. How To NOT Market Like Nine Inch Nails (And Why)

    1/4/2011 9:18 am

    […] Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has impressed us in the past with his fan-focused, grassroots, defy-The-Man marketing. But when his campaign recently invited […]

  31. Richard

    1/4/2011 12:21 pm

    Thanks, great article, great tips.

    However, your email that caught my attention and brought me here was headlined “How To NOT Market Like Nine Inch Nails (And Why).” Further, within the email, you state that “cross-promotion” can be a “disaster,” and with regard to NIN, “Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has impressed us in the past with his fan-focused, grassroots, defy-The-Man marketing. But when his campaign recently invited subscribers to a new list, someone wasn’t watching their feet carefully enough.”

    I read the article several times, trying to find out what disaster Trent did, but did not see it mentioned.

    Am I missing something?


  32. Independent Musician vs. Independent Author | D.J. Morel

    1/17/2011 8:54 pm

    […] names. They sell millions of downloads and can fill stadiums with fans. A recent post on the marketing strategies of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails trumpets them as an example for all to follow. How about […]

  33. Linda McLellan

    2/24/2011 11:28 am

    Amanda, great article. I love innovative marketing and here are two examples; one by you Amanda and Aweber with the catchy, intriquing title and secondly Trent Reznor. It defintely caught my attention and interest. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? I loved it.

  34. Steven Wong

    2/24/2011 11:50 am

    Something new to learn from. In fact, I always wondering how the music bands can promote themselves by giving away their album for free and yet benefits more …. here’s the answer!

  35. Maryalice

    2/24/2011 1:15 pm

    There is a great band that stays in touch with their fan base via e-mail and facebook and prhaps twitter but I don’t “tweet,” THE BROKEN COLUMN. They have question and answers, share their music, have contests, give tour dates, share ideas and silly behind the scenes moments of video of the band… It is really awesome!

  36. Mike Darling

    2/25/2011 9:20 am

    I have working with public speakers and coaches for about a year. And the same issues are there. I have signed up for list after list, and usually no one mails, and if they do it is infrequent and half-hearted “See my new cartoon”.

    No real attempt at building a relationship or marketing…

    Probably just about every business that sells goods and services more than once to customers, can and should benefit from a well planned email campaign. Build the list, then use the list!