The State of Band Email Marketing

A few months ago, we stumbled onto Nine Inch Nails’ creative campaign. We wanted to see what other bands were doing, so we signed up for their emails.

Well, they’re not doing much. Most of their messages are infrequent and uninspired. Worse, many bands haven’t sent anything at all.

Why is this? I’ve got some theories of my own. And then I want to hear what you have to say.

Pick Your Poison

Creating music takes passion. It takes energy. It takes creativity and focus. So it leaves independent musicians too drained to muster up much effort for promotions. Their emails are usually slapdash affairs:

7 Bells

[UPDATE: Post-publication, we found out this email didn’t display correctly for us. It does have more detail and personality. School of Seven Bells, I apologize. We’ll leave this version here as a visual representation of a sad message that SSB wouldn’t send, but other bands do.]

Emails from bands with record labels are almost worse. They’re slick and impersonal, straight from the marketing department.

They’re “from” the musicians, but there’s no actual content written (or sometimes, even seen) by the artists. And each one is full of requests and demands, without giving anything back.

And the messages look something like this:

Sarah McL

Both situations are understandable, but unfortunate. By reserving email for new albums and tours, bands miss out on its greatest marketing potential: building relationships with fans.

The solution, as far as I can tell?

Don’t Write the Message; Be the Message

Musicians aren’t PR reps (unless, by day, they actually are). They’re artists. They need to be who they are and do what they do.

So that’s what their emails should share – who they are, what they do. Things like:

  • Raw material that their readers can later recognize in finished songs.
  • Clues about upcoming projects, a la Panic at the Disco.
  • A Q&A section that answers fan questions (the work of talking to one subscriber with the impact of speaking to them all).
  • Potential titles for that new track, asking readers to vote for their favorite.
  • Fun group photos, or even better, photos fans send in after shows (like The Glitch Mob asks their fans to do.

The struggles and triumphs of everyday music creation, shared through email. Not only does this approach make message writing easier, it shows the band is still going strong while they work on their next project.

And most importantly, it establishes a deep level of community with fans.

Want to Learn More?

For more information on email marketing for musicians, view our complete Email Marketing for Musicians Guide.

Do You Know Any Bands That Do This?

There are a few bands out there with more involved email campaigns. The Static Jacks‘ New Years greeting was handwritten in marker on notepaper, and for Christmas, Coldplay sent a video of a recent performance, plus a chance to win free T-shirts.

Perhaps you know of some others? If you do, tell us who they are and what they do.

And cast your vote: would bands do better to email about more than new albums or shows? Or is that all their fans really want to hear about?

34 Comments

  1. Natalie Carmolli

    2/24/2011 10:49 am

    I definitely think bands, and really any entertainment group that wants to build their fan base, should do more than market their newest albums via email marketing.

    By sending the types of messages you suggested,and maybe even candid photos of rehearsals, day-to-day life, and written insights into their personalities, they are giving people a chance to get to know them and feel more connected to their product.

    The purchase of music is so emotional, why not do everything you can to make the audience fall in love with the album, even before they’ve heard it? They need to remember that they’re selling an experience, not just a collection of songs.

  2. Yo Le

    2/24/2011 11:02 am

    I’m in favor of hearing more often from my favorite bands.

    If I get tired of hearing from them or I feel like I’m getting bombarded by too much promo, I can just choose to unsubscribe.

    It’s that simple (in my opinion at least.)

  3. Corey Koehler

    2/24/2011 11:07 am

    For me it is all about building a relationship. Letting the potential fan inside the music and the thought process behind the music. And giving them a chance to interact and share any related thoughts and experiences.

    I would also recommend Matthew Ebel’s mailing list. Aside from his good music, he does a great job with content and has some outstanding looking templates (hint, hint).

  4. Ken Brown

    2/24/2011 11:11 am

    My daughter and her husband run a recording studio called Apocalypse Cow. They write a lot of their own music and they record other artists. The Cow has music on TV shows like the History Channel, Samantha Who and they have their music on a couple of documentaries and the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua Part 2.

    I really like their email campaign because they spend most of the time telling us who is in the studio. What kind of music is being played, what album is being produced and what kind of cool new equipment is in the studio and ready for whomever wants to use it.

    They publish an email monthly and they do the offers too, but I think the emails that are sent out are professional and very personalized.

  5. Rusty Bishop

    2/24/2011 11:18 am

    Interesting article. I bet it was fun to research. I really like Pretty Lights newsletter, because there are always personal messages from the band.

    My take – More stories from the road, more what are band listening too, more sex, drugs, and rock and roll, more pictures and vids from shows shot by the band,

    You are right its all about the human side of band.

  6. Aaron Schulman

    2/24/2011 11:19 am

    Amanda, this is a great post-

    Here’s why-

    It reminds me that regardless of the media form, people want connection. At some point- connection is lost if the value is simply entertainment – (though we all need it in life to keep a balance)

    Loyalty (especially brand) comes with many things – i.e. trusting the product, service and the reliability of it-

    but long term loyalty comes through relationship – email marketing is a great way to improve that connection with followers as you can get them involved and learn more about them rather than just continuing to promote (we changed ways with some of our client campaigns through Aweber because the list attrition was too great)

    Many people (from our experience) don’t want to be sold all the time unless they signed up for a service that the knew at first would be sending them deals and steals all the time

    I would imagine that celebrity brands that actually make people feel like they are more important than a “buyer” – more so a part of the inside group or the family would have a better retention rate-

    For entertainers – it’s still a rate race of sorts – but I would imagine that in any market- connecting with your followers or supporters can do nothing but improve their connection and sense of belonging-

    the Late Gary Halbert (in one of Aweber’s last posts) said that when you send your sales letter – you send your entire self –

    It would be a great test- but connection through email marketing for musicians would have to improve the community if done correctly-

    My 2.5 cents

  7. Jim

    2/24/2011 11:20 am

    One of my favorite musicians, Bill Wharton has a great newsletter that he sends about every month. It includes samples of new music, merchandise for sale, upcoming show schedule and even recipies.

    His website is http://www.sauceboss.com/ However, he does not use aweber.

  8. Patrick Haveron

    2/24/2011 11:34 am

    Agree that most major label emails are boring. I love the emails we get from Amateur Transplants – a musical comedy duo – short concise plain text ones, that always start with a topical joke:

    This months example:

    “We were very impressed by Lady Gaga’s entrance to the Grammy’s,
    arriving in an egg. Did she have an albumen to promote?”

    Sign up: http://www.amateurtransplants.net/

    Also this young artist Sam Beeton http://www.sambeeton.com not only offers a great free track for his email but adds secret links in his email to secret videos he has recorded. He’s been developing a reputation for doing ‘gorilla’ after show gigs in cupboards, toilets, corridors etc..

    http://www.sweetluigi.com/email/index7.html

    Loving your work!

  9. Arnold Stolting

    2/24/2011 11:43 am

    It seems that most bands use their email opt in form to collect email addresses (potential fans) and leave it at that.

    Some may use their list in order to market a new release or upcoming show on occasion, but I think that’s because they are not even aware that there is so much more that can be offered to a list of subscribers.

    You see Amanda, since you work in the autoresponder industry, (directly tied into Internet Marketing) what seems to be common sense strategies for us who market online and earn an income from it,
    somehow does not seem to be as common sense for Musicians and Bands, I.E. building a relationship by writing fun stories of the bands experiences, or giving away an occasional freebie, running a contest for exclusive front row seats, etc.

    Most Bands also have no business knowledge, or maybe it’s just the drive they need, to learn to set up a back end sales funnel with additional merchandise in order to monetize their email lists.

    Musicians and Bands, Producers etc, spend more time and energy trying to pack as much PUNCH into a finished recording. (mixing it right, mastering it so that it’s nice and loud, etc).

    If musicians and bands were to spend just as much time and energy learning how to pack the same punch into their email marketing, then we would not be discussing “The State of Band Email Marketing” in a tone that eludes to the fact that bands need to polish up on their relationship building and email marketing skills.

    Most musicians have no idea that a service such as AWeber, when used correctly, can dramatically make difference in their overall success by simply keeping in touch and being on the forefront of the minds of their subscribers.

    This is basic “Business 101”, and I think THAT is the problem.

    It’s business! Oh No!!

    Trust me, from running several Musicians based websites products and services online, It’s easy to see that musicians are not implementing nearly enough common sense business strategies in order to successfully build and grow a real business.

    As I am writing this, I just received yet another “unsolicited” email with the common phrase: “Jo, check out my track, click here”.

    And sadly, that’s what many spend their day doing.

    So go figure.

  10. Jeri Goldstein

    2/24/2011 11:50 am

    I work with many solo artists and bands. although your comments about bands sending emails about upcoming shows or CD releases holds true, my experience has been that many are not marketing experts and have not created ongoing campaigns. Many also are unaware of email services such as aweber and opt instead to use services more related to the music industry such asa Reverb Nation or services that accompany their web template accounts at HostBaby.

    I have introduced the benefits of aweber’s follow up emails to many of my clients and work with clients to help them with copy writing, campaign management and creating effective messages beyond the standard Cd release and tour update.

  11. Amanda Gagnon

    2/24/2011 12:04 pm

    Aaron ~ Precisely – the punch has to carry over to their marketing, or so many potential listeners/buyers just won’t know what they’re missing out on.

    Yo ~ Thanks for your vote!

    Jeri ~ It sounds like you’re doing a good job of filling the need in that industry!

    Corey, Ken and Jim ~ Thanks for the suggestions! I’m going to check them out right now. 🙂

  12. Michael

    2/24/2011 12:09 pm

    The performing world (art – music, poetry, painting etc.) have to be close to theie fans and audience but a few are – as you described!

    I know one Peter Gabriel – former Genesis front singer – he and Realworld Music – do a serious job by sending out mails informing about new events and bew music!!

  13. David Whaley

    2/24/2011 12:11 pm

    http://www.trainline.com/us/home
    I like the way Train does all their social media …. but to be fair, I have checked out very few other band sites. Thanks for the nudge, I’ll be sure to look at some of my other favorite bands.

  14. Gabriella Vargas

    2/24/2011 12:13 pm

    Coming from the music industry and working with different departments, I know firsthand about artists and their email newsletters. It’s why I started to lend my advice to help stop making newsletter so impersonal and most often deleted.

    A big problem I saw working within this major record label was the lack of employees able to complete the task of creating the right email newsletter for our bands. I alone was an assistant for 3 people so you can only imagine the web department having to create these email newsletter for 50+ artists. Coming up with creative and original newsletters was not in mind–but copying and pasting the same look and layout while cutting time in half was their mindset. Short staffed and overworked led to “cookie cutter” newsletters.

    My knowledge on online marketing and email newletters led me to become a consultant for different artists, companies, execs in the music industry. What these artists need is someone who has a passion for music helping them out–not just an overworked staff looking to sell their music and put out the mandatory newsletter every week or month.

  15. Elliott Samuel

    2/24/2011 12:22 pm

    Great post!

    I’ve been using email to create a connection with my fans. I share my personal creative/musical story through emails…my emails really help my fans feel like part of my creative process…which they are! And it makes them want to support and help me. I also reward their loyalty with free downloads just for being subscribers…I’m working towards building the relationship and eventually instituting a subscription program for fans..

    I recently ran a week-long campaign involving having my existing fans help me grow my list, and got over 300 new signups in one week. I think we’re living in a whole new world of opportunity for creative professionals like myself, and I’m excited to be a part of it!

    BTW, if you want to join my list and get a free download of a song that everyone seems to love…haha…go here (and also get ideas though what I do with email!):

    http://www.elliottsamuel.com/

  16. Ray Neyens

    2/24/2011 12:39 pm

    Amanda, what a timely article. We had been thinking about writing a post on our blog about email marketing for bands and your email this morning inspired me to actually write it. We of course credited your article for inspiration and linked back to you.

    You can see our post here: http://www.thegiggingmusician.com/blog/2011/02/24/email-marketing-ideas-for-musicians-and-bands/

    Thanks and have a great day.

  17. Stan Horst

    2/24/2011 1:43 pm

    I think that most people who are following a band want to get to know the band members better. So communicating about their personal lives could even be a cool part of their emails, as long as it is with taste and related to who they are as a band.

  18. Amanda Gagnon

    2/24/2011 1:50 pm

    Gabriella ~ That’s a very valid point. You can’t market the music without loving it first!

    Elliot ~ Your sign up form is incredible. I <3 the creativity and the fun question! I wonder if anyone decides not to sign up if they can’t think of a good question (or if maybe that helps you weed out people who wouldn’t make sense as subscribers anyway).

    Ray ~ Your post lays things out very nicely! And thanks for the shout-out!

    Michael and David ~ Train and Peter Gabriel. Got it!

  19. Matthew Alston

    2/24/2011 2:40 pm

    In my business of working with entreprenerus to grow their business I have worked with artists, musicians, and business owners of many kinds.

    The common thread is they are interested in MONEY and so there actions tend to be self serving.

    When I create a fully branded blog for them and even tie list building and lead gathering tools around it they have to still speak in their own voice on their blog.

    I recently worked with a band in southern CA. The only thing they spoke about on their blog was shows and announcements. It was repetitive, impersonal, and did not inspire much of a response.

    The sad truth of most of the clients I have built properties for is they do NOTHING to promote their bsiness with it, fail to offer a personality people want to listen to, and in the end the site generates little in the way of new business.

    On the other hand I created a site for a great guy that is active in facebook everyday and he drives significant interested traffic back to his blog everyday. He understand speaking in his own voice and offering valuable content to interest people in his forum. That of course builds relationships and leads to the conversations that become real sales.

    My opinion is many people still have a HUGE MISUNDERSTANDING about internet marketing much like the original Dot Com belief. That belief was create a web site, stir up activity, sell the company for millions without delivering any lasting value. Many peoeple see the internet as an easy way to get rich rather than as a low cost method for building real relationships and real revenue.

    I built a real distribution network into 34 countries before the internet and so I use the same method for creating networks using the internet. Offer value and build relationships.

  20. Lisa S.

    2/24/2011 5:07 pm

    I get fairly frequent email newsletters from a neo-rockabilly band from Santa Cruz, CA called The Chop Tops. They rock as does their “Boozeletter.” They totally get how to do marketing and PR. They have sponsorships too from places in their niche like Murphy’s hair pomemade. Their guitar player, Shelby is sponsored by Gretsch(R) guitars too. I’ve seen them when they come to my area to play live. They have a very professional merchandise layout and cool products. They totally get marketing and their target market and niche. They promote their newsletter on stage too, by the way.

    More bands could be using email newsletters. It shows that you’re serious and professional.

  21. Frances

    2/24/2011 6:04 pm

    I know a singer-songwriter whose emails are great, very personal and frequent enough to feel like you know what’s going on in her life. Her name is Sonia and her band is called disappear fear. You can check her out at http://www.disappearfear.com

  22. Eric G.

    2/25/2011 12:54 am

    This is very good information. In today’s climate an artist must have a strong fan base to get the attention of a major label. Having a large list of engaged fans can help tremendously. That is why this kind of information is so important.

    I have a site that helps up an coming artists break into the music industry. My partner is a legend in hip hop, so we attract a good amount of traffic. I am also an affiliate of AWeber because I believe they are the best.

    If you could provide some content created specifically for music artists to help drive traffic back through my link. I would be glad to post it. I just finished a series on building a fan base and something like this could be worked in well. Let me know.

  23. Amanda Gagnon

    2/25/2011 9:31 am

    Lisa & Frances ~ The Chop Tops and Disappear Fear, hm? We’ll check them out – thanks!

    Matthew ~ I agree. People don’t get that Internet marketing is just another way to market what they’re already selling.

    Eric ~ We actually have a few articles here that you could introduce and link to on finding subscribers with Bandcamp and marketing like Nine Inch Nails (and also not marketing like Nine Inch Nails). Hope that helps!

  24. Band email marketing – so bad by so many! « Make It In Music Daily

    2/25/2011 10:32 am

    […] Read the whole post (and the comments!) here. Categories Uncategorized LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  25. Mark

    2/25/2011 9:17 pm

    @Amanda — I actually got that first email blast you featured. Did you not turn on images? It definitely was themed appropriately to the album and matched their aesthetic (which can be debated, this last album’s artwork was very plain!)

    Do you like email blasts that are hypey? I feel like if I am a big enough fan to give up my email, I know what the album sounds like (usually by signing up to get a free download) or by seeing the band at a show. Nothing seems more fake than having a band pitch me on their music. I’d rather know it’s out and form my own opinion, of course the band is going to tell me it’s great and their best work!

    As for the times on shows — most of the time, especially in European shows, the times are changing or not determined when they’re announced. Not to mention if there’s one thing that is considered assumed in music is that shows start in the evening. 🙂

  26. Jake

    2/25/2011 9:59 pm

    I’m going to respond to this blog post because it’s intentionally misleading.

    We sent out this School Of Seven Bells email blast over 7 months ago and it went out and was received in no way like it is represented here. I was surprised to hear of this example so much after the fact. I want to clarify this as I’ve seen the link tweeted around and it’s an unfair representation of the band and the email blast.

    If you had simply loaded the images associated with this email blast like you did for the Sarah McLaughlan blast, you would see that it includes a large, bold picture of the band along with various stylings that make this email blast look a lot more appealing than some poorly justified text like you’ve included above.

    Within that image block you would also see 2 press quotes that would describe the album and give it praise for people that are unfamiliar. I can understand debating that being included in an image vs designed into the email blast and thus searchable (there are definitely pros and cons to each approach) but the descriptive text of the album was there, and it’s from 2 neutral, (again, debatably) well respected 3rd parties.

    I should also mention that the majority of this list had already been messaged a free track download and other information leading up to album release and this email blast. The list saw substantial growth when we exchanged a free track for an email address. I feel confident in saying that the fans of this album who are on the email list knew what to expect from it in ways that a few lines of descriptive text could not replace.

    The times of the shows were unavailable when posted and I think it’s pretty obvious what part of the day shows take place. The mailing list we sent this to is overwhelmingly (talking 98%) American and the shows are European. It was a general formality to include them. While I understand your point of including as much information as possible I’d rather have the information be correct. Besides, anyone who has been to a concert recently, especially with a band the size of School of Seven Bells, the times posted on tickets and at venues are almost always in no way representative of when the band goes on. If we said 8pm as the start time it would be pretty obvious to their fans that the band wouldn’t be going on then and no one (bands, venues, other bands on the tour) want the real time a certain band goes on stage to be publicized.

    I’m open to criticism and I respect anyones opinion of our work, but it should be represented in the way it was intended and the way it was delivered to fans. Given you’re in the business of marketing it’s concerning that your ethics would allow you to misrepresent an email blast in order to suggest improvements to your audience and clients that, unbeknownst to them, were already there. I would suggest that you saw the email blast originally and used it as your examples of what to do (and modified those points out accordingly) if the suggestions weren’t such common sense to begin with. I certainly hope that’s not the case.

    Thanks for your time.

    Best,

    Jake

  27. Ela

    2/26/2011 2:15 pm

    I love Jason Mraz’s site, blogs & all — he shares way more than just his music and I especially enjoyed reading about his latest trip to Africa.

    The website is simply http://www.jasonmraz.com. Entertaining and not afraid to share his opinion or personality! Can you tell I’m a fan??

  28. Atul Rana

    2/27/2011 8:02 am

    I do all the marketing for my band DonkeyBox and running an email newsletter is the number 1 priority. We also have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and our own Blog to tie everything together.

    One of the problems is that people are getting too much email in general so the ones that *are* actually interested in our music and open the emails are fewer and fewer. I am glad that email clients like Aweber allow people to opt in and opt out.

    In general I email every two weeks about what the band is up to, any stories from previous years and general tidbits. The idea is to keep our presence fresh in people’s minds, so when it actually comes to a “sale” like a gig or downloads, we’ve always been in touch and not just went “hey, we haven’t been in touch for yonks but buy, buy, buy now!”

  29. Amanda Gagnon

    2/28/2011 9:15 am

    Mark ~ I did turn images on, but didn’t see any. I’ll go back and check out the browser version.

    Thanks for clearing up the question on show times!

  30. Amanda Gagnon

    2/28/2011 9:32 am

    Jake ~ Thanks for your response. I’m not sure how, but the images didn’t display for me (I have them display automatically). I didn’t think to check out the browser version, and for that I apologize.

    Post is updated above. I’d like to link to the browser version, but the link isn’t working – if you can send it to us (or the message with images), we’ll list it above.

    And thanks for clearing up the point about show times – I guess when people think “concert”, they assume “evening?”

    I’m glad you chimed in – I was curious what the deal was.

  31. BP

    4/28/2011 1:42 pm

    The DIY bands we deal with are finding that Social Media (esp. Facebook Fan pages) provide all the functionality they need for collecting and messaging fans. Email is quickly becoming old school as fans and bands alike spend more of their limited time on the major social networking hubs.

  32. Gordon Ryan

    7/27/2011 5:24 pm

    I respectfully disagree with the post above. While social networks are a valuable resource, they should not be the “be all, end all” for band marketing. Collecting e-mail addresses is highly important, as the band then has control over their e-mail list.
    Myspace was the greatest social network, until a few years ago. Then people began migrating in droves to Facebook. And eventually everyone will migrate to the “next best thing”. In the meantime, all of those contacts from those previous networks have disappeared, and may or may not reappear in the next social network.
    What if your social network were to crash tomorrow? How will you contact all your “fans”?

  33. Amanda Gagnon

    7/28/2011 10:34 am

    Gordon ~ Exactly. Email has so far proved to be the most stable form of online marketing communication, especially since it’s not dependent on one site’s success. Just because socializing with peers has moved to social networks does not mean all communication will.

  34. Jake

    7/28/2011 11:36 am

    Gordon,

    The timeline you propose in your “what if” schenario is incredibly unlikely, dare I say impossible. The switch from MySpace was relatively quick but still able to be identified, recognized and measured. Plans were able to be in place to allow for the transition to be as smooth as possible. A smoother transition will happen if/when Facebook loses popularity, which I’ll get to in a moment.

    A similar thing happens with email — how many people do you know that had an AOL account? Or a hotmail account? That made the move to g-mail. I would argue that, at least for a younger demographic, the transition from MySpace was very similar to people who change email addresses unexpectedly for either more features, to avoid certain people and “start over” online, or to avoid spam. The availability of email accounts makes it easy for everyone to have a “spam” account, that they sign up for when they need a piece of information but do not check it as often. While this looks great for the # of subscribers you have, your CTR, open rate and general influence of your message suffers greatly. Not many people have a separate social network profile, thus the likelihood that you’re communicating with an actual person is greater with a social network. The insights available from Facebook show this, and that ignores sponsored stories and other methods used to further utilize these interactions with fans that just aren’t available with an email signup.

    To address Facebook specifically, there are safeguards in place that if the social network were to shut down very quickly you would be able to transition email addresses. An example would be that applications within Facebook allow you (with permission of course) to email a person at their email address. While harvesting these emails (with permission) would probably not be CAN-SPAM compliant, it can be used occasionally to email new users of your application to incentivize them to opt in directly to your email list. If you want to see an example of these automatically generated emails I’d suggest you look at the increasingly popular turntable.fm, which uses email to notify you of important events that you care about.

    Facebook can also just be treated as another search engine or web page and link direct to your email signup. The depreciated FBML was able to easily link to an email signup widget, and iFrames make it easy as well. To think that Facebook and email are somehow mutually exclusive is simply incorrect.

    The value of a fan or an email address is highly debatable. Are you actually reaching a client and forming a relationship or is it just a method for a person to get what they want from you and never talk to you again? Do they read what you send them and make an active choice not to interact or do they not even get that far? I would argue that it’s harder to know with email. It’s hard to measure outside of individual cases but saying that communication in the context of band marketing and music hasn’t shifted heavily to social networks is as antiquated of a thought as thinking that MySpace is still the place to be for any band.

    (This is all from the context of band marketing)