Welcoming artist manager Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment as a regular contributor to MIDEM(Net) Blog! & enjoy this ode to the good old email!
In 2010, the most crucial key to an artist building a lasting career and fanbase is creating, growing and utilizing their e-mail list. In fact, until e-mail is replaced by a new primary source of communication, I can say that it is an artist’s retirement plan.
Artists can now create content without studios and/or expensive budgets. They can distribute their music worldwide via Tunecore, CD Baby, INgrooves, and other digital distribution platforms. However, making these tools available universally opens the floodgates to everyone. We all know that just putting out music, even if it’s great, will get lost in the ether of the internet without some sort of strategy, and even more so without at least a bit of engagement directly from the artist to their existing and potential fans.
In the past, the goal of hiring a promotion team was to get press, hoping that fans would get in their cars, go to the nearest store and purchase a physical product. That still works for some fans, and shouldn’t be ignored. Through a targeted email list, many of these steps and middlepeople can be eliminated. By growing a database of true fans, artists can send their content directly to their audience and say “Here is the art I’ve created for you and here is how you can support me (spreading the word to friends, donation, fixed price, etc).”
Why is this awesome and what does it mean for a long lasting career? Well, if an artist relies on an outside company or even their team, it can be sink or swim. Even companies with the best intentions and business plans may not work out. Even managers and ancillary team members change their career paths (don’t worry Whitesmith artists, I’m not planning on going anywhere :)). But life changes, and if an artist truly wants to have security in the direct pipeline to their fanbase it is up to them to create, develop, maintain, and effectively use their e-mail list.
Where does one begin? Well, if you’re a brand new artist, like Family of the Year, start with what’s around you.
The guys and gals in that particular band pooled together email addresses of friends, family and contacts from their previous projects and launched their email list with 600+ people. Not a bad start! The folks on this list helped us to push out their debut EP and things have not stopped growing since. What if you’re established already? We started managing Brendan Benson last year and launched his e-mail list based on various previously existing databases. Beyond that, we’ve featured his e-mail list clearly and prominently on his social networks, site, and Brendan has been encouraging folks to sign up from stage. The results have been incredible. We have seen an exploding response online from Brendan’s fanbase and I’ve been personally thanked by fans for having Brendan reaching out directly through his list as well as providing content, information, and contests.
Like most things on the internet, there are a plethora of options on what program to use. Artists with more of a budget may want to check out Constant Contact. However, my go-to has been Fanbridge. Fanbridge is free to get started! Beyond that, they have created an easy to use e-mail list program that is specifically for musicians. One doesn’t even have to know HTML to make their mailer look stunning. We’ve had a blast giving away an exclusive track every month on Family of the Year’s email list to keep it growing. The founders have done an incredible job adding new features and acting on feedback of new ways to improve e-mail collection.
It is crucial that the artist has input in the mailer. Mailers should be sent out no more than twice a month. Once a month is generally fine, depending on what is going on with the artist. All of our artists write text to open each mailer. Why? It means so much more to fans to hear from the artist and know that their support is going directly to the artist and not a manager, label, marketer, or any other sort of middle person. Fans have limited funds and, when given a choice, will support an artist who they know they are directly helping.
How else can you grow your list? Be creative! I encourage everyone I know to sign up for our artists’ email lists when they want to show support. You can barely say hi to the Family of the Year girls at the merch table without the response of “Will you please sign up for our e-mail list?” We’ve also had artists read a Google Voice number aloud from stage encouraging fans to text in their e-mail address.
Need proof of why e-mail lists are the most important non-musical aspect of one’s career? We spent years building up The Dresden Dolls’ e-mail database in all of the ways above. When we strategized the release of Amanda Palmer’s solo album, I was pleasantly surprised that our database had grown to 50,000+ email addresses. In the opening week of release, we sold 10,000 copies of her album. 8,000 were directly through the site, 1500 were on digital retailers, and 500 were at traditional stores. There is no way we would have achieved this sales threshold without years of growing the band’s e-mail list and reaching out to the fans directly.
One last thing that is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT; it is vital that artists own the rights to their e-mail databases. I met with an artist a few weeks ago who has put out 3 albums on a label, has since been released and is doing amazing work on her own self-releasing. I asked her if she had blasted the e-mail list from her old band, and was horrified to find out that her old label would not give her the e-mail database her band had built up over the year. Shocking, and just plain not cool.
How are your email marketing campaigns going? I’d love to check out examples of what folks are doing in the comments below.