As an independent musician, a strong mailing list could be the most valuable tool you have to give yourself the creative and financial freedom to make the music you want.
In this article we’re going to take a look at why…
If you want to have a long-term career as a gigging jazz musician people have to be willing – no, EXCITED – to give you money in return for your music.
That can mean physical CDs, downloads, streaming, gig tickets or all sorts of other ways of getting paid, but the money needs to end up with you, right?
If you are set on building and maintaining a career as a full-time jazzer, your mailing list may well be the most important thing you have – and I’d like to explain why.
The money’s in the list…
There’s a famous marketing phrase: the money’s in the list.
It’s true, but it’s about more than money; that’s just the end result.
Building a strong mailing list and interacting with the people on it grows casual followers into fans. It lets you develop relationships with these people on a large scale and to motivate them to be part of your team.
They’ll buy your new record, they’ll come to see you play when you’re in town but, more than that, they’ll also spread the word about you and help you reach even more people.
Imagine you have an email list with 1,500 fans on it. If 10% of them click your links, that means you can send 150 to Bandcamp, Spotify, Patreon or any other platform you’re on, whenever you like.
How much would that change your next album release?
What’s A Mailing List?
Let’s just make sure we’re on the same page here:
A mailing list is a collection of names and addresses used by an individual or an organisation to send material to multiple recipients. The term is often extended to include the people subscribed to such a list, so the group of subscribers is referred to as “the mailing list”, or simply “the list.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)
For you as a jazz musician, this is the email address and, ideally, first name of anyone who has expressed an interest in being kept up-to-date with what you are doing.
Building Your Mailing List: It’s Not Too Late
Building a mailing list is a bit like saving money.
You start collecting emails and see them trickling in, one by one. It seems so insignificant and distant from anything substantial.
But eventually, over the months and years, you realise that you have started to grow something with real value and that there are some pretty exciting things you can do with it.
And, on the flip side, realising that you haven’t started yet can be pretty disconcerting…
If that’s you: don’t worry about it.
But do start thinking about how to start growing your mailing list now.
The Nuts & Bolts of a Musician’s Mailing List
Mailing lists have come a long way since the old days of pen, paper and postal addresses.
They’ve even come a long way since the ‘old’ days of taking down emails at a gig and putting them in a list on your computer to send emails to.
Now, you have properly advanced technology at your fingertips; not just to collect emails but to manage, track and grow your relationship with the people who subscribe to your mailing list.
But despite the progress with the technology, the concept is the same:
Interest someone with your music and then get permission to keep in touch with them.
Mailing List Services
There are various online services out there which can be used to collect, store and use email addresses.
Too many, perhaps, if you’re looking to make a quick decision.
A lot of the big players in the DIY musician scene have built their own, but I feel it’s best to stick with those companies that specialise in emails. So let’s keep it simple:
- If you have a mailing list provider and they’re not awful, stick with it.
- If you don’t have any list and you’re looking for something free, get started with Mailchimp. It’s clear, intuitive and does everything you’ll need it to do as a professional musician.
- If you want to get more advanced with your mailing list, such as segmentation and tagging, you can try out my email provider of choice, Convertkit.
Basically: don’t waste too much time and energy thinking about a provider – just get started!
Where Can I Build My Mailing List?
Mailing List Building on Facebook
As we all know, people spend a LOT of time on Facebook.
By posting regular, relevant, shareable and high-quality content, you can reach new jazz fans and spread your music.
Once someone is on your Facebook page, get your best content in front of them: featured music video, streaming tracks, promo photos, etc.
Then, ask for their email address so you can connect with them off of social media at a later date.
Remember: Facebook, Twitter and the like may not be here forever; just like MySpace disappeared before.
So although it’s important to make the most of these platforms whilst they are popular, email addresses give a much more in-control and secure way of keeping in touch with people, for the long term.
Mailing List Building Via Your Website
If someone comes to your website, it’s quite likely they either know you already or are keen to learn more.
Maybe they heard you on the radio (or Spotify…) and Googled you. Maybe they just want to see when your next gig is.
Either way, when someone is on your site, they should be presented with a clear and compelling offer to join your mailing list. (A little bribe – an exclusive track, for example – doesn’t hurt here either…)
The other reason your website is such an important place to have a clear and easy call-to-action (“SIGN UP HERE”) is that so many other places point people here:
- The liner notes of your CD can tell people to “join the mailing list at www.bandname.com”
- Advertising in jazz magazines will usually point people to your website
- Your website is the easiest thing to give out in a radio interview or podcast
- It’s usually the #1 search result when someone types your name into Google
Mailing List Building on gigs
All being well, people are most motivated to be part of your project directly after a gig.
This is the time when you can actually make some money selling physical CDs as people want to take home a (signed) memento of the evening.
It should also be the time when you give jazz fans a very clear and easy way to join your list.
I’ve seen musicians set up a direct-to-mailing-list app on an iPad which is great, but old fashioned pen and paper works fine too – as long as you input them into your mailing list account later. Just announce at the end of the gig that you will be saying hello, signing CDs and collecting email addresses after the gig.
Who are these subscribers?
In today’s world, data is power and the more you can have the better.
For example, if you know a fan is based in a specific town, you can send them custom messages when you play nearby. If you know their favourite singer, you could let them know if you do a cover version.
In reality, this needs to be balanced with not scaring off these people by asking for too much time and effort, so you should simply ask for:
The first name is very important as, with this info, you can set up your emails to talk to people directly by name.
It helps build that relationship and, according to research by Experian, “personalised emails get 6 times higher transaction rates…”
And higher engagement and transaction rates mean more eyes and ears on your music and more money in your pocket!
Direct Access: Emails vs Social Media
According to some research, mailing lists can be up to 40x more effective at reaching customers, compared to social media!
Of course, social media is super important in creating a buzz, introducing new people to your project and engaging, in real time, with fans.
But it takes only a second to ‘like’ or ‘share’ something and the effects are not always too powerful on their own.
Giving someone your email, on the other hand, is kind of a big deal. I read every email I get. I can’t say the same thing for my newsfeed.
What to do with an email address?
So you got a new signup on your mailing list; now what?
A lot of musicians use mailing lists just to contact people when they have a new album out or tickets on sale.
Or maybe they fix a period – like a ‘quarterly newsletter’ – and find ‘news’ to put in.
To be really successful, your email strategy needs to be more sophisticated than this.
As with any relationship, fans need to be developed. You need to give as well as take. Encourage conversation. These people are you VIP fans and it’s important they get to know a bit extra about you…
- Share a new video with a little backstory on how you shot it.
- Behind-the-scenes or exclusive content from your last studio session.
- A playlist on Spotify that you made for them, mixtape style.
It’s also important to develop a dialogue with these people and to get them used to clicking on your mails and seeing you in their inbox.
As with all these career things, if you ‘dial it in’ and put little creativity into it, the results are going to be awful. The goal is to add value to peoples’ lives, whether playing them music or writing them emails!
You actually want them to look forward to reading what you send so that on those times when you have something to sell to them – or to ask them to do you a favour and share something – they are ready and willing.
The Welcome Email
When it comes to email marketing, the most common thing you’ll see first is the ‘welcome’ email.
I’m sure you’ve experienced it: : you sign up to a mailing list on a website and you get a welcome email.
I’m not talking about the “please confirm your address” note that some people send. I’m talking about the next one, ideally a few seconds later, which properly welcomes you to the list.
This welcome email is so common across many industries but when it comes to jazz musicians, I struggled to find many good examples.
Think of it from the casual fans point of view:
Compare that to this mail that comes through right after subscribing:
Making a short welcome email that people receive when they sign up to your list builds a stronger connection with this person.
It allows you to gradually take them through your best content (video, streaming, press quotes…) AND it gets them used to opening emails from you, which is important if you eventually want to tell them about your new releases or tourdates…
Get [re]started with your music mailing list now
Essentially, your mailing list is a long term asset that, if managed properly, will help you for years to come.
- You grab the casual listener passing by and invite them inside the VIP area.
- You share your best content with them and let them get to know you.
By the time it comes to an album release or a gig, you are not ASKING them to give you money, you are giving them the OPPORTUNITY to buy your music!
If you build a strong relationship with the people on your list, you have hundreds or, eventually, thousands of people who look out for your emails and will communicate with you directly.
If you’re a gigging jazz musician, I’d imagine that you’ve probably already got a mailing list of some sort, no?
But take a step back and be honest: are you really using it to it’s full potential – as a serious asset in building your career and earning money through your music – or are you just going through the motions and firing out a newsletter every few months?
In terms of putting this into practice, you need to make a short list of content that you want people to see, with a short message behind each one.
Then, write your emails – 5 in this example – and put them into the ‘automation workflow’.
Now, every time someone joins your list, they will be taken through this cycle over a 2-4 week period to be properly introduced to you and your music.
Segment, Segment, Segment
Once you start building and using your list, there are some pretty powerful tools you can use to break them down into groups or segments. Just a few examples…
Your subscribers will get a rating based on how much they open and click when you send an email. You can then approach the most engaged people to help you out with some street-team or social media work, safe in the knowledge that they will probably be excited to be involved.
You can segment people who’ve bought specific records from the others, so you can avoid offering them music they already have. You’ll also know, though, that they are a big enough fan to order physical copies of your albums and can contact them with special deals on other records.
Mailchimp and it’s competitors can also tell which country or city someone is living in, based on the IP address when they open your emails. So you can even target different groups of people for different tours, instead of annoying people on a different continent who would love to come but can’t travel halfway around the world to make it happen!
Fans vs Industry
Technology is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to mailings.
Used correctly, you can send highly relevant mail to a large (and ever-growing) group of people which moves them closer to you.
However, it also makes it far too easy – the simple click of a mouse – to throw out mails to large numbers of people, many who are not relevant.
Possibly the best feature of professional mailing services – especially if you are booking your own gigs – is that you can separate promoters and journalists from fans.
It’s of course super important to keep in touch with these different groups, but in very different ways.
Fans want the details and the access. Promoters need to be fed news and press to be driven to action.
I work exclusively (and publicly) with musicians and bands that are at least a little connected with jazz. My LinkedIn profile states “working with jazz musicians.” The address of my agency Facebook page is ‘Matt Fripp Jazz.’ My Twitter bio reads “Agent & Manager for jazz musicians.” And yet I still receive mails from heavy metal bands asking me to book them for my ‘upcoming event!’
This is of course an extreme example and these bands didn’t really stand to lose anything – we’d have never worked together any – but STILL. It’s a waste of my time. It’s a waste of their money, assuming they are paying for space on their mailing list. And there’s just no point. SEGMENT and mail just the right people!
Without going too far down the technological rabbit hole in this article, the other MASSIVE advantage you gain from building and using a mailing list is the data.
As a bare minimum, you’ll see how many people are opening and clicking on your mails. This lets you know what people are finding interesting.
You’ll see who is clicking on the stuff that is making you money, like CDs and tickets. You might even want to reach out directly to them.
You can also see – once you have built your list a certain amount – which areas, geographically, are most engaged with what you are doing.
And with that information?
Go play there!
Tell a promoter in that city and show them the data. Ask the people there to recommend you to the local jazz festival or club.