As an indie musician, if you don’t have an email list (or you have one and never use it), you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Compared to social media – where most of your posts can get lost in the feed never to be seen again – email open rates can be on average 25% (or higher if you have awesome content).
What does that mean? It’s your direct ticket straight to your fans, without the distracting videos on social media pulling their attention away. Which means that when you send an important email about your upcoming album, there’s a much better chance your fans will actually see it (and pre-order the album).
Obviously, it’s not as easy as just writing an email and pressing “send.” BUT if you don’t start building your email list now, you won’t be able to reap the rewards.
A lot of musicians and creatives get a little apprehensive about asking fans for an email address. It feels a little too “salesy.” But, especially these days, many music fans are on the lists of all their favorite bands. Email is no long an engine for overly-promotional spam. It’s now a place where fans get get insider access, exclusive content, first looks, and a whole lot more. Think of it like a special club of awesomeness.
Of course, once you start building an email list, you need to start sending your fans really awesome and interesting emails! Start with these 10 free email templates. Inside you’ll find 10 templates for 10 different scenarios and explanations so you can learn how to craft emails your fans will LOVE!
Now onto the big question: How do you build an email list for you music if you are literally starting from nothing (or you have an empty list that you set up ages ago but have been too scared to promote)? Let me throw down a bunch of ideas to get you started.
What is an Email List?
Let’s start from square one. An email list is collection of email addresses you’ve gathered.
Note that these addresses are from people who have opted in somehow. Maybe they bought a t-shirt from your store or they signed up to be notified when you’re touring through their area. Essentially, these people are you more dedicated fans – the ones who have taken an action beyond just following you on social media.
You store and email your list through an email marketing service like Mailchimp. Personal email services like Gmail or Yahoo are completely different and should not be used to email your fans. Services like Mailchimp also give you the ability to segment your list (that’s just a fancy word for splitting up your list into different categories based on interest and activities).
There are plenty of email marketing platforms and services to choose from. Mailchimp is a great place to start (free up to 2K subscribers, yay!), but I suggest doing a little research to see which best fits your needs.
How to Build an Email for Your Music
Okay, now let’s dig into some approaches you can use to actually grow your email list. All of these ideas will work for someone with literally zero subscribers AND ALSO someone who’s already built up a bit of a list and is looking for some new ideas.
Of course, you don’t by any means need to use all 10 of these strategies – just pick the ones that fit best with your career and run with them. Everyone will have a slightly different approach (since we all have different fanbases, career levels, etc), so try some things, see what works, and go with that.
A few quick side notes about email (I don’t want anyone getting in trouble).
- You need permission to email someone. That means they need to opt in to your list, buy something from you, or put their name on a signup list at a gig.
- You need to let people opt out of your emails. Some people just won’t dig your emails for whatever reason. And that’s fine. Let’s get them off the list and focus on the people who do dig your emails.
- Use your own email habits as a guideline. Do you like reading novel-length emails? Probably not. Do you like getting overly promotional “buy my cool stuff” emails? I’m going to guess no. Keep it valuable, keep it concise.
1. Create an Opt In Form
A good ol’ embedded opt in form on your website is something you should always have. An opt in form is just a simple form that requests information (usually just a first name and email address), with a submit button.
Pretty much any email service will have the capability to create embeddable opt in forms that can be added to any website platform. (Here’s a link to a tutorial for Mailchimp’s embeddable opt in forms so you can see what I mean.)
So if you don’t have an email signup form on your home page, go set one up now. Seriously. Right now.
Fortunately, a lot of musicians have gotten this memo already so let’s talk about how you can make your opt in form perform even better.
- Contrast is important. You want your opt in form to stand out on your website so your fans will notice it (and hopefully fill it out). So that means if your page is black, your form should be a contrasting color or white. If your page is white, opt for a color that fits with your theme but still stands out.
- Keep it simple. You don’t need to know everything about your fans right now – just a name and email address will suffice. The easier it is to fill out, the more subscribers you’ll get.
- Tell fans exactly what they get for opting in. A generic “signup for my email list” isn’t going to convince anyone and you’ll more than likely see low conversion rates. (More on what you can trade for emails coming up next 😉 )
2. Trade Something of Value for Email Addresses
Your email opt in forms will perform much better if you give your fans some kind of reward for opting in – think of it like a trade.
At the most basic level, your fan would fill out the form and your autoresponder would deliver the cool reward
Most musicians are pretty familiar with the notion of trading songs for an email address. BUT, let me share some ideas that will get your fans really excited about opting in.
Your best bet is to offer exclusive content – a.k.a. something fans can’t get anywhere else. Things like exclusive or unreleased songs, acoustic versions of songs, video lessons or tutorials, or gear sheets are all great ideas for gated content. (Get even more ideas here.)
Obviously what you offer in exchange for email addresses will vary based on the interests of your fanbase and your career. So do some testing. Try a few different things and see which drives the most signups.
3. Set Up a Landing Page
In the world on online marketing, a gated landing page is about as basic as it gets. And yet, I see very few musicians utilizing it. Without a doubt, this is the most effective way to grow your email list (which is why I’m putting it right up front 😉 )
We have a more detailed, step-by-step guide to creating landing pages here, but for now let’s go through the basics.
First step is to create a gated piece of content (which we just talked about in point number 2).
Next, you need to create a landing page that tells your fans exactly what they’ll get when they opt in. A headline like “Get unreleased acoustic versions of these three songs,” or “Signup to get a list of all the gear I used to get the guitar tone on my latest single,” would be perfect.
Include a few bullet points to explain what they will get and/or how they will benefit from it, and an opt in form. The sole purpose of a gated landing page is to get fans to sign up to get the cool thing you’re providing, so avoid adding anything that will distract fans from this purpose (that means no social feeds, no blog posts – nothing!)
4. Gather Emails in Person and at Gigs
Never overlook the value of a face-to-face interaction – ever. If you’re a performing musician, live events, gigs, and house concerts are a perfect opportunity to grow your email list.
The easy-mode approach is to just have an email signup form sitting on your merch table. Have a blurb written large across the top (big enough so it’s easy to read in a low-light venue environment) telling your fans what they will get when they signup.
If you want this approach to work even better, do a little announcement during your set telling fans that they can sign up for emails to receive some cool exclusive thing. It doesn’t have to be a big uncomfortable pitch – just let them know it’s there.
If you want to get a gold star for effort (and probably get even more signups) try turning it into a contest. Enter everyone who writes down their email into a contest to win a cool merch bundle or something like that.
5. Use Social Media to Grow Your Email List
You have a ready-made group of people who have self-identified themselves as being interested in your music on social media. So why not use it as a channel to promote your email list?
It’s very easy to share a link to your landing page (remember the one we setup earlier?) on social media. Don’t overdo it though. Social media is mostly for fun and interesting content, and a place for you to engage with your fans, so a tweet promoting your email list every day is probably a little much.
To make things less promotional, try making these posts about your fans, not you or your list. Simply shift the language from, “I have a mailing list, click here to sign up,” to “I’m going live for an email subscriber-only event. Click here and signup to get in on the fun,” or “A lot of you guys asked how I got the guitar tone on [song name]. Here’s a list of everything I used and a quick tutorial: [link to landing page]”
So it’s all about having a light touch and focusing on value. Keep that in mind and you’ll see more email signups from social. (And you’ll feel a lot less uncomfortable about waving your own flag.)
6. Host Some Kind of Online Live Event
You don’t need gigs to get that in-person, face-to-face connection with fans. And with all the online streaming and concert platforms, there are a lot of options.
Obviously you could host a live online concert. But here are some other options:
- Host Q&A sessions with your fans on Facebook or Instagram Live
- Stream your rehearsals
- Have “write with me” sessions where you stream some of your songwriting process
- Teach your fans something specific like how to play a certain riff, or how to set up a home studio. (This is best for musicians who know a lot of their fans are also musicians)
Now how do you use these live online events to collect email addresses? There are two options…
One, you could make the event public for all your fans to join. While you’re live give your fans the chance to opt into your list to get some cool thing. If you hosted a live concert, give them a free download of one of the songs you played. If you used the live session to teach your fans something, give them a free checklist or toolkit PDF.
And two, use the live event as a piece of gated content. Promote it on social media in the days or weeks prior. Let fans know that they need to be signed up for your email list to join. You can host private streams on YouTube quite easily. Just set the stream’s privacy to “unlisted” and share the direct link with your email list.
7. Start a Blog (Or Podcast)
Getting into the habit of posting regular longer-form content on your website will do wonders for your email list.
- It gets fans visiting your site on a regular basis. (And the more they visit the more they will be exposed to your opt in forms.)
- Every article or podcast you post is an opportunity to promote your list.
So, for every blog post or podcast you post, have a call to action encouraging fans to sign up for your email list. It only has to be one line with a link to your landing page or opt in form.
8. Make a YouTube Channel
This is in the same vein as the previous point, but it’s still worth mentioning.
The description box below your YouTube videos is a great place to put a link to your email landing page or optin form and the face-to-face connection that you get talking to your fans through the video will usually get you more conversions.
Take a second in the video to actually tell your fans that you have a link to sign up for emails in the description. Tell them what they will get for signing up and all the cool stuff you send exclusively to your email list.
Something as simple as saying, “Thanks for watching! If you want more music there’s a link in the description box to signup for my email list. I’ll send you 3 free songs and you’ll be able to join in the fun email-club-only live streams we have here every month.”
9. Set an Exit Popup
An exit intent pop up is an email opt in form that will appear if someone on your site moves their mouse to exit the page.
Your pop up should offer your site visitor something of value. So a simple pop up may have a headline saying, “Want 3 free songs? Signup for my email list to get 3 unreleased tracks.”
There are some plugins for WordPress and other website platforms that will allow you to easily set one up.
Don’t worry if this seems a little pushy. If you go to pretty much any website these days, you’ll see exit intent popups. Fans are pretty used to it at this point.
10. Make Your Emails Engaging and Valuable
Of course, all these tips won’t be worth much unless the emails you send to your list are awesome (the last thing we want is to go through all this effort to grow a list only to have everyone unsub).
Make sure you’re writing in your own voice, sharing interesting stories or opportunities, and not overwhelming your fans with too many emails (or too few). Try starting out with these email templates and do some experimenting to see what kinds of emails seem to get higher engagement.