10 Ways to Grow Your Email List for Musicians

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. So today, we’re talking about growing your email list. 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!

Use these email templates to promote your music:

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 to Grow Your Email List

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 to Grow Your Email List

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.

Click to get the free email templates:

10 Attention-Getting Email Templates for Musicians

Content marketing for musicians

Marketing and promoting your music is a task every musician has to face throughout their career. But it’s also the one thing many musicians wish they never had to do again. With all the noise out there it can really feel like no one’s even listening to you. 

So how do you stand out and get heard? How do you break through the noise and get your music the attention it deserves?

Today I’m going to key you in on a secret – the power of Content Marketing.

The BEST thing you can do is shift your approach – instead of PUSHING your music out in front of people, you need to PULL fans in with enticing and interesting content. Make them want to hear from you. 

That’s where content marketing for musicians comes in.

Now I know “content marketing for musicians” sounds a little intimidating… But as you’ll see, you can easily turn the content you’re already creating every day into plenty of interesting and engaging social media posts, but for now let’s talk about what content marketing for musicians actually is, why it’s such an important tool to have in your music promotion arsenal, and how you can use this approach to authentically promote your music and grow a powerful fanbase.

Get more engaged fans with these content marketing strategies:

What is Content Marketing for Musicians?

Content marketing is quite literally exactly what it sounds like.

You use valuable and interesting content to draw your audience in. It’s a form of “pull marketing” where you get your fans interested and emotionally invested in what you do. Think about it like you’re pulling fans in rather than pushing your music in their face.

So that means instead of posting “check out my new song,” you release a short video telling your fans about what the lyrics mean and include a link to purchase or pre-order.

Instead of relentlessly posting announcements about your new album (you know, the “buy my new album” spam), create a blog series or a vlog series on YouTube documenting the album creation process with easy links to pre-order.

Instead of just asking fans to join your email list, offer valuable video lessons or exclusive events to make them want to join your email list.

You see the difference?

The Problem With Push Marketing

In the past, marketing was all about pushing out messages with big money to get it in front of as many people as possible and hoping some would bite. Artists with big record label backing could thrive because they had the big bucks to promote.

But in today’s social media-dominated world, this shout-louder-than-everyone-else tactic just doesn’t work (even the big labels are having trouble despite their big budgets). You just can’t shout loud enough to be heard over the crowd anymore. Especially as an indie with a minimal marketing budget.  

Now, don’t get me wrong – announcements and push marketing style promotions will always have a place in your marketing mix.

But the problem arises when you literally base your entire strategy on shouting at your fans.

Instead, turn it into a conversation, draw them in, and they will be much more interested.

Reaching The RIGHT People

I also want you to understand that you don’t need to reach everyone when you’re promoting your music. 

I know, I know… This is hard to remember in a social media world where big follower counts are glamorized. But try to keep it in perspective – the number of followers you have on Facebook or Twitter is just that – a number. And having people on your email list or following you on social media who don’t really like your music that much won’t do anything to further your career.

50,000 followers who don’t buy your album won’t help you fund your next project or go on tour. 50,000 subscribers who don’t come out to gigs won’t help you step it up to play bigger venues.

Instead, focus on finding the fans who will actually buy your music, come out to shows, and support you.

1,000 true fans is infinitely better than 50,000 followers who don’t really care. In short, it’s not about reaching more people. It’s about reaching the right people and nurturing those relationships.

This is going to influence the kind of content you release in your content marketing strategy. Always keep your ideal fan in mind when you’re creating new social posts, blog posts, videos, or events. What will they want to see? (Hint: if you’re not sure, ask them!)

Why Content Marketing Works SO Well

Let’s do a little thought experiment to illustrate just how powerful content marketing for musicians can be…

Would you be more likely to purchase an album from an artist you follow if you just saw one or two announcements about it’s release?

OR if you had been following a weekly vlog series documenting the album creation process for a month?

Most people would go for the latter.

You see? Present it like entertainment. Who wouldn’t be interested to see what goes on in the studio? And after spending all that time watching that series, the fan is invested in your project – both from a time perspective as well as emotionally.

Start Before You’re Ready

The key to effective content marketing is to start before you’re ready. Don’t wait until you have something to promote (like a new album, tour, gig, or song) to start building an audience. Fans don’t form around nothing.

Start NOW. Begin creating a fanbase around what you’re already doing everyday (even if you don’t have anything to sell yet).

Remember, the process can be just as valuable to you from a promotion standpoint as the finished product. Then, by the time you’re ready to release something, you have a captivated audience just waiting to see what you have in store for them next.

Tie in Relevant Calls to Action

Now I know it can seem counter-intuitive to use content to promote. BUT, the key to successful content marketing is adding relevant calls to action. Try to make the content you release have a purpose.

In marketing-speak, a call to action is just asking your fans to take some further action. Maybe you want your fans to vote on a merch design, pre-order your album, pre-order a ticket to a show, support you on Pledge Music, or sign up for your email list.

Let’s run down some ideas:

  • Post a picture to Facebook of you and a fan who won a merch bundle for pre-ordering a ticket to your recent show. Let your fans know that they could be entered to win free merch too if they pre-order instead of buying tickets at the door.
  • Share a short video montage on Facebook of your last email-subscriber-only live stream. Give your fans a link to subscribe to get in on the next one.
  • Make a YouTube video teaching your fans how to play your new song on guitar. Include a link where they can buy the song. (Bonus points: ALSO give fans the chance to download the tab or sheet music in exchange for an email address.)

Conclusion: Content Marketing for Musicians

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas to promote your music. Keep in mind that content marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Don’t think of content marketing for musicians as a completely new approach. It’s just OPTIMIZING and sharing content you’re already making.

Now that you have the basics, it’s time to move on and master the email list! Your list will play a HUGE part in your content marketing strategy for promoting your music (and don’t worry, this is going to be painless).

Download this Free Content Marketing Guide
Content Marketing for Musicians

email marketing for musicians writing emails your fans will loveEmail is one of the best ways to get in touch with your fans and promote your music these days. But make no mistake, this isn’t a 100% thing. Most people get hundreds of emails per day.

The big question is, how do you stand out? How do you make sure your fans are clicking on all (or most) of the emails you send their way?

Email marketing for musicians is plain and simple: You write quality emails filled with awesome value. Think stuff you would want to receive from your favorite musicians. That means your emails need to have valuable or entertaining information, they need to be easy to read, have great offers, and feel like something personal.

Here’s what I recommend:

I know as musicians sending out emails can feel a little pushy and overly promotional. And it definitely can be if you write your emails to be really spammy and treat it like a push marketing outlet (hint: don’t do that).

BUT, if you’re writing more personal letters to your fans and you’re giving them all kinds of great stuff for being a part of your email list – then it stops feeling pushy and starts feeling like an awesome community.

So let’s take a look at a few easy ways you can make your emails more effective than ever before.

1. Know Your Fans (And Write for Them)

Your emails are going to real people. I know, groundbreaking! But so many musicians write emails that are either completely irrelevant to their fansbase or totally generic.

But, if you keep your fans in mind as you write, they will find your emails much more interesting.

Take New Artist Model member Lee Norman for example. He’s in his 40’s and he know’s his target fanbase is around the same age. So when he writes his emails he’s going to talk about things they can relate to.

The first step obviously is getting to know your fanbase. Here are some places to start:

  • You can get some quality data from your social media analytics as a start. Look for age, gender, and interests.
  • Do some market research. Subscribe to bands and musicians who you know have a similar target fanbase to you. What do they send to their list?
  • Talk to your fans at gigs. Get to know them and talk about their interests.

Once you feel like you know your fans a little better, use that knowledge to make your emails more relevant.

2. Use Actionable Language

Actionable language just means you’re not beating around the bush. If you want your fans to watch your latest music video, tell them – seriously.

Here’s a really passive way to say it:

We have a new music video out! It was really fun to make and I hope you guys will like it too. [insert link]

Here’s a more actionable approach:

Hey guys our new music video is finally here! Click here to watch it. And leave a comment on the video letting us know if you can spot my dog trying to sneak his way into the video 😛

3. Align Your Subject Line with Your Body Copy

Your subject line should sum up what’s in the actual email. Think of it like a little preview of what they will get if they open.

That means you should never (ever) use click-baity and irrelevant subject lines just to boost your open rate. Your fans will most likely feel betrayed or see it as spammy and never open another email (or unsubscribe). Getting a high open rate on one email isn’t worth it if you tarnish the trust your fans have in you.

Some people say the subject line should be the main benefit of reading the email. Others say it should sum up what’s inside the email. Still others will pull out a small, catchy piece of the email and leave the recipient hanging so they have to open the email. I say go for a variety of all three. 

Just like with the email copy itself, it’s best to keep subject lines fairly brief. Many email readers like Apple’s Mail will cut the subject line off after a certain amount of characters, so keep it short and to the point.

4. Add That Personal Touch

Most email services will have some personalization token function. Basically this just automatically inputs personalized words or phrases that are specific to each fan on your list.

The easiest option, of course, is to add a personalized greeting using your fans’ first names.

This may seem like a trivial thing, but I want you to think about the emails that you receive… What do you prefer to see:

  • Hey Graham!
  • Hey guys!

Of course, if your name is Graham you’d probably prefer the first option. The personal greeting is just a nice sentiment.

Keep in mind that you can only use information you have collected to personalize your emails. If you only ask for an email address when your fans opt in you obviously won’t be able to address them by their first name.

5. Write in Your Own Voice

The most successful emails are written in a more casual, conversational voice. It’s important to remember that although you’re sending to hundreds of people (or thousands if you’re awesome), each email is going directly to a single person.

And that means you should write like you’re talking to that specific person – almost like you were talking to them face to face. This instantly makes any email feel less “salesy” and more like a one-on-one conversation.

A good rule of thumb is to switch between the first and second person. You should refer to your fans as “you,” not “her” or “him.”

You should also throw in some of your own thoughts and experiences in a more first person style.

If you’re not sure, try reading your email out loud to a friend. If it feels like you’re talking to them (not at them) then you’re probably good.

6. Get to the Point

As a musician you’re obviously pretty passionate about your work. And no doubt you could go on and on about it for hours. While it’s great that you’re so excited about what you do… email is not the place for that.

The very first line of your email should get straight to the point. That means if you want to share a studio vlog with your fans you shouldn’t go on a loosely-related tangent at the beginning only to get to the actual vlog at the very end of a 2000 word email.

That being said, it’s perfectly okay to send longer emails if you have something really interesting to say. But make sure you establish the email’s relevancy and connect the content to the subject line right up front.

As an example, let’s keep going with the studio vlog idea. You could use a catchy subject line like, “You’ll never guess what happened when we hit record…” The first line of your email could be a call to action to watch the vlog. You could then go on to tell a little bit of the story.

7. Be Brief

We’re all busy. And people don’t have a ton of time to read huge emails, so keep that in mind.

Now, I’m not saying to skimp on the value for the sake of brevity. There’s just a bit of a balance to be found. In short, if you can say something in less words, do it.

Here are some guidelines to help:

  • Each email should have one main purpose, idea, or goal. That means if you’re announcing pre sales for your new album, don’t try to squeeze in your latest blog post. Make sure every sentence in your email is related to that purpose or goal. You can always send another email, so don’t feel like you need to cram everything in.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Give yourself enough time when you’re writing emails to edit. A good approach is to write the email, save the draft, do something else for an hour or so, and then come back with fresh eyes. You’ll usually find a lot of stuff you can cut out that you missed the first time around.

8. Make Being on Your List Rewarding

Your email list can really be viewed as a special community of your more serious fans. These are people who have actively taken the step to opt into regular communications from you, so they represent your superfans and more dedicated fans.

That being said, it’s the perfect place to share some rewards and give back a little for their support. Now, “rewards” don’t need to be actual things (like freebies or music). Think of “rewards” as anything your fanbase will find valuable.

Here are some ideas:

  • Share a phone wallpaper download of your album artwork
  • Give out downloadable lyric sheets
  • Host private streams or Q&A sessions
  • Feature a “Fan of the month”
  • Share exclusive coupons code or discounts

If fans know they will get awesome valuable stuff if your emails, they will be much more likely to open when you do have something to sell (like a new album or merch). Plus many fans are more likely to support artists that give instead of just sell, sell, sell. It creates a much more authentic relationship.

Another quick tip is to segment your email list by interest and activities. Not all fans on your list will have the same interests, so the more you can target your messages, the better.

9. Ask for the Click

Every (or most) emails you send should have some kind of call to action (CTA).

A “call to action” is just marketing-speak for asking your fans to take some step – usually clicking a link.

After all, your career depends on your fans clicking through and supporting your crowdfunding campaign, or buying tickets for an upcoming gig, or purchasing a t shirt from your online store, or buying your new album. (I mean, the worst that can happen is the choose not to and close the email, right?)

Let’s say you’re trying to get fans to support your crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Use an email to tell them about all the cool benefits they’ll get for supporting you and then ask for a click to your campaign.

Here’s some guidelines if you’re still nervous about asking for a click:

  • Keep it short. You don’t need to beg. You don’t need to justify or explain yourself. Just ask.
  • Make it distinct. Your link should be a different color from the rest of the email text to draw attention. Format it like a standard link (with an underline and an alternate color) so fans know it’s a link or create a button.
  • Focus on the why. Instead of just using “Click here” as a CTA, try something like, “Click here to support the Kickstarter campaign and get exclusive merch

10. Present a Clear Deadline

This one really builds off the previous point. Well-crafted CTA’s will get you far, but putting a deadline on the thing you’re offering will add a sense of urgency.

Why is urgency so powerful? We all like procrastinating and putting things off, right?

We say, “Oh I’ll do it tomorrow.”

… And the next day we say, “Oh, I forgot. It’s fine, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

… And after a few days sometimes it gets lost or forgotten.

Sound familiar?

But if there’s a deadline, we’ll get our butt into gear and take action for fear of missing out.

If you share a discount for your merch store, have it expire after a few days (and actually mention that deadline in your email).

Obviously some things like crowdfunding campaigns and gigs have a deadline built in.

Email Marketing for Musicians: Conclusion

If you’re not experienced, sending emails is going to be a bit of a learning process – and that’s okay! The best advice I can give is to just try things.

Experiment. Play with subject line ideas (heck, run split tests on subject lines if you want an “A” for effort). Try shorter emails or longer-form emails. Checkout how plain text emails and formatted emails with images perform.

For everything you try, look at your data (your open rate and click rate). Use the data to decide what works best and go from there.

Of course, email is only one piece of the “promote your music” puzzle. If you want to see how email and social media work together to grow your fanbase and market your music, checkout this free ebook.

Click the ebook image to download your free copy:

How to Promote Your Music Ebook cover copy

New Artist Model member Justin Ratowsky of Cali Conscious

New Artist Model member Justin Ratowsky of Cali Conscious

By Dave Kusek and Lindsay McGrath
Sponsored by the New Artist Model: Turn your passion for music into a rewarding career.

Cali Conscious is all about good vibrations. The reggae band that got its start playing under the pier in Huntington Beach, California combines a talent for creating great music with a commitment to organizing beach cleanups and helping the homeless.

The group recently launched a new social media campaign to attract fans to its message of peace, love and environmental preservation. And so far, it’s working.

“We’ve gotten over 1200 email subscribers and more than 10,000 Instagram followers in the past 12 months,“ according to Justin Ratowsky, the band’s guitarist.  “We are implementing the strategy of giving away our music in exchange for email addresses that we learned in Dave Kusek’s New Artist Model to successfully create our own fan base.”

“Our goals are to support our families by doing what we love while performing and touring on a national and global level.  We also want to continue to grow our subscriber base to over 100,000 and get our music licensed for TV and film,” he says.

Cali Conscious plays 25 shows a month in the summer and 15 in the off season.  The group is currently hard at work on its second album which will be released in 2016 and supported by a tour.  In addition to Justin, the group includes Anthony Haas on bass, Jason Sandoval on trumpet, Chad Stanner on keyboards, Chuy Vidales on drums, Dig Gbye on percussion, and Stephen Wood on sax.

Cali Conscious puts almost as much work into activism as it does into music.  The band has organized monthly community beach clean ups in Huntington Beach and funded construction of a clean water well in Ethiopia by donating live performance tips to  Cali Conscious doesn’t sell plastic CDs at its shows and created a plantable paper download card embedded with carrot, lettuce, and tomato seeds to celebrate the release of its first album “High Times.”

The group is making the website Noise Trade a centerpiece of its current social media campaign, Justin says.  The music distribution platform lets the group trade their music to anyone who shares their email and zipcode on the Cali Conscious website.  Currently, the group gives followers a download of “High Times” as well as an EP featuring acoustic versions of four songs from the new album.  

“You should use your social media platforms and the real estate on your website, to give away songs and build that relationship with your fans to gain trust and turn them into superfans,” says Justin, adding that “superfans” to him, are people who share news about the band with their followers.

Justin believes that developing 1000 superfans will enable Cali Conscious to have a sustainable music career — one that includes adequate support for crowdfunding, merchandise sales, touring and live shows.

“With Noise Trade, we get email and zip codes and fans get to download and share on Twitter and Facebook.  It lets you encourage your fan base to become part of your marketing team,” he says, adding that the service also allows fans to “tip” musicians.  “Noise Trade charges 20 percent of the money that comes in but we are still getting revenue from that every month.”

Raising awareness about the group and its music will help the band complete its newest album.  The offering will be paid for, at least in part, with a crowdfunding campaign, Justin says.

“This next album will put us out there as an Orange County band starting to break through.  We believe in our producer and the message,” Justin says.  “We already have 30-40,000 listens on Pandora or Spotify.  I think when our next album comes out and we step up our SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and get more organized and put up our video, I’m hoping we can reach 100,000 subscribers. “

Gigging is the main source of revenue for Cali Conscious. On May 21, the group will play the Concert for the Coast in Santa Barbara where they will feature “One Love For You,” a song about homelessness written by percussionist  Dig Gbye and the first single from the new album. The band will make a music video for the song that includes an informal “jam session” with local homeless men and women.  

During their visit to the city, the band will also provide blankets, clothing, food, water and socks to people in need with the help of online sock retailer Bombas

“Water,” the second single from the new album, will also get its own video. All proceeds will benefit Gravity Water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing filtration and storage systems to poor communities around the globe.  Both of the videos for the singles will be included in a pre-purchase crowdfunding campaign, Justin says.

While using social media can be exciting and productive, it is essential for musicians to stay up to date on each service’s policies and guidelines, Justin says.  Early in his career, he gave away music from his own CD “Enjoy the Sunshine” to users on Facebook and got blocked by the company for a time. “They thought it was spam,” he says.  

“Be aware of limits on how many people you can contact each day and how different social media systems work. Their policies are always evolving,” Justin says.  “At this point, the main reason we are using social media, besides putting out photos, is to try to get people to go to our website. I want to get as much exposure for our website as possible. This is also something we learned from the New Artist Model.”

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media tools can really help musicians advance their careers — but players should never forgot about the importance of personal connection. Justin knows from firsthand experience that it is impossible to predict when opportunities will appear.

A local entertainment lawyer introduced the band to renowned recording engineer and producer Sjoerd Koppert who has worked with Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Doobie Brothers and other bands. Out of nowhere, this chance meeting from a mutual connection turned into an incredible opportunity to record in a top studio.   

“I went from busking to a million dollar studio,” Justin says. The result?  His first EP “Enjoy the Sunshine.”

That recording is at the heart of another story about the power of networking. Music from “Enjoy the Sunshine” can be heard in the new documentary film “Return to Cape St. Francis” created by Robert August. August starred in the iconic surf documentary “The Endless Summer” which was released in 1966. Justin performed at the Newport Film Festival this April when the documentary premiered.

Justin has played the Huntington Beach High School Surf Team’s annual banquet for the the past six years, and the coach of that club just happened to be the director or “Return to Cape Francis.” That connection ended up getting his music in the hands of Robert August.

Justin and his bandmates are excited about what lies ahead for Cali Conscious. A bigger fanbase, new album and tour all point to great things for the band. While Justin is looking to the future, he emphasizes the importance of never losing sight of the values that define the group.

“The most important part of our music is the message we have in our lyrics, that’s how we want to connect with our fans. We strongly feel we have this musical ability and we are purposefully using a positive message to help bring the world together through our lyrics,” Justin says. “We want to be a catalyst for our fans to inspire change. If we can create an easy avenue for them to be able to support our music but also support causes we believe in — like getting water to the world and making sure that people on the streets have warm feet — that’s where we want to be.”

Embracing these values have encouraged the group to do benefit shows for The Walk for Arthritis which drew an audience of 4000 to Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, Surf’s Up for Down Syndrome and Walk On Water, a nonprofit that offers sports therapy for children with disabilities including autism, among others.

“It is important to use our gifts as musicians to make the world a better place and encourage others,” Justin says.  “I am glad to use my talent as a vessel to do good in the world.”

To learn more about Cali Conscious visit

New Artist Model is an online music business school developed by Dave Kusek, founder of Berklee Online. The online school is a platform for learning practical strategies and techniques for making a living in music. Learn how to carve a unique path for your own career with strategies that are working for indie artists around the world. Learn to think like an entrepreneur, create your own plan and live the life in music you want to live. New Artist Model provides practical college-level music business training at a mere fraction of the cost of a college degree. Programs start at just $29/mo. For more info on the New Artist Model visit