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Email 101 for Artists

Email is an essential part of the fan relationship equation for artists, labels, and managers. While it is difficult to say the exact value of collecting any individual email address for musicians, marketers from other industries peg the generic value of getting an email at about $1 each.   But it’s all about what you do with it once you are given the great responsibility of owning it.  We have seen Artists generate as much as $10 per email address on their list, when used properly.

Email has some interesting attributes going for it, like:

  1. Ease of collection. All you need is a clipboard at your show and a ‘fan collector’ (email signup form) on  your websites.
  2. Anonymity. Fans are comfortable giving an email address b/c they can remain essentially ‘anonymous’.
  3. A-synchronous communication.  It isn’t done in real-time like text messages.  Most fans find this way more acceptable.
  4. Scheduled output. With most email programs you can set the time of when you want the message to ‘go out’.  This is important if you have limited time from the road to message the fans about something that is timely for them - like a show you will be playing in their area that weekend.
  5. Powerful links. Artists can embed links to exclusive content, music players, music purchases, ticket sites, social nets, etc.
  6. Trackability. Most email services provide tracking on how many people opened the emails, how many people clicked, etc.  This data can be a powerful learning tool for the Artist to figure out what ‘works’ and what doesn’t.
  7. Repetition. Most people don’t unsubscribe from the list once they are on it.  As a result, you have a long time to prove your value to them.

But the key to using email resides squarely in how it is used, not in the attributes inherent to it.  We encourage Artists to think about their mailing list as if it were full of email addresses from their relatives. Simply put, Artists should treat their fans the same way they would treat their sister or grandma. Doing so will lead to the highest open rates, highest response rates, long-term retention of fans, and growth of their brand.

Specifically, here are some ‘best practice’ tenants to consider when it comes to email marketing to a fan base:


  1. Always respect a person’s desire to unsubscribe to your list. IMMEDIATELY UNSUBSCRIBE THEM IF YOUR EMAIL SERVICE DOESN’T DO IT FOR YOU.
  2. Always give before you get.  Give the fans something special before you ask them to do something like vote for you in a contest.
  3. Always talk to them without swearing.  It may be part of your ‘persona’ as a band, but some people don’t like that language.  The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Yahoo mail, hotmail, AOL, etc don’t like it either, and your message will go directly to the junk box.  You wouldn’t talk to your grandma that way, would you?
  4. Always avoid ‘scam’ words in the subject line.  Words like ‘Free’ and ‘Help’ will land your message in the junk box 100% of the time. 
  5. Always message them no more than 4 times per month.  Ideally it would be less than 3 times.  Fans want to be kept up to date, but they don’t want to feel like they are your only fan.  Messaging them all the time gives the impression that you don’t have anything more important to do.
  6. Always target them with messages that are RELEVANT to them.  If you have a show in Seattle, don’t message your fans in Miami.  Keep your powder dry for a message to them later about something else.
  7. Always give them the basics about the information you are conveying.  Reporters call this the ‘who, what, why, when, where, how’ model.  If you have a show coming up, do your fans (and yourself) the service of providing dates, times, locations, ticket links, and lineup of the show.  Over 75% of Artists miss this essential piece when they email.  If you want someone to respond and come to your show, for goodness sake, go so far as to give them driving directions if you can.  Each ticket sold is money in your pocket.
  8. Always link them to some place to find out more info about the band.  This could be ReverbNation or MySpace or a homepage or blog.  But ALWAYS give them a way to find out more.


  1. Never add emails from people that haven’t given explicit permission to you to be placed on your list.  It’s natural to add the editor from Pitchfork or New York Times to your list in hopes of getting them to notice your email.  RESIST THIS URGE!  This will ultimately count against you in terms of deliverability and credibility with your fans and those sources.  Email is about permission, not spamming.  Most email service providers (including ReverbNation) will turn your service off if you are adding people that haven’t opt-ed into your list.  BEWARE.  Instead, write those editors from your personal email, asking them to join your mailing list if they so choose.  If you get them to agree, you are in good shape.
  2. Never buy email lists or share lists with other bands or labels.  This is tantamount to spamming people that haven’t opt-ed into your list and it will be met with resistance from the fans as well as your service provider.
  3. Never ask Fans to take an action to help you out if you haven’t first given them something of value.  Reserve some songs for use as ‘chips’ to play with your email list.  Give them a link to some exclusive content from time to time, BEFORE you ask them to go to that radio station website and vote for you to get on the air.  Don’t underestimate the power of reciprocity with fans.  Reciprocity means giving before you get.   Give away.  They will remember.
  4. Never respond to the responses to your emails later than 3 days after they are sent.  Fans are time sensitive machines.  Keep good track of when responses come in and handle them immediately.   You will be rewarded with loyal fans.
  5. Never take aggressive action against a fan that has had any problem with your message.  Simply unsubscribe them.  It doesn’t pay to fight with your customers, Period.

Advanced Strategies

Most Artists have a MySpace page, a Facebook page, and a homepage/blog.  That’s good.  But the key to approaching the internet as a whole is finding a way to ‘own’ the fans from all of these different networks, rather than ‘renting’ them under the terms and conditions of each particular site.   Your email list is the best possible ‘home’ for all of these fans.  It gives the Artist the most flexibility to communicate, make offers, and conduct their business, regardless of which network the fans come from.  As a result, we promote a philosophy of looking at each of these ‘networks’ as a lead generation source, as opposed to the home base for conducting their marketing.  Why turn your marketing and promotion over to the whims of MySpace?  Labels, venues, and sponsors will take much more stock in a band that has a robust email list that they ‘own’ over Artists that just have a ton of ‘Friends’ on social nets.

In order to break from the concept of ‘renting’ fans, Artists need to do a few simple things:

  1. Add ‘fan collectors’ (join our mailing list) functions to all of their sites that lead back to their main list.
  2. Provide an incentive for joining the mailing list, such as access to exclusive content like a song they can’t get anywhere else.  ReverbNation provides exactly this feature when an Artist uploads a song.  They can designate it as a ‘fan exclusive’ and we create a ‘download’ widget that they can add to their MySpace page. This widget will require them to join the mailing list for the Artist in exchange for receiving the content.  Artists post this to their MySpace page, blog, etc. by simply providing their login to each site and we post it there for them.  Artists who use this tool grow their mailing list 600% faster than those who do not use this method.
  3. Email your fans regularly with relevant info, and not too often.  Fans who receive ‘high quality’ emails from Artists tend to stay on the list over 95% of the time. 

If Artists follow this method, in addition to the best practices outlined above, they will see their emails lists grow substantially, and they will have real control over their future.

Author Context:  Jed Carlson is Co-Founder and COO of, a marketing services provider for over 500,000 Artists, Labels, Managers, and Venues worldwide.  Customers use ReverbNation’s email newsletter products FanReach and FanReach Pro to send tens of millions of emails every month to their fans.   Jed is a regular contributor to Music Think Tank.  This post is a reprise of a post initially made at


Reader Comments (8)

Good stuff, thanks for sharing. Was hoping you could elaborate on a few of the stats you mentioned, which would be very helpful for my fan value analysis:

1. "We have seen Artists generate as much as $10 per email address on their list" - What sources of revenue (album sales, live shows, etc.) does this include? Over what period of time?

2. "Fans who receive ‘high quality’ emails from Artists tend to stay on the list over 95% of the time" - How was this measured? Over what period of time? Any sense of what a typical annual churn rate for an artist's email list might be?

3. "marketers from other industries peg the generic value of getting an email at about $1 each" - Which industries? Are there any public documents/sources you can point us to that discuss this?

Would great appreciate any additional details you can share!

November 1 | Registered CommenterLaurence Trifon

I wasn't aware that curse words in e-mail could raise the risk of your e-mail getting thrown in the junk bin...thanks for that tidbit.


November 1 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

The information is proprietary to ReverbNation, so I cannot be too specific about it.

That said, when I talk about 'value' I am referring to net LTV of a fan email address across all sources of income.

The part about '95% stay on the list' is over a 6 month period.

Hope that helps,

November 1 | Registered CommenterJed Carlson

Good stuff Jed. I thought you might find it interesting that Forrester reports the average lifetime value of an email address to be $180. We have promoter clients who are averaging upwards of $800 per email address. Also the DMA says that the averge ROI on email is $45 per $1 spent.

November 2 | Unregistered CommenterDavid DeVore

Jed, understood -- appreciate you sharing what you have.

November 2 | Registered CommenterLaurence Trifon

Hey David,
Thanks for the additional stats on email (I'd love links to those references if you have them). The only issue I have with using blanket figures from DMA, Forrester, or even event promoters (who sell tickets to many many shows over time), is that I don't think they are particularly applicable comparisons for most Artists.

Your comment made me question where I got my avg. $1/email figure. I feel embarrassed to admit that I cannot find my reference on that (I originally posted this article this spring and have since lost the notes I took to produce it).

That said, your point in posting was to emphasize the value of mailing lists for Artists, and I am in total agreement with that. For most Artists, their mailing list is the biggest marketing asset they possess, period.

November 3 | Registered CommenterJed Carlson

Hey Jed
I love the article
You mentioned that before you ask your fans to do something, you should give them something.
What kindof things could I give them over an email?
I can think of giving them links to our mp3s or pictures
but what more could I give them?

November 3 | Registered CommenterEugine Kang

Hi Great Article, I agree email lists are way more valuable then the amount of friends you have on social networks, There is a new music social network Grindstop that allows you to import the email address of you friends from other social networks. As a musician I have found it to be an invaluable tool.

December 5 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

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