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The importance of good email standards

Email (in its various forms) is the mainstay of electronic communication now, and is vitally important to musicians, bands and artists when trying to get booked for gigs or reach out to fans.

One thing that has become really prominent to me of late, particularly when I was putting together RG MusicCon 2011, is that email can be a potentially harmful tool if it’s not handled correctly. It is fantastic for quick communication and really good when you can’t be bothered speaking to someone over the phone, but therein lies its two main problems:

  1. Brevity
  2. No intonation (or “human personality”)

Email and the whole technological revolution of quick communication have effectively demolished the standard communication etiquette (not to mention the destruction of good spelling and grammar but that’s another rant for another time).

This more often than not leads to misinformation, misunderstanding, confusion, and worst of all resentment between parties.

These two main problems are even more troublesome when coupled with the following:

  1. People don’t read - especially stuff online (If you want to know more about this, look into Jacob Nielsen’s research on website reading habits)
  2. People don’t pay attention - this works on both ends: the sender and the recipient.

So why are these problems and what do they result in?


So you’re trying your best to avoid lengthy emails to someone (I am really guilty of writing tomes) and also be as concise as possible without losing the recipient’s attention or interest. The trouble is that people more often than not err on the side of excessive brevity and avoid the concise part.

Ultimately because of their haste to write you an email response you end up having to perpetuate the email conversation for much longer because you’re not clear on important details.

When I was booking bands for the festival and dealing with band managers, one particular manager found it difficult to write emails consisting of more than two or three words. This became frustrating because I would ask a series of questions and then have to re-ask them on an individual email basis because I was never getting answers to them.

So the lesson to learn from this?

If you want to be brief and concise, just use bullet points. It’s really that simple. You don’t ramble, but you clearly set out the important information and minimise the amount of emailing that is necessary without pissing off the recipient.

No intonation

Some people naturally don’t have much personality in their manner of speaking, but at the very least most humans will change the pitch of their voice to indicate the tone in which a sentence was intended. This can help soften the blow when imparting bad news to someone, or asking a potentially difficult question.

Email doesn’t afford us this luxury, so it’s really important when you’re composing an email that you consider how a particular sentence will read to the recipient, especially if it’s a contentious issue.

This ties in with the whole brevity thing, and I often feel that when someone doesn’t bother to at least give me a salutation in an email or writes in staccato, that they have disdain for me.

Choosing how you word something carefully will do you wonders. For instance, if you need to request something from a venue or promoter that is particular to your band/act, don’t write:

We want (x) because (x)”

where you could write:

We would very much appreciate (x) because (x)”.

Immediately the tone of your email changes from confrontational to passive, and endears you to the recipient. You’re presenting yourself in a friendly, positive manner that doesn’t say “I’m a diva and I think very highly of myself”.

So the lesson to learn from this?

Just putting a little thought and effort into an email will make the world of difference. You don’t want to come across in your email as anything other than a nice person and someone the recipient wants to work with.

People don’t read

Yes, it’s sad but true. There is a great deal of evidence that proves web-based text is much harder to read than print, so you should take heed of this research and make it easier for people to read your content (ever wondered why these blog posts are in short paragraphs?). People scan web pages and emails to find what they need because it’s less taxing on their eyes.

Unfortunately for us, a lot of people don’t actually take in what they read, regardless of which media it appears in. Therefore in spite of your best efforts to be as polite, concise and brief as you possibly can, people will inevitably misunderstand even the clearest of writing because they haven’t absorbed it.

This is really troublesome if you’re negotiating payment with a band or a promoter, and something I struggled with during my time organising MusicCon 2011 which led to one or two nasty situations that I don’t care to remember.

So the lesson to learn from this?

This is a difficult one, but honestly it’s best not to conduct any serious business via email. Where possible try and meet the person, but at least having a direct verbal conversation will be far easier than email. Otherwise for all other emails, you really need to find a way to impart information as clearly as possible. Some people are just impossible. 

People don’t pay attention

This ties in with the not reading part, but it goes a little deeper. It’s really the little things that make all the difference, and people are very inattentive to small details.

For instance, a difficulty I come up against frequently is my own name. My proper name is Richard Gordon, but I refer to myself as Rich Gordon and always sign off as such on emails. It’s a personal preference and something I’d expect people to pick up on. But time and time again I get emails addressing me as Richard, or misspelling my surname - any variation of Gordan, Gorden, Gordin. It really hacks me off.

Paying attention to these details perhaps seems pedantic, but at least it shows you care enough to read what the person has sent you.

Another major problem is poorly composed writing. If you are genuinely dyslexic or English isn’t your primary language, I fully understand.

But the majority of people who don’t write well are just simply apathetic, and there seems to be a culture being nurtured in today’s “Web 2.0 world” whereby it’s acceptable to misspell, use improper grammar or simply not bother to proof-read your writing.

Typos can slip through the net, but I’m talking about people that compose emails with no punctuation, no consistent spelling or anything that makes the text easy to read.

I say “apathetic” because the majority of word-processing software will try and correct you if you misspell something. Most browsers have it built-in as do email clients. Google will actually show you how to spell the word if you start typing it. There are so many automated tools at your disposal for sorting your online writing, you really don’t have an excuse to get it wrong.

I know a number of people who are extremely intelligent and very articulate, yet their written style puts me in mind of a five-year old writing a wish list to Santa Claus. I literally hear a child’s voice in my head when reading through whatever it is they’ve written. I’m often left confused after trying to digest their prose.

Have you received spam from “The Bank of Nigeria”? That’s the style I’m talking about.

This makes me sound very tyrannical and unsympathetic, but believe me when I say it’s not the case. I’m simply highlighting here that if you want to put yourself across in a professional and intelligent manner and gain the respect of the recipient, try and present yourself as such through email. You don’t have to be an expert in grammar to sound intelligent through email, but a badly-written email will probably be overlooked and get you nowhere.

So the lesson to learn from this?

Your email personality is more often than not the first (and potentially only) indication of your character that the recipient will receive. You need to capture their interest and win their favour - particularly when the person you are emailing is bombarded with communications from other bands and acts looking for attention.

In summary

I leave you with an example to mull over. The Fife Fire Brigade in Scotland is so overwhelmed with applications that their first test to eliminate potential applicants is in the written application form. There is an instruction therein that dictates the form should be filled in with a particular colour of ink. Those forms that arrive in a different colour are immediately discarded…

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (5)

Not sure what happened at the summary, but the author touched on some key points that deserve attention.

If you are emailing your fan list, be sure to stay relevant, brief and INTERESTING. Try A/B testing your subject to increase your open rates. It is the small things that will help you with fan conversion.

December 26 | Unregistered CommenterHubert Sawyers III

I love this article and the focus on brevity and the utilization of bullet points. I think that a lot of musicians could benefit from using bullet points as opposed to sending a press release that people will bypass.


December 27 | Unregistered CommenterPraverb

This article was not brief enough, therefore I did not read enough of it to know what you want me to do in emails to fans. I will take that as a sign that I need to be brief in my emails to fans.

December 27 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

1. False
2. False

January 3 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Craig Ferguson of "Late, Late Night" after Letterman, in his comic monologue a few months ago, said something that stuck with me. He commented that there was a lot of "anger" in the tone of email messages over the internet. He attributed this to the fast speed that electronic communications provides that doesn't allow time for reflection and self-editing before clicking the "Send" icon. He further commented that before composing a message, one should ask oneself three important questions:

1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said right now?

If the answer to all three questions is "Yes" - then go ahead and complete the email message process. I agree. This seems a very good idea. In fact, I have formalized the concept into what I have called: "The Ferguson Communication Protocol" into my micro-business Policies and Procedures. I suggest that you do the same. And, feel free to spread the word.

Incidentally, Craig finished with the punchline: It took him three marriages and divorces before he learned this lesson. Now that I think about it - It's So True! I should have learned this many years ago myself. Oh well... what ya goin' to do? I often ask of no one in particular.

Take Care and Be Aware. Thank you for this opportunity to express some of my opinions in this fashion.

John Swatek.

January 4 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Swatek

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