Growing Your Mailing List Is Like Ice Skating: Your Guide To Brilliant, Miscalculated and Illegal Moves:
As of writing this, my local hockey team is winning, or something. Downtown Elgin street’s pubs are filled with red jerseys and face paint, and Ottawa has even made internet news for being so polite with our celebrations; only dancing in the street while we’re not blocking traffic. Now, I have never played hockey in my life. Growing up, figure skating was my sport. As you can probably guess by my personality, I cared far more about putting on a show than about winning points for grace and elegance.
Anyways, what does this have to do with mailing lists? Well, both sports have their own moves and rules. In the rush of everyone in my city being so darn happy, I’m going to compare different mailing list “moves” to both sports. Ready? *Hockey Night In Canada theme here*
Mailing List Move: Having fans, but no mailing list.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Missing your entrance on a flying sit spin.
Hockey Equivalent: Accidentally crashing into the boards.
For those of you who don’t have a mailing list yet, listen up – imagine me saying this in a tough coach voice. Social media won’t last forever; but what do people use to sign up for the latest platform? Their email address.
Not everyone is online at the same times you are, and algorithms on sites like Facebook and now Instagram change all the time, making it a pay-to-play system. However, most people will open their emails. Mailing lists are the #1 way to get your important messages across to fans. Keep reading to get those blades sharpened.
Mailing List Move: Using a mailing list service provider.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Not throwing yourself into a triple loop without set up.
Hockey Equivalent: Training on an indoor rink, as opposed to a pond outside your house.
In the case of mailing lists: you, the musician, are the business, and the fan is the customer. Just like any store in the mall you give your email address to at the cash register. This means that anti-spam laws apply – every email must have an opt-out link, and in the USA, BCC-ing your entire contact list in Gmail is illegal (Gmail will punish you for this). As well, copying and pasting emails into a draft won’t be sustainable as you grow – what, you’ll copy and paste thousands of address every week? Imagine trying to land an Olympic level jump if you didn’t have the proper foundation and training.
The best solution is to use a service provider. I use MailChimp, as most features are free up till 2000 subscribers. It has an opt-out link at the bottom of every official email. They very recently opened up automation to even the free versions, meaning that you can offer automatic gifts sent to your fans’ inboxes (like an exclusive MP3 download); we’ll get into gifts further down in this article. To sign up for mine and see what it looks like in action, click here.
Mailing List Move: Getting a PO box for the legal address you must provide.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Wearing padded shorts.
Hockey Equivalent: Wearing a helmet.
Now, one thing that surprised me with the legal side of mailing lists, is that one must provide a physical mailing address. This works if you have a studio or office, not so much if all you’ve got is your home address. The solution to protect you from creepy stalkers is to invest in a PO box – a mailbox at your local post office, where letters from fans get sent to instead. No one expects you to get hurt, but like any winter sport, the ice is a hard place to land.
Mailing List Move: Asking fans for their geographical location when they sign up.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Choreographing your best footwork to be right in front of the judges.
Hockey Equivalent: Home rink GOAL!
If you’re a touring act who plans on announcing live shows through your newsletter, please try to capture your fans’ cities or postal/zip codes when you get their emails. I don’t know about you, but I don’t appreciate my inbox being cluttered with bands in the UK asking me to come to their show when I’m in Canada, however much I’d like to go. Segment your mailing list with 1 hour drive radius bubbles, and only aim emails about those gigs to that part of your list. You’ll be far more appreciated and your emails will be more welcome that way.
Mailing List Move: Offering a sweet, exclusive incentive for signing up.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Having a signature move.
Hockey Equivalent: The perfect assist.
Now, many regular folks don’t want to just hand over their emails for nothing in return. This is where the barter system comes in. “Sign up for our mailing list and get a free download of our debut EP!” This works up to some extent. If your casual fan has a streaming service subscription, chances are they won’t be won over by being given something they can get for basically free.
No one outright wants to be marketed to. This is where you have to get real creative, coming up with interesting incentives to give out in exchange for their personal information.
Mailing List Move: Surprising them with a free gift when they sign up, as opposed to making this a barter transaction.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Improvised double in competition.
Hockey Equivalent: An injured player surprising the opposition by giving 110%.
There’s a scene in Disney’s Ice Princess, where midway through a competition spin, Casey Carlyle sees her unsupportive mom sitting in the stands, cheering her on for the first time. This literally propels the athlete into improvising a difficult jump out of joy (of course, being a Disney movie, she lands it perfectly and places in the competition).
Giddy surprises such as offering an unreleased track upon signing up (without them knowing first) flips the barter system on its head. I’ve talked about this before; these people are already interested enough to sign up without an incentive, imagine how happy they’d be by a surprise gift!
Mailing List Move: Trading email lists with another artist.
Figure Skating Equivalent: Crashing into another skater during warm up.
Hockey Equivalent: F**king with the goalie.
An unspoken rule about hockey is to never get into a physical combat with the opposing goalie during a game. Why? Because give it 0.0001 seconds before you get beat up by the entire team.
In the email list game, it’s the law that people have to explicitly sign up for your list. You can’t simply get/buy the names and emails off another artist or sketchy promo company and add them to your list without the fans of the first artist knowing. That counts as spam, and you will get stopped for it.
Mailing lists are important. Keep it clean, keep it legal, and it’s the fun that counts.