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The Bribe to Subscribe: Bands & E-mails

The Bribe to Subscribe: Bands & E-mails

By Wade Sutton, Rocket to the Stars

It is no secret that creating and adding to a list of e-mail subscribers is one of the most important marketing tools for singers and bands.  

It is also one of the most difficult and frustrating tasks to undertake.

It doesn't matter what country you are in.  It doesn't matter what genre of music you perform.  The benefits of being able to market directly to a fan or customer can not be overstated.  By agreeing to give you their e-mail address, a fan is essentially giving you permission to be a part of their life.  That is only a fraction of the reason why getting e-mail addresses is so damn hard.

Think about it:  We live in an age of loud commercials, pop-up advertisements, banner ads, naming rights being sold for pretty much every thing, names of businesses plastered all over the back of event t-shirts, tickers scrolling on the bottom of television screens, and business logos on athletic uniforms.  People aren't just marketed to...they are having corporate messages shoved down their throats at every minute and, unfortunately, the angst over that is trickling down to musicians trying to expand their fan bases.

So I decided it was time to get some answers.  I wasn't looking for the generic suggestions you can get on any other website.  Instead I wanted to roll up the sleeves and get answers from people having success at this kind of thing.  And I didn't just want to know what worked.  I wanted to know why so many singers and bands were failing miserably in this important part of their music careers.  So I tracked down two people to help out...


Rick Barker was managing recording artist Taylor Swift when her career first took off.  Go back and watch videos of when she won many of her early awards and you will hear her thank him during her acceptance speeches.  He spent more than a dozen years in radio before testing the waters in the recording industry, where he has made an excellent name for himself since 2004.  A former consultant to Sony Music Nashville and Big Machine, he now serves as a consultant to Live Nation merchandise offering key input on acts such as Florida Georgia Line and Brantley Gilbert.  He also educates artists through his program called "Music Industry Blueprint", which teaches singers and bands how to promote themselves and create a solid foundation for their music business.


Leanne Regalla earned a Master's Degree in International Business and now heads up two companies.  One of them, "Make Creativity Pay", is designed to help creative people pursue their career of choice without going broke, searching for food in dumpsters, or having to sell organs that might otherwise be needed in the future.  A lot of what she does has to do with identifying possible income sources within your work and then showing clients how to market what they have to offer to people interested in their product.  She also has an extensive background in music, which is at the center of her second business "Livin' Out Loud Music".


Both the music and music marketing industries have changed a great deal over the past few years.  There was a time during which artists could offer somebody a free digital download of a song and the person they were marketing themselves to would offer up their e-mail address in return.  That time is long gone.  Think about it:  Somebody will shell out hard earned money to purchase a ticket to a show, leave their house and spend money for gas and parking, drop cash on food and drinks during the show, have a great time while they are there and then turn around and resist giving up the e-mail.  Why?

"There is so much noise out there and people don't want more of it.  They don't want to be e-mailed.  They don't want to be marketed to.  They are frankly sick of everyone wanting their e-mail addresses," says Regalla.

Barker offered up a bit of history.  He explained that many potential customers became tired of e-mail marketing, not so much because they were receiving the e-mails, but more so because of what was in the e-mails.

"We saw it with bands across the country as well as the major labels.  They were sending people press releases.  Fans don't care about press releases.  They certainly don't care when you have a show in Detroit if they live in California.  The people being e-mailed were constantly being told how great a band was," Barker pointed out.

Then things started to turn ugly.  With society suffering from e-mail marketing fatigue, Barker says the opt-in rates for people subscribing to e-mail lists plummeted to as low as five-percent.  Since that time, everybody from the newest band to the most established label has been trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done to get somebody to type in their e-mail address and hit the "enter" button.

Both said something that bands should take to heart: Artists need to stop looking at e-mail as a cry for attention and start using them as a vessel for giving.  Regalla calls it the "Bribe to Subscribe."  Barker refers to it as the "Ethical Bribe."  Both are talking about what a band has to offer a fan to successfully get their e-mail address...and both agreed that content is king.

"I tell my clients to try to get a video of an awesome live performance of one of their songs and send that to their subscribers.  Make and send them an acoustic video of a new song you are working on.  Use the Internet to hold some special event that subscribers can watch and be a part of.  Do an online meet-and-greet.  There is so much that can be done!" she said.  Regalla also points out that artists have to offer something too good to pass up.

The idea of coming up with something too good to pass up is one of the fundamental aspects of Barker's Music Industry Blueprint.  He has been advising clients to offer fans seven free song downloads in exchange for subscribing to their e-mail lists.  Barker says they have been having incredible success with the marketing the extent that some independent artists he knows are outpacing the number of subscribers to some artists currently signed to major labels.  Much of it has to do with figuring out and assigning a monetary value to an individual's e-mail address.

"Bands need to start thinking.  If you are a new artist, a lot of people probably weren't going to buy your CD to begin with.  So you try to change their mindset so they aren't thinking they are getting seven songs because they gave you their e-mail.  You present it as you wanting to give them free music but you need an e-mail address to deliver it to," Barker explained.


"Trying to collect e-mails is a marketing campaign that goes beyond just posting on Facebook that you want people to sign up," Regalla continues.  I could almost hear a little bit of frustration in her voice when she said it.  She says this is an area in which many singers and bands fail.

"They must have a comprehensive plan.  Social media has opened up so many possibilities as far as marketing is concerned but you need to have a lot of things firing on all cylinders for it to work properly."

One mistake that bands make: they make a few posts on Facebook and then stop talking about it.  That makes the entire process come to a screeching halt.  Regalla says a lot of singers and musicians underestimate just how much work is involved and don't understand the complexities of marketing.  She tells her clients they need to make a commitment to marketing their subscription sign-ups with regular postings on all forms of social media and at live shows.  They key is to never stop promoting.

"Something as simple as putting a tag at the end of every video you put on YouTube telling the viewer they should visit your website and sign up.  Let them know it is there.  Increase the awareness so they know to go to the site."


One of the things I like about Rick is that he goes looking for answers.  During our discussion he told me about his time working with Taylor Swift and the emphasis they were putting on communicating with fans via e-mail.

"We needed to find out what it was fans wanted and what they would respond to so we went out and asked them.  Everything from what information they would like to receive to how often they wanted to be contacted and many of them said they wanted to be contacted around every other week."  That comment from Barker referring to the frequency of the e-mails echoed Regalla's opinion.  She had commented to me just days before that people feel like they are being pestered by the constant barrage of e-mails marketing various products.

Barker recently sent an e-mail to his own subscribers that included links to a series of videos on his own website.  One of the videos discussed and showed an e-mail Swift sent to one of her subscribers.  It was a personal gesture to somebody she did not know but appreciated a great deal.  That kind of contact builds relationships, a vital component many bands seem to neglect these days.

"People wanted to be a part of what Taylor had going on," Barker explained.  He said artists like Swift and Dave Matthews have had incredible success because they are offering things via Internet marketing that others are not.  When I pressed him for specific examples, he responded, "Tickets.  Letting subscribers hear songs before they were released to the public.  A lot of things.  But you have to make sure it is something good before you interrupt a person's life by sending them an e-mail because that is what an e-mail is: an interruption."

"And another thing," he continued, "Musicians need to understand they are not just musicians.  They are also Internet marketers.  They need to stop spending three- and four-thousand dollars on EPs when they have no e-mail subscribers to market them to.  It is a waste of money.  They think that them investing thousands of dollars into the discs means that the labels should too.  It isn't happening until they have a fan base to sell to."


When asked what e-mail collection service they would recommend to new bands, both Regalla and Barker were in agreement: MailChimp.  The reason?  Because MailChimp offers a free service with several great applications that bands can stick with until they reach two-thousand subscribers.  Regalla points out that the free MailChimp service does not offer an auto-responder for people subscribing for the first time but Barker says he thinks bands working on a budget early on won't really need it.

Of course the question to ask is what e-mail collection services do Barker and Regalla use for their own businesses.  Barker says he uses MailChimp.  Regalla elected to go with AWeber, the same e-mail service we use at Rocket to the Stars.  Bands wanting to go with the paid option through either company should expect to shell out around twenty dollars per month, a cost that can written off as a business expense and can be offset by monetizing the e-mails that are sent to subscribers.


During our discussion, Barker and I spoke about ways to persuade people to subscribe to e-mail lists while attending live shows.  It was brought up how a lot of bands will simply announce from the stage that attendees can visit the merchandise table to sign up.  That isn't good enough.

"There are so many distractions at a live show.  You can't trust people to remember what you said while you were on stage.  This person will have had too much to drink.  That person will be over there trying to get laid.  The band needs to go to the merchandise table after the show and meet people.  They have to offer ten dollars off a shirt to anybody giving their e-mail.  You cover the cost of the shirt and still walk away with somebody to market to," he said.  Barker also suggested bands consider setting up a number that fans can text their e-mails to during the show in exchange for a code to activate the downloads.  Artists interested in doing that should consider Trumpia, which has provided mass texting services to Rocket to the Stars the past three years.  Their service has been very satisfactory and they provide similar services to a number of Fortune500 companies.

Regalla had another suggestion.  "Take a long term view of collecting e-mails.  Don't expect one-hundred e-mails the first night you are collecting them on your website.  Getting e-mails is like getting fans:  You get them one at a time."

Displaying Wade's Pic.jpg

After spending nearly twenty years as a professional radio journalist, Rocket to the Stars creator Wade Sutton now helps singers and bands all over world advance their music careers.  He offers classes and consultations on everything from how bands can better interact with the media to designing their websites and media kits.  Wade's articles have been read by people in more than twenty countries and have been shared by top music industry officials and voice instructors, marketing experts, radio stations, and artists.  You can learn more about him and his services at


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