15 Email Marketing Mistakes Musicians Make

Email marketing is direct, personal, and (relative to something like social advertising) affordable. 

Plus, an email address is like someone’s online ID, so while fans might hop from social platform to platform, they’re likely to still have the same email addy for years and years. Which is why email is still the most effective online communication channel you have to share your music, drive sales, and deepen the connection with your audience.

If this is statistically true (and it is, year after year), then why do so many musicians fumble when it comes to email? Why do we treat the very thing that’s most likely to yield revenue as if it’s a chore? Or disregard our email lists entirely?

I think as artists, we’re eager for the world to hear our music. We’re easily tempted by the shiny new trend. For a while it was Spotify playlists. Today it’s TikTok. Tomorrow it’ll be something else. All the while there are your most loyal fans, waiting to receive your emails so they can hear the new song, buy the new vinyl, or grab tickets to a show.

Avoid these common email mistakes:

Data shows that email is the most reliable way to turn fan activity into revenue. And thankfully, making more money from your email list doesn’t require a massive overhaul.

Sometimes a few changes can make a big difference. So it’s time to take email more seriously. Here are 15 common mistakes musicians make when it comes to email marketing — and how to fix them!

1. Not having a list

Do you think it’s enough to limit your fan conversations to a couple social platforms? It ain’t.

What if those platforms go away, or make it harder (more expensive) to reach your audience? To say nothing of the stats that prove email itself is a better method for stirring specific action anyway.

If you don’t have an email list, start building one.

2. Not using your list often enough

I think artists worry that we’re pestering our fans if we email them too often. But what does that even mean? Monthly? Weekly? Daily?

Most artists have the problem of not emailing enough. Not the other way around. I get a trillion emails a day from Universal Audio, and while I might not open them all, I’m never annoyed.

Your fans want to hear from you. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be on your list anyway.

Don’t let your audience go cold on you. And don’t go cold on your audience. Send more emails!

3. Not automating email streams

An email stream is a sequence of messages that usually have a specific theme or purpose, spaced out however you set it — daily, weekly, etc.

Your welcome messaging is arguably the most important one of these email streams, because over the course of 1-5 emails you can introduce subscribers to the most important aspects of your artistry, sets expectations, and — hopefully — gets people to respond. (More on replies later).

But you don’t want to have to send these emails manually. Chances are your email system will allow you to do some automation so you don’t have to actively manage it. But don’t set-it-and-forget-it either. Get in the habit of revising and improving your automated emails every few months.

4. Not incentivizing email signups

Why should someone be on your list?

It’s one of the most important questions. Not only because your emails will need to deliver on that promise, but you’ll have to find a good way to MAKE that promise in the first place.

Whether online or at gigs, you’ll want an effective hook to collect their contact info, such as:

  • Unreleased audio or video content
  • Private livestreams or meetups
  • Closer access to the real you
  • Some perspective that is dependably funny, deep, useful, etc.

5. Sending cluttered email newsletters

Musicians have a tendency to let months go by without emailing. Then suddenly they have a whole season of life to share. So they send a “newsletter roundup” with twenty paragraphs, ten links, four calls-to-action, leaving the subscriber overwhelmed and unlikely to read or click anything.

I still like to receive “newsletters” from artists who do it well (I’m thinking of some singer-songwriters like Anna Tivel, Joe Pug, and Korby Lenker), so there are exceptions to the rule, but in general it’s good to keep your emails short and focused on one piece of information.

People seem to have less time, less attention, and less patience. Don’t give them options.

Instead, reverse engineer your emails to keep them punchy; first, what should the button or call-to-action say? What’s the ONE thing you want people to do after reading the email? Next, how can the text or images in the email move a reader quickly towards your priority objective? Last, how can your subject line ensure they open the email?

Follow that formula for your next few emails and I’ll bet you’ll notice an uptick in opens, clickthrough rate, and even revenue.

6. No unique voice

Don’t be a marketing bot. Be you!

Readers can tell when you’re phoning it in or defaulting to rote tactics.

There’s nothing wrong with being direct: You can ask fans to buy vinyl, stream your song, watch your video. But say it so it feels exciting, personal, and necessary, not desperate or detached.

And don’t play it overly safe in your tone and topics. You may ostracize some subscribers with authenticity, but you’ll get much more from your list (and your life) by being yourself in the long run.

7. Not removing inactive subscribers

If you don’t have tens of thousands of subscribers, you might feel reluctant to cull some emails from the list. But you should.

Here’s why: Having subscribers on your list that don’t open emails is counterproductive. They’re dead weight. All those unopened emails show Google and Outlook and whoever else that your emails aren’t worth opening, so they’re more likely to end up in the junk / spam / promo folders.

In email jargon, disengaged subscribers hurt your “deliverability.”

So first, send them some “reengagement” emails, saying hey, haven’t heard from you in a while, still interested in my music? Tell them what’s new and exciting; give them a chance to get involved again. If they don’t open any of those email, save their address in a separate list or spreadsheet, and then remove them from your current subscribers.

As your list size goes down, you’re actually increasing the percentage of people who ARE engaged, and that’s gonna help your deliverability.

8. Not segmenting your email list

Want to make each subscriber feel like you’re speaking to them individually? Then you should segment your list, which just means you’re creating sub-groupings based on interest, geography, previous purchases, etc.

Then you can target the right message to the right subscribers, and just as importantly, make sure people don’t get emails they’re less interested in.

There’s no end to the ways you COULD segment your list, and there’s no perfect way to do it, so I recommend starting small. Create 2-3 different segments and see how it goes.

9. Not having enough info

If you’re collecting emails online, you don’t necessarily want to scare people off by asking for too much at once. But name, email, and hometown are great starters.

If you don’t collect a city or zip, some email services can help you take a good guess later based on the subscriber’s IP address.

It’s also good to manually enter product purchase info about subscribers, or have it done automatically via an integration with your ecommerce platform. For instance, imagine you’re staring at the last few shirts in the box, and they’re all mediums. Well, you can send “Almost Gone: t-shirts now 50% off!” to anyone who previously purchased mediums.

10. Not using custom fields like ‘first name’

Hey gang!

‘Sup Army!

Yo y’all!

I don’t want to be part of a nameless mob. I want you to talk to ME.

So use the custom field (sometimes called a merge-field) to populate first names into your emails (or even the subject line). It’s a simple but effective way to get subscribers to read the rest of the email.

11. Not creating excitement and mystery with the subject line

“New song coming Friday” is not gonna cut it.

What’s amazing about the song? Why do I need it?

Can you tease a story in ten words?

Hook me with a subject line so I MUST open the damn email.

12. Not encouraging replies

I mentioned deliverability earlier. One of the best things you can do to aid deliverability is get your subscribers to respond to your emails. That shows that they’re not only opening the emails, but interested enough to write you back.

It’s particularly important to get people to reply to your initial welcome email for that very reason. Plus you’ll kick things off in a personal way. So think of some questions you can ask at the end of your first email: music recommendations, life stories, perspectives, favorite food in town,…

13. Not looking at email stats to improve for next time

Lots of creative types aren’t necessarily analytical, so data can be intimidating. But looking at your email stats once in a while can really help your music go further. Something as simple as comparing open-rates with clickthrough-rates has helped me drive up merch sales.

Here’s an example that combines easy analysis and basic segmentation:

I sent an email that got good clicks to my store to buy my latest album. But the email didn’t have a good open rate. What this suggested was that not many people were interested to open the email (bad subject line maybe?). But for those that DID open, the text and call-to-action were effective at driving sales.

So I duplicated the email, changed the subject line, and sent it again to the segment of my list that didn’t open the first one. It worked. The duplicate drove more merch sales than the original. And if I hadn’t noticed the bad open rate versus the good clickthrough rate, I might’ve given up after that first “failed” attempt.

I think the other lesson in there is, don’t be afraid to resend emails people didn’t open the first time. Again, they might’ve ignored that first email for a thousand reasons, and none of them are “I hate you and your music.” They’re on your list for a reason.

14. Not updating your template or tactics

Email trends change over time. You can’t set it and forget it forever, especially with automated streams.

Once it was cool to have a fancy design for your email with background colors and headers. Then it seemed like people favored simple letter-style messages. You want to stay up on the best-practices, and edit your emails accordingly.  

15. Getting discouraged by your own unrealistic expectations

I probably should’ve started with this one because it’s so common.

The truth is: Artists don’t know what to expect from good marketing. 

Your entire audience will not notice and act on every email.

Only 25% of your list opened your last email? That is SUCCESS, not failure.

You had a 5% clickthrough rate that led to 3 vinyl sales? Depending on your list size, that may be an amazing result.

The same numbers that may’ve made you want to give up could be the very proof that what you’re doing is working well, or at least worth improving.

For Chapter Marker in the video above, topics include:

  • 12:05 Table of Contents
  • 12:50 Why email is NOT going away
  • 14:45 Busting the myth that “people don’t use email anymore”
  • 15:36 Email is perceived as direct communication to the recipient
  • 16:14 If email wasn’t so important, your email fees wouldn’t be going up!
  • 18:17 Recent stats on email marketing effectiveness and ROI
  • 20:44 Don’t be beholden to social platforms
  • 21:29 Optimizing email efforts will yield measurable results
  • 22:49 Bad attitudes about email list size and open rates
  • 24:40 Your first mistake: Not having an email list at all!
  • 25:22 The consequence of not emailing your list often enough
  • 26:13 Email reengagement efforts
  • 27:14 Automation: Welcome email and streams
  • 28:45 The goal of automation is to deepen relationships
  • 29:22 Automation should be personal and “timeless”
  • 30:33 How to incentivize email signups
  • 31:27 Avoiding the awkward email ask (keep it fun!)
  • 34:03 Don’t assume your preferences apply to all subscribers
  • 34:44 Do email strategies translate to SMS?
  • 36:06 Sending overly cluttered emails
  • 37:33 I hate the word “newsletter”
  • 39:16 Derek Sivers’ genius emails
  • 40:52 Don’t use email like you’re writing to a crowd
  • 41:48 Reverse engineer your email starting with the CTA
  • 43:19 Yes, it IS possible to do long emails well
  • 44:14 Don’t be a marketing bot, be you!
  • 45:27 Developing an authentic voice
  • 46:24 Remove the fear of being graded
  • 47:06 Why you should remove disengaged subscribers
  • 48:47 The basics of email audience segmentation
  • 51:07 Segmentation helps personalize your message
  • 53:09 Do you have their first names and hometowns?
  • 55:46 Bad subject lines: Not creating excitement or mystery
  • 57:37 Why you should solicit email replies
  • 59:36 Are you checking your open and clickthrough rates?
  • 01:01:26 Don’t look at stats in isolation
  • 01:02:58 Your templates and designs should be current
  • 01:04:09 Getting discouraged by unrealistic expectations
  • 01:05:17 Let us know: What’s helped build your email list?
  • 01:06:41 Send to un-opens!

Credits: 15 Email Marketing Mistakes Musicians Make