Last night I had an incredible show at one of my favorite places to play in the country, The Hotel Cafe. I got to meet many awesome Ari's Take readers. At the end of the night, after I finished chatting with everyone by the merch booth, I glanced at my mailing list clipboard and noticed only 3 signups! Gah! What happened? For shows with the crowd I had last night, the signup sheet is good for at least 20. Especially when I'm standing there encouraging people to signup (which I admit, I slacked on last night - for shame!) I then noticed the culprit. Someone stole my pen!
I learned early on that people like to steal pens. I doubt it's malicious, probably just habitual. Whenever their hand finishes using a pen they place it into their coat pocket or purse. So I always put a big piece of masking tape around the butt of the pen so the signer knows that this is, in fact, not their pen. Most of the time it has deterred the thiefs.
I guess not last night!
So new rule, always tie your pen to the clipboard!
And, this should go without saying, but you MUST provide a pen for the mailing list clipboard. If there is no pen, no one will go out of their way to track a pen down to sign your list.
Some of the most resourceful (and tech savvy) bands out there have actually setup computer monitors locked on a mailing list signup screen with an attached keyboard. This is ideal if you can swing this. No need to worry about attempting to decipher drunken handwriting.
Always announce from the stage (during your merch pitch) that people should sign the mailing list. And if you can, get the signup form on your (fully responsive/ mobile) website and tell people from the stage to get on their phones right now, go to mybandwebsite.com and signup. Make sure you're giving at least a song away and you can mention from the stage that "you will get this next song for free in your inbox by the time we finish playing it."
Yeah, I hate people on their phones at my concert as much as you do, but maybe give them a pass for this one instance.
At every intimate show you play, pass the clipboard around. Make sure everyone signs up. Especially at house concerts! People are very willing to signup on your list during house concert experiences. And you absolutely want everyone's email at these shows so you can hit them up for you club appearance when you return to town.
You can affix your stickers to the clipboard (in an attached bag or clamped in) and give everyone who signs up a free sticker. But I've found that most people will signup if handed the mailing list clipboard - with or without an incentive.
The mailing list remains to be THE BEST way to communicate with fans. All the contacts on your email list YOU OWN. All the Likes on Facebook, Followers on Twitter or Instagram you rent. Any third party can change their terms and overnight you could lose access to your all your hard earned fans (like Facebook does all the time).
Make sure on your website your email signup is prominent and there is an incentive (get a free song when you sign up). Signing up on the website from home is very different from signing up at a concert. There isn't the buzzing energy (or a band member's personal encouragement to do so), so incentives help.
Make sure building your email list is first priority. Email isn't going away anytime soon and remains to be the only constant in an ever changing digital world. Building a grass roots music career is about gaining fans, one at a time, and keeping them engaged and respected.
As far as who is the best mailing list provider? Well, I haven't found the best yet. I've used a few different services and many of them have pros and cons. Things to look out for though:
No double opt in! Meaning, if they signup on your clipboard you should be able to import the name to your list online WITHOUT them having to CONFIRM it.
A customizable auto-response. Most mailing list providers have this. This means, when someone signs up, they immediately get a welcome email in their inbox (that you customize) containing a link to download a song (or 3).
Analytics. You should be able to see how many opened the email, who clicked on each included link and from which location.
Location sorting. Make sure you can add emails by postal (zip) code. And some mailing list providers will grab the zip code automatically when fans signup online - extra bonus! Having the ability to sort by location is especially important when you're touring so you can send out targeted emails to the cities you are visiting with specific details (and reminders) about their show.
Reuse Past Campaigns. Considering the template for most email blasts will be very similar, you should only have to design it once, and then be able to reuse it (changing out the body info).
Not Using Your Mailing Address. In America, the law requires any email list provider to display a physical mailing address at the bottom of the email. Some providers require you to put your own, personal address, and others will put their company's address. It's nice if you don't have to give all of your subscribers your home, (stalker-friendly) address.
Groups. You should be able to filter your subscribers by location, open history, click-history (for album purchases) and then add them to groups to email directly. You should even be able to create a Street Team group and other filtered groups to mail separately for things that may not concert the entire list.
Zip Code. Some providers will even allow you to send emails to people within a radius of a selected zip code without you having to manually create each group for each city/state/province/country. Clutch.
Customer Service. This is key. The best services will provide you with a phone number or online chat. It's also good to test customer service email turnaround time. Things come up. Glitches occur. Being able to contact a human is a must.
Buying Likes or Followers might look impressive to people checking you out and make you feel better temporarily, but it will not help build your fan base, make you money, build your career or open that many doors. Industry people are very aware of these tactics and can sniff out fake numbers quite easily. If you don't have the show attendance or YouTube/Spotify plays to back them up, they'll see right through the smoke and mirrors.