By Benji Rogers
I toured for years, and in retrospect I invested a few too many of those years in MySpace.
To be fair, this did well for me for a while, as I was able to show people what I was doing and when. Go to my MySpace page—it’s all there. But what I didn’t anticipate was that MySpace wouldn’t let me communicate with my own fans. I could broadcast something to everyone visiting the page, but I couldn’t use MySpace to get people to that page in the first place. Oops.
Being the kind of chap I am, I always kept an email list. If you met me after a show, it was pretty much impossible to talk to me without having a sample CD and a mailing list thrust into your hands. This meant that over those years I was able to compile a list of people I had met or who had seen me live, load them into my Bandzoogle account and email them something the night I met them or the next day.
When I was playing full-band shows, each member of the band would have a clipboard, and the person with the fewest names at the end of the night had to buy the drinks. In those days, this wasn’t cheap, so we were all pretty motivated. Plus, it meant that when we put records out we could tell people about them directly – not just broadcast to everyone on our pages that they were out.
When Facebook launched, I watched this massive drive of artists and bands trying to get people to “like” their pages. Having watched MySpace dissolve and my reach with it, I was not about to fall for this one again. And so when Facebook began to charge for reach, I was not at all surprised.
What artists need to realize is that Facebook is a social network. It makes money by selling ads, not by selling your music. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends all over the world, to share pictures, to connect, and so I have been screaming for the past three years to anyone who will listen to give up the endless quest for likes. You don’t need likes, you need fans, and you need a way to tell those fans what you’re doing.
The fan that wants to be on your email list wants to know what you’re up to. If you don’t have such a list, then how are fans supposed to find you or know where you’re playing? If a fan saw you last night but you don’t have a way to share something with them–a song, your next show in their city, etc.–they just won’t know, and you, the artist, lose.
One of the easiest ways to generate a mailing list is to pass one down from the stage. Tell your fans that anyone who signs it will get a track sent to them that night. Then actually send it. It’s not exciting, it’s not techy, but it’s real. Also, with the evolution of the smartphone, fans now receive emails as interchangeably as texts or calls.
Think of it this way: The same device you use for browsing pictures of ex girlfriends or boyfriends, calling your parents, or booking holidays is with you at all times. Your band’s information will be sent to this same device in many cases, so having an “in” may well prove to be the most important connection you can make in the next few years.
One of the most successful ways I’ve seen this done was by Ben Folds Five while they were doing an album with us. From the stage at each show Folds played, he told his fans to take out their smartphones and to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Once they did this, an auto response went back to the fan with a link to a new song and a link to pre-order the new album.
We watched as thousands of people hammered this email account and got instant access to a brand new song and a link to preorder the new album right then and there. Further, Ben and his team could now access these people to let them know about future shows and releases.
No social network will ever eclipse this type of connection with fans; they simply were not designed to do so. They’re the wrong tool. With companies like Bandzoogle, TopSpin, FanBridge, ReverbNation, MailChimp and our very own mail client at PledgeMusic, one thing is certain, though: If email is not the biggest part of your social strategy, then you are giving the power of communication with your fans to companies who will gladly take them and whose advertisers will thank you to no end for providing them with eyeballs.
But look at it this way: If your fans “like” you on Facebook or “follow” you on Twitter, what are the odds of even 20 percent of them seeing your post at the time you post it? They may like and/or follow 30 to 40 other pages, all of whom are posting at the same time, and all whilst looking at people’s cats, kids or food.
If you have 150 friends all posting something a few times a day, you will be lost in the stream. Your band’s vital info will fade into that noise. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Path, YouTube, Tumblr, etc. You can and should—just don’t rely on what you don’t own. If you pay a service like the ones listed above, then their job is to make sure your emails get delivered. This is not a social network’s job.
Bottom line: If you make music, you have to be able to tell people about it.
You have to own your own means of communicating. Relying on Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm to decide what posts your fans should see is just giving away power. Not that Facebook is in the wrong here; it’s just not their job to be your email provider. Likewise, Gmail is not supposed to be used as a way of communicating with your fans. Each of the companies above does offer amazing widgets for capturing email addresses though, and some for free.
You need to get serious about the way you email. Number of email addresses is the first number we look at when assessing the viability of the artists we work with, for one simple reason: If you make music, you have to be able to tell people about it.
Benji Rogers is the Founder & CEO of PledgeMusic. PledgeMusic is a global direct-to-fan funding platform for musicians to record and tour. Benji is an independent musician himself. Follow Benji on Twitter.