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Do you need an email list? Why all artists should have email marketing set up from day one

WHAT is an email list?

An email list, in the simplest terms is a list of email addresses. More specifically it’s a list of email addresses and probably names (and perhaps other bits of relevant info too) in a database or spreadsheet somewhere, attached to a system, app or mailbox which allows you to email those people in an efficient (and responsible) manner.

It’s probably better to consider your email list in terms of a system. There are organisations which will handle the entire end-to-end solution for you, and give you the tools you need to both promote your email list, collect email addresses (with web-based forms), manage those addresses in a secure database, segment them appropriately and run email campaigns (a single or series of emails) to those lists. From the best times to send to certain people, to automating strings of emails at various intervals. These email marketing software platforms can be very flexible.

You will probably have heard of many of them. I’d encourage you to do some googling around the best one for you with regard to cost, list size and features. To get you started have a look at Mailchimp, SendInBlue, CampaignMonitor, Email Octopus and if you have your own hosting solution and are nifty with AWS, Sendy (my affiliate link) is a great solution which is WAY cheaper then most.

WHY you need an email list.

Do you know anybody without an email address? Email is the only digital direct-to-customer marketing opportunity that has more users than any social network will ever have. People have email on their phone, their computer, in their car, you name it. People check their email regularly, and it’s (usually) an accessible format for people to get text, images, links and more.

Engagement for email marketing varies, but it’s nowhere near as low as display advertising, and the more social networks mess with (and monetise) content streams, the less organic engagement those platforms generate for your content.

HOW to set up and manage an email list.

So this varies based on which provider you have opted to use, but the general setup involves having a form which you display on your website (or that the provider hosts for you) and encouraging people to sign up there.

Once people sign up, their email address (and additional info) are stored securely and then you have the ability to email them when you want. The regularity of this and what you email them exactly is more or less up to you but there are some best practices I outline below.

Regarding sign-up, you will want to be wary of the amount of information fields you take. Less is often more. A name and email address is pretty standard, but you may wish to also take location information. I often suggest only taking an email address, but then you’re less able to personalise those emails you’re going to send (by putting their name at the start fo example).

I’m at a point where I’m considering a checkbox on my form (for Stillhead) where I ask if the person signing up is interested in all Stillhead music news or only new releases, so that I can split my list into people who get emails about mixes, podcasts, label news, gigs and releases, and the people who just get info when a new release is available.

How you decide to do this is up to you, and you can either embed the form on your main website, or link to it from other sites – if you have social media profiles, be sure to add it to your links there, and post about it – your goal is to drive as many people to the email form as possible.

You can also kickstart your email list if you’ve already got a list of email addresses somehwere like Bandcamp, and many email marketing providers will allow you to import email lists (databases or exported files) from elsewhere to add to a list.


So, it’s worth mentioning that a good way to drive signup is to offer something in return for a user’s email address. The more you offer, the more chance someone will sign up – Bandcamp does this well when you download a free release. Often they will take an email address in exchange for your free download. This is a great way to build a database, and you can use “autoresponders” or “email automation” to deliver the download (to make sure you get a proper email signup and not just someone typing anything to get to the download).

There is a whole host of things you can do to build signups, from mentioning it and asking people, to having a signup at gigs, or social media right through to running ads and doing it that way. The ways to grow your list are endless, and don’t be put off if you see low numbers to begin with.

When somebody signs up you can thank them with an email, and in that same email, suggest that they might like to spread the word or let friends who are into the same music know about it too. You can even get creative with your signup form if you have the time. Why not build a form which gives a download in exchange for their email address, and then when they’ve signed up offer something of even more value (a whole album?) in return for suggesting 5 friends to sign-up too (a form which then automatically emails those friends and lets them know what’s happened, and asks if they’d like to sign up). I won’t get into the ins and outs of setting that up here, but you can get pretty creative at times.


Each platform will have a different method for sending the emails, but it’ll be something where you log into their system, and “build” the campaign. Likely a few options for subject line, reply-to address and then you’ll find an email builder or the ability to create your own HTML-based or text-based email.

Think carefully about how to structure the emails – this could be a blog post in itself, because spam filters and people’s attention are fickle things, but sensible subject lines, a carefully considered amount of trigger-words (words like free, buy, invest etc all contribute to spam filtering) and you should be able to get through most people’s junk filter.

Many platforms will provide you with a score or a spam test so you can pre-emptively tailor your emails to avoid junk folders. You may also see a preview of the email (some give you a preview in multiple inboxes) so that you can make sure you’re not putting white text on a white background or something daft like that.

Every email will (automatically or inserted by you) have an unsubscribe link. Don’t shy away from this – let people know they can unsubscribe at any time if they don’t like your emails, and that honesty will keep your emai list manageable, and full of people who actually want to hear from you, not just frustrated people who will mark it as junk.

WHEN do you send and how often?

When you have people signed up you have a few ways of emailing them.

First you’ve got “trigger emails” – an automatic email that sends based on a trigger. That trigger could be a new signup to your email list form, it might be a purchase from your store or it might be an unsubscription from your list.

Then you’ve got autoresponders (sometimes called automation) which are a single or series of emails that are sent at intervals, again based on a trigger (which is usually a new signup).

And after that you’ve got your regular emails which you might send to all or a segment of your email list.

How you utilise these types of email is up to you but here’s an example:

When somebody signs up to my email form, the first thing they need to do is confirm their email address so that I can be sure it’s not a robot signing up. That is handled by the email system, but would technically be the first email they get – something to say “are you sure? Click here to confirm” – and those who do, are more likely to be keen to hear from you.

The next thing to happen could (but doesn’t have to be) a “thank you for signing up” type email – this might also be the best way to deliver a download link to them and share the reward for signing up with them (if that was a free tune or something else). You can say hello, let them know what you intend on sending them in future, and give them a download link. You can also suggest they mention the list to their friends, and encourage sharing.

After that you might want to wait a week and have an auto-responder system trigger a follow up email, just to help them find other bits, your social media, a second download or something else (this will depend on what you’re trying to get them to do, and you have to be careful not to bombard people with emails all the time).

Then you may wish to send a monthly, bi-weekly or weekly update to your subscribers with news, music updates, label releases, mixes, podcasts, and anything relevant to your music. Personally I send my Stillhead updates monthly and often if there’s a quiet month, I’ll opt not to send anything so that people don’t get sick of seeing my news in their inbox. (this is also the reason I’m thinking of trailling an “everything vs just new releases” segmentation on my list).

With every email you can suggest they reply and let you know what they think – I sign off my emails in that way and let them know that I read all the emails I get, and often people will reply and let me know how they feel or what they like – this is a wonderfulw ay to build engagement with your fans (and feels like something of a less wasteful proxy for comments on social media).

How do you grow the email list? (WHO and WHERE)

So this is the tough part. Growing your list, and getting your first subscribers.

The best thing to do is aim for 10 subscribers. From there, aim for 50 and then 100. Once you have 100, getting to 200, 500 and 1000 is easier.

Inscentivising is a great start, but interest can tail off, so you may wish to keep that fresh, and you might want to continue to offer free tracks, resources or downloads in return for signups.

You can suggest to subscribers that they share your emails, forward them on or help you gather new fans – but people are often not interested in doing that, so you need to keep on that yourself.

You can add the link to your form to your own email signatures, you can put it on your website, your social media profiles, your business card, your album liner notes – everywhere you come into contact with new people, you can mention it. You can also run ads if you want to get really into this. Build audience profiles based on likes of similar artists and genres, then target via country and whatever other metrics you like, then run ads promoting the download or music you’re rewarding signup with. Build a landing page for that campaign, with a separate form that’s hooked up to the same list, then optimise your ads, copy and images to get the most out of the cost-per-click. I tried this for a short while and was getting signups to the email list for under 10p per user, and you could up the spend to up the subscribers.

I should say at this point, this is vastly different to “buying an email list” or “buying subscribers” – that’s absolutely not reocmmended and is a surefire way to get flagged for spam, have your domain or account blacklisted and then you’ve gone backwards, not forwards.

New fans will find you in various places, from Spotify to Bandcamp, from social media to recommendations from their friends. You want to make it clear to them that the best way to get infromation about your releases is via emails, and you could opt to push all your information there, while keeping your social media relatively sparse. Let people think they’re mising out on exclusive content if they’re not subscribed.

Make sure to mention things and say “my email subscribers got this first” or “those on my email list knew about this last week but…” – keep pushing within your updates till people realise that’s the place to keep up with you.

There’s no secret sauce here, and you have to be releasing music or doing what you do – otherwise there will be no news to share. Provided you keep doing what you do and people want to hear or see that – there’s no reason your email list won’t grow.


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