10 Ways to Trade a Song for an Email Address

Color Theory at Viinyl

I measure my success as a recording artist by the growth of my mailing list. The best way to get someone to subscribe is to offer something in return, and a great song is a powerful incentive. Here are ten techniques to negotiate that delicate exchange:

1. The classic squeeze page. You’ve probably stumbled onto one of these before: a fine-tuned infomercial-style pitch with a clear call to action and no exit links. The sole goal of the site, often just a single page, is to generate conversions. In our case, a conversion means “squeezing” an email address out of a potential fan. Seamus Anthony describes the method here and demonstrates it using his own music here. It may do the trick for first-time visitors, but returning fans have no clear path to explore the rest of your content.

2. The homepage squeeze. Identical to the classic squeeze page, except for a small link that takes you to the rest of the site. Returning fans are forced to opt out every visit – an annoying speed bump. Then again, if the free song is rotated often enough, it may encourage repeat visits. Theoretically, a site could use cookies to bypass the squeeze page for return visitors, but I don’t know of any service or WordPress plugin that does it.

3. The “free mp3 download” page. This is my current strategy, but there’s definitely room for improvement. An SEO friendly “yourbandname.com/free-mp3-download” URL and clever use of keywords can pull in traffic from Google searchers trying to freeload your music. While a simple “free mp3s” link in your site’s navigation isn’t distracting for repeat visitors, it’s easy to overlook. Still, I’m not going to force my fans to jump through hoops every time they want to post a comment.

4. The fan club. Thomas Dolby offers two full EPs exclusively to registered members of his forum. This soft sell approach encourages die-hard fans to join the conversation, but I doubt it pulls in much new blood. If your focus is to satisfy your existing fanbase, fan club exclusives offer a surefire way to retain their love and devotion.

5. The widget. Your mailing list service should provide a widget to gather fan addresses (I use ReverbNation’s FanReach, but FanBridge is another great choice). You’ll obviously need it for the squeeze page of your site. If you’re still sporting a MySpace page, you’ll want to embed it there as well. On sites where you can’t embed a widget, you can link directly to the signup form. ReverbNation and FanBridge provide every artist with a landing page to send potential subscribers to (for example, mine is here).

6. The Facebook page. As far as I know, you can’t embed a mailing list widget directly onto a Facebook page. Fortunately, RootMusic and ReverbNation have Facebook applications to run their all-in-one profiles, including mailing list signup, in their own tab. You can also build a custom HTML landing tab in Static FMBL, which isn’t as hard as it sounds. I’m using Facebook ads to direct potential fans to my FMBL tab, which encourages them to download songs from the Band Profile tab, courtesy of ReverbNation’s My Band application. Embedding a mailing list widget directly on my FMBL tab would streamline the process, but it’s beyond my technical abilities. [update: Facebook no longer supports Static FMBL]

7. Viinyl. The slogan for this new service, currently in beta, is “one song, one site, one URL.” I’m auditioning it at colortheory.viinyl.com. It’s slick, simple, and direct, allowing the listener to focus on the featured song with minimal distractions. On the flipside, it doesn’t offer a clear path to the rest of my content. Whether or not that’s a fair trade remains to be seen.

8. NoiseTrade. Speaking of fair trades and horrible segues, NoiseTrade isn’t as streamlined, but it offers a high degree of control. Artists typically give away an entire release in exchange for an email address and a Facebook or Twitter update linking back to said release. Fans have the option to tip up to $100 (you get 80%), so it’s essentially a “pay what you want” model.

9. Tweet for a Track. A variation on the same theme, Tweet for a Track does pretty much what you’d expect. Fans enter their email address, which is passed on to the artist, and then share a link back to the song’s TFAT page on Facebook or Twitter. You can see it in action here. The catch is, they charge a minimum of $24.99 to share your fans’ email addresses with you.

10. Bandcamp. The backbone of my entire operation. Bandcamp offers up my discography to the world for sale, streaming, and sharing. Even if you don’t have anything to sell, you can host as much music as you’d like for free download in a variety of audio formats. You choose whether or not to require an email address on a per-song basis, and it doesn’t cost a penny if you stay below 200 downloads per month. Another great feature is their Facebook-embeddable widgets, which play right from the news stream.

Getting folks to subscribe is the easy part. The hard part is holding on to them! Nurture those new fans by communicating with them on a regular and consistent basis, and don’t think about selling anything until you hit 1000 subscribers.

71 thoughts on “10 Ways to Trade a Song for an Email Address”

  1. Wow! Great article! I was just researching getting e-mail addresses from free downloads. I agree with you that making people jump through hoops for your music is annoying. Especially since people can just go to a Torrent site and download what they want. I’d say it’s in your best interest to make it as easily accessible as possible. I’m going to experiment with just putting a PayPal donation widget and an e-mail sign-up next to the download. Also, use it as an oppurtunity to tell someone about your next show. Use that download to pack a club!

    Thanks again for the article, Brain.

    1. I appreciate the kind words! I personally didn’t have any luck with a PayPal donation button, but you never know. At this point, I’d opt instead to make any otherwise free downloads “pay what you want” through Bandcamp.

  2. You can absolutely include mailing list signup forms on your Facebook page. Use the same static FBML app, paste the form code in there, and style it up with CSS. If it’s a flash widget, there’s a more complicated process, but you can still embed a flash mailing list signup form on your Facebook page. A quick Google search will give ya some instructions.

    1. I just tried it again and it definitely doesn’t work, but as you gleaned, it’s Flash. After a little research, I found out that you’ve got to use a fb:swf tag. Even then, the site it loads from has to be whitelisted, and the user has to click to start Flash – it won’t autoload. This article has some great pointers, but it seems some people still can’t get it to work, and the coding is over my head.

      1. Oh, it’s a pain in the ass, no doubt. FBML is retarded, and I heard that they are going to be phasing it out soon. They are going to allow iframes instead, which will be much more flexible. I couldn’t be happier from a developer’s point of view, but that means some of my articles will be obsolete :( oh well!

  3. Great article. There was a lot there I didn’t know and it was interesting to see what you had to say about squeeze pages. I have been told they work but, like you, I don’t want people who want to explore my music to have jump through hoops each time and it just feels a little bullish to me!

    I may try TWAT, which is an even better acronym if you;re from the UK!!

    Well written and researched!

  4. I like to use a pop over on the first visit and then a footer pop after that.

    We can get up to about 10% opt in rate with that system after a little bit of split testing.

    Pop ups can be annoying but I think it’s a trade off between being a little bit annoying and getting a lot of people on the list.

    You can then provide great value to the fans on they subscribe.

    Let me know what you think.

    – Chris

    1. I could see trying something like that for a blog, but I definitely wouldn’t do it on my artist site. Beyond the annoyance factor, don’t most browsers block pop-ups these days? It’s not worth it for 10% IMHO. That means you’re annoying the other 90%.

      1. I don’t think it’s problem for a visitor to see a good offer on the first visit and never again if they decide to ignore it.

        Guess it’s a matter of opinion really, but that person might only be on your site one time ever so I believe it’s important to try your best to get some way to follow up without being a total troll.

        (Although frequent return visitors is the aim, like me at your site ;-)

        Of course you need to check your bounce rate to see if people leave after the pop over, and maybe survey the fans to see what they think of the sign up process.

        Agreed that the last thing you want to do is really upset potential fans.

        Awebber have a really nice pop over that works on all browsers and is relatively unobtrusive.

        – Chris

        1. I had a lot of problems with AWeber, but that’s another story. If I could figure out how to only post to first-time visitors, that wouldn’t be so bad. Actually I used to use a post here to encourage first-time visitors to subscribe via RSS. Same idea, I suppose.

          1. Thanks for putting that together Chris! I admit, that’s pretty nice! I worry that some people won’t know to click off the box to go back to the page, but even if they don’t, at least it won’t affect them on their next visit.

            For me, I have to weigh that benefit against the fact that I lost half of my mailing list when I tried switching to AWeber. Fans claimed they never got the confirmation email, and the default is to opt out. With ReverbNation, the default is to opt in, so I barely lost anyone.

            The plug-in I was referring to is WP Greet Box.

          2. Yeah Aweber are strict with that stuff like that. I think it’s because they are trying to keep there reputation high with the email providers so that more of the messages go through.

            If ReverbNation is working well, I say stick with it.

  5. Nice article.

    I was just planning how to release our next EP partly free. I’d like to give it out in exhange of email address but at least FanBridge allows you give out only 10mb file that fits only one song.

    Maybe i use BandCamp, but i’d like to use widget instead.

    I love how Trent Reznors new project put out their ep: http://www.howtodestroyangels.com/store/

    Love the design and that you can get MP3 for email or pay $2 for other formats. Anyone know WP plugins that i could use to create similar system?

    1. Trent is indeed the master! The difference is, he’s got the money to put together an assortment of paid options, knowing he’ll sell enough to at least break even. The rest of us mere mortals only have the music.

      I think Bandcamp is your best option at this point.

      1. Just downloaded the free version of the album, and it appears Trent is using Topspin. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying Topspin out for myself, but it’s an entirely different ecosystem, and I’m pretty comfy with my ReverbNation-BandCamp setup.

    2. Just downloaded the free version of the album, and it appears Trent is using Topspin. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying Topspin out for myself, but it’s an entirely different ecosystem, and I’m pretty comfy with my ReverbNation-BandCamp setup.

      Here’s the company that build the store. Major league operation.

  6. Hey Brian, great article I’m definitely going to try this stuff, I also read the article on what you would do with $500. Pretty good stuff. Hey Ive been thinking about doing the topspin thing, I did an online thing where they show you how it works and what it does, and it looks freaking awesome. Do you know if its hard to join them or what? They handle Trent Reznor, and Eminem and a whole bunch of successful campaigns. See my thing is being able to sell package deals, and Topspin lets you do it, I know bandcamp does too, Im a big fan of bandcamp too. But I want to do it on demand using a service like audiolife. What do you think would be the best thing to do if Im trying to sell, a cd + t-short + poster + immediate download.

    1. If you’ve already got the products and are willing to ship them yourself, Bandcamp – hands down. If you want the CDs and t-shirts to be made on demand, I really don’t know. Zazzle and CafePress are too expensive IMHO.

      Topspin won’t take you until you’ve reached a certain level, or you take their Berklee course. Full details are here.

      1. Brian here the thing, i don’t want to get a bunch of merch, and then have to deal with shipping, or not having the size people want and stuff like that. Im really not in the business of merch, but I do think is a great way to monetize something by giving people the option of a package deal. Zazzle and Cafepress are free to set up and take a percentage of the sell i think but no initial investment, the only problem with that is that they don’t sell CD’s. Audiolife does. Wha t do you do for your fans who want merch then.

        1. I’m not big on merch, but I’ve done shirts a few times. I ship them out myself, and it definitely can be a pain! Get yourself some Tyvek envelopes for sure.

          The problem with all those sites is that the products are too expensive. Very few of my fans are willing to pay more than $15 for a t-shirt, plus shipping. And that’s for the cheapest one! If you want American Apparel, it’s over $20. Those are my prices on Zazzle, after setting the slider to the lowest royalty allowed (10%). I’d gladly take 0% if they offered it.

          1. An American Apparel t-shirt starts at $18 before shipping. I read that guy’s post, an as a test, started to buy his cheapest t-shirt. $9 shipping!

            I’m still convinced it’s just too expensive. If you really want to sell merch, the best way is: 1) get enough fans to justify buying 100+ t-shirts, 2) sell them direct. You can reasonably take in $5 per shirt, and bundle them with CDs.

          2. So i guess doing it myself its the best way after all. Man we need a place for musicians that is affordable. Thanks for your input

          3. Great info and conversation everyone – lurking but wanted to add that we’ve been successful with getting local businesses to sponsor our shirts/hats, etc. We do the cafepress/zazzle stuff for online sales but when we go out for tours, we’re given a small amount of shirts by our sponsors. Many screenprinters will give you great deals on short-runs provided that they can put their logo on your merch. That’s been a great benefit to us as well. Connect with your local shops – you’ll be surprised at how many would love to help out :D

  7. I haven’t found ReverbNation usable, but BandCamp might be good. I just don’t like their interface. HTA site has very nice custom interface. I contacted topspin and waiting for how much they charge for the service.

    Next to check out is the StageBoc. Thnx for that!

      1. Hey Brian and Vaihe, shoot me a message on Twitter or through our main contact form if you’d like to chat about StageBloc. I’m always up for walk thru’s on Skype and showing what our platform and range of services can do (and where they’re going). And if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.

        – Tom Giles of StageBloc

      1. How do post for the people who came from BandCamp? You have auto-responder in your reverbnation mailinglist, but do you send that same auto-responder welcome message manually for those who downloaded something from BandCamp?

  8. Hi Brian – thanks for the link :-) the stuff of SEO dreams! Hey just thought I’d point out that I do not expect returning fans to visit the squeeze page again, the package they download mentions my main site, as would my autoresponder if I had it set up yet (oops!). and In fact I pretty much assume that if anybody was wanting more, they would hit Google up anyway, thus going over to my main site. But the squeeze page offers my best deal (i.e. one free ep). Live gigs are still the most important and effective medium in my opinion.

    1. Great to hear from you Seamus! I figured your setup was more complicated than I described, but it’s still the best example of the classic squeeze page that I’ve seen from a fellow recording artist. I never thought of creating a squeeze page on a separate site, but that makes a lot of sense!

      Hope the SEO value of this post (which I’ll put on Music Think Tank next week) doesn’t place your squeeze page ahead of your main site on Google! ;)

      1. Thanks mate! The reason I used the separate domain SeamusMusic.com was twofold – one: easier to yell out at a gig rather than “seamusanthony.com/whatever” and two: I noticed a fair bit of search volume in google’s keyword tool for “seamus music” and indeed I do get some traffic from that but I suspect very little of that actually converts ;-P It was worth a shot! Also I find “music marketing” articles and links like this get a lot of “look-see” traffic but few conversions (so go to it peoples! download already!) whereas people via Facebook, directly googling my name, and people who come across me at gigs and then enter into email conversations with me convert the best. Also, weirdly, an e-book I wrote on a different topic (psychedelic meditation) that offers the squeeze page link after they download the book, converts really well. Go figure!

        1. That’s an excellent point! I should probably grab colortheorymusic.com, especially since my Facebook page ID is colortheorymusic. Looking at my analytics, “color theory music” is ranked third in keywords, behind “color theory band” and just “color theory.”

          OK, you convinced me… I just pulled the trigger! For now I’ll just redirect it to colortheory.com, but maybe someday I’ll play with a squeeze page like yours.

  9. Brian, great post, thank you for the info.

    Question: why do you write “don’t think about selling anything until you hit 1000 subscribers”? Or, if you’ve elaborated on this in a past post, can you point me to it?

    Really appreciate all you do — musically and info-wise.

    1. Thanks Jeff! Looking back, I guess I never really elaborated on that point. And now that you’ve called me on it, I can’t come up with a simple answer! I can think of a few angles though:

      1. Artist development – It takes time to develop your voice as an artist and define who you are and what you represent to your fans.

      2. Establish your value – Before you ask for money, you should prove your worth by giving away high quality music for free. Your subscribers need to become fans first, and maybe some of them will become customers later. Like a startup web site, you don’t want to “monetize” until you reach critical mass.

      3. Making a profit – If you’ve got less than 1000 subscribers on your mailing list, you’ll be lucky to break even on a physical release with professional mastering and graphic design. If your release isn’t strong enough to justify professional mastering and graphic design, it’s probably not worth asking money for.

      Anyone else want to jump in?

      1. Hi Brian – really enjoying the conversation here :)
        I totally agree with give-away marketing and it really works well at our shows – we play out a lot (around 250 shows/year both as Simone and The Supercats). We have merch for sale at all shows but also carry a ton of one-off cds that we hand out. The cds that we give away are really designed as business cards – they feature all pertinent contact info instead of the cool artwork on the ones for sale. What we’ve found is around 60% of the time when we give away a one-off, we’ll convert into a sale of a cd with the cool artwork, etc. In fact, about 10% of the time, they’ll buy all 4 of our cds because they were so impressed with our approach.

        Also, we’ve been using the Square app for iPhone which allows us to process credit cards – this has made a huge difference in our perceived value by telling customers that we can accept cc’s as payment. So far, it’s a great service, no monthly’s – no contract.

        One comment on your point on Establishing Your Value – we’ve learned that if we just ‘give away’ merch (especially online), we effectively reduce our value. By keeping our prices consistent ($10/cd, $5/dl) we ensure that we’re maintaining our core standards and therefore our perceived value as a band. I know that it’s tough to stand firm – and it’s difficult in the entertainment business to get music distributed – but if we all give it away, then I feel that we risk communicating to our global customers that we don’t value the work that we’ve put forth as artists. This model is most important to artists who perform a lot of shows – we talk to as many guests as possible at performances, hand them a one-off, strike a conversation, point them to our merch table, take a pic with them, trade facebooks, etc and build our fan base one person at a time. These people become true fan-friends and will buy again and again – not just because of the music or the show -but because the band gave a [self edit] that they came out to see us.

        We give away stuff like funny tour vids to our email list, christmas cds (that we really can’t sell anyway without licensing), monthly softgoods like sponsor shirts, etc. We’ve found that these types of freebies are great for retention but not so much for growing a fan-base.

        Just throwing in my 2¢ – thanks for a great conversation!!
        Simone

  10. Just to follow up on the Bandcamp idea (#10):

    I posted two fan-created remixes for free download here for one week only. In three days, the tracks have gotten 102 and 97 downloads, and I got about 40 new subscribers to my mailing list. Not bad!

  11. Just to let you know you are going to get new exposure by my friends and I we are going to try to get it out to the dj’s here in phoenix. Also my friends and i do karaoke and we are going to do your stuff. I did a friend invite on facebook and my Depeche mode friends will end up on your site. Also most the people i know love synthpop your great.

  12. I discovered your homepage by coincidence. Very interesting posts and well written. I will put your site on my blogroll.

  13. You say that never sell before you have 1000 subscribers on the list. How about when you start collecting emails after you have released album and trade your coming singles from that album in to emails. So you get people to the list without knowing that you have album out. Then it takes a year to get the 1000 subscribers and the album is quite old then :D

    I was thinking that would it work to have on the free song dl page a reminder of your other stuff like:”Hey, as you are here to DL that free song you might also check the album that is out!” Or does that put people off?

    1. I wouldn’t release the album before I had the subscribers. I’d do a track at a time, with no other call to action beyond “download my song for free.” Why release the album before you have someone to sell it to?

      But sure, once the album is out, you can give away a track or two from it and mention that they are from the album, with a buy link. I do that on colortheory.com with a tool called the Hello Bar. It puts a banner across the top of the screen inviting visitors to download two of the best songs from my latest album for free. And since it sends them to Bandcamp, the buy buttons are right there!

  14. Dear Brian,
    I may be behind the times, but how do you really make the best out of subscribers? maybe you could post an article about the dos and donts of a newsletter marketing strategy. I always feel, all I can say I say in my music. What do I give to my subscribers in newsletters? What do they want to hear and how is it going to affect my fan following?

  15. Did you really post this in May and I didn't respond? I have no idea how I missed it!

    I confess my newsletters aren't at all interesting. They are always short and to the point, with a clear call to action. I've always felt the same way, that the music speaks for itself. At the same time, I know how important it is to share the stories behind the song (even as I avoid doing so).

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