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.
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, BandPage 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.