Thursday, December 17, 2009

Email Service Providers And Why They're Necessary

In the last post, I stated how important it is to have a master email list to keep in touch with your fans in these days of Music 3.0. I also briefly touched on email service providers (or ESP's) like iContact, WhatCounts and Constant Contact and a little on why they're essential partners needed for maintaining your master email list. What I didn't touch on was the biggest reason why using one is a necessity.

When I wanted to send one of my first email newsletters to a list of only about 1200 (which seemed large  at the time but is really tiny in grand scheme of email lists), I was astounded to find that my Internet Service Provider (ISP) wouldn't allow me to send to more than 200 addresses simultaneously from my company account. That meant that I had to split my list up into 6 batches, which made the job take a lot longer than it should have. After a number of calls to AT&T, I discovered that just about every ISP limits the number of email addresses that can be attached to an email in an attempt to keep spam in check, yet I knew that there were companies that sent emails to millions of addresses at time every day. How did they do it?

Then I found out about email service providers. ESP's have a deal with the ISPs to screen their customers to keep the spam count low, and the only limit to how many addresses you can send to is how much money you want to spend. The greater the number of email addresses, the more it costs.

ESPs are way more useful than just providing basic email delivery however, and are definitely worth the money in that they:
  1. clean your list for you, which means they automatically delete any old non-existent addresses (you have to do it manually if you use your personal email client, which is a big drag time-wise).
  2. provide a means to measure how well your email did in terms of open rate, click-throughs and pass-alongs and a lot more
  3. provide a means to easily subscribe and unsubscribe to the list (again, much more difficult to do manually)
  4. provide a host of pretty good looking HTML templates that you can use to easily design a professional looking email blast
Most ESPs offer more services than the main ones mentioned above that you can check out for yourself. As I said, you get charged more as your address volume increases, but some of them are free if you're just starting and only have a few hundred. Even with a volume that low, it's so much easier to use an ESP than your own email client. Try it. You'll wonder how you ever got along without one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

4 Reasons Why Your Email List Is Still Important

While the popular trend is to think that email is so "last year" for communicating with friends, fans and business partners as social networks like Facebook rise in popularity, it's a lot more important than you think in the grand scheme of Music 3.0.

In fact, your email list is one of the most powerful tools you can have because you control the message, and if done well, it can feel a lot more personal than communicating via Facebook or Linkedin or any of the other popular networks. Those two factors are important, but being able to control the consistency of your message is even more so.

For most artists and businesses today, the problem becomes how to effectively communicate with all of your "friends" and contacts, because social networks are a closed environment by nature. That means that you have a set of friends on MySpace and another set on Facebook and yet another on Twitter, and maybe even another set on an email list that you might already have, so your workload reaching them all has not only quadrupled, but the look and feel is inconsistent because of the nature of the network. If you're not consistent in your presentation, you're not controlling the message.

Those are already three points in favor of having an email list, but perhaps the biggest problem with social network communication is measurement. One thing that email can provide that social networks can't is sophisticated measurement of when the mail was opened, if it was opened more than once (even if it's reopened again a year later), how long it was read, and if it was passed along, among many other measurements. Obviously your personal email client on your computer can't do these things, but it can't easily reach out to thousands of people as well. That's why you need a service like Constant Contact, WhatCounts, or iContact, all of which also have the added convenience of constantly cleaning the list of bounces and outdated addresses (we'll discuss email service providers in a future post).

So now you can see why it's so important to capture any friend or contact info from those social network where you have a presence onto a master mailing list:

1 - communication control
2 - consistency of the message
3 - a more personal feel
4 - measurement

So if that makes sense, the next question becomes, "How do I get social network contacts on to a master email list?"

It's easy but takes a little work. When someone friends you on a social network, communicate with them and ask them to please sign on to your mailing list. Promise that you'll only send something of value to them when you email them and be emphatic that you won't spam them, then stay true to your word.

In a future post we'll look at some of the upcoming new email features that can help your click-through rates, as well as take a look at suggested email frequency and the ideal content.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

3 Reasons For And Against Digital Music Subscription

It seems like everyone in the music industry now believes that the subscription model will be the ultimate solution for digital music and the inevitable direction that the industry will take. Subscription means that you pay a basic fee like $10 - $15 per month and then are able to access any song you want whenever you want where ever you want.

This view has been held by those inside the industry for a long time, but I really didn't get it until recently. In helping my partner clean up the hard drive on her laptop, we were eliminating everything that was outdated, already backed up, or simply no longer needed. After much work there was still wasn't much drive space reclaimed, so I took a look at her iTunes folder. Sure enough, she had well over 20 gigs of songs! At that moment, I understood that subscription was the future of the business.

Here are the reasons that I believe it will work:

1) It's a lot more cost-effective for the consumer. As industry pundit Ted Cohen states, “For $10 a month, you can get 10 songs on iTunes or 10 million songs on Napster.”

2) Managing a lot of songs takes time and a lot of storage space for the consumer (see my story above).

3) There's potentially a lot of money to go around - much, much more than the business is generating today. The potential buying public in the US alone is 100 million. If only 50% of those subscribed at $10 a month, that's $500 million a month spread around to everyone in the business. The consumer will never be happier and the industry will grow overnight.

Here are the reasons against it:

1) It's hard for people to get over the idea of "renting" music after buying it for almost forever.

2) Most artists are afraid of subscription. Oh, they like the idea of steady income every month, but as of yet there's no way to ensure they'll actually see any of it. Most fear that the labels will take the lions share of the money and the artists will not see their fair share.

3) It's a publishing nightmare. As of now, the artist and publisher split a grand total of .18 cents (less than 1/4 of a cent!) each time a song is streamed. Most publishers claim that they now get statements that may be 5 phonebooks high of reported streams that add up to maybe $12, of which they only get to keep $3. In other words, it costs way, way more to process the paperwork than they're capable of making in it's current form. It's great that you can get the type of granular information about number of plays that publishers always hoped for, but they'll never sign off on subscription until they stop losing money on the deal.

I'm convinced that subscription digital music will eventually take over the business. Already Rhapsody has nearly 800,000 users and Napster has 700,000. The upstart Spotify has over a million subscribers in Europe alone (it's not available in the States yet due to licensing issues, but it's coming in 2010) and is getting rave reviews. But as our friend Ted Cohen says, "If iTunes announced subscription tomorrow, we’d be over the hump."

We keep hearing rumors that might happen, and with Apple's recent purchase of LaLa, they seem to have the infrastructure in place. Stay tuned as the digital space continues to be the most interesting part of the music business.

Portions of this post came from a previously published post on from about 6 months ago, but it's even more relevant now.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Curious Case Of SuBo

Earlier in the month we had a post about how the CD was still a major part of the music business, despite all the gloom and doom that you read. Now we have the curious case of Susan Boyle to add to the mix.

If you've been living in a cave, Susan Boyle came to fame by turning an appearance on the the British version of American Idol into a viral video sensation, and that eventually turned into a major label record deal with Columbia. While not many in the industry gave her much of a chance for selling big numbers, here she is, selling CDs like it was 1999 again.

SuBo has defied the odds and sold a astounding (for 2009) 1.5 million of "I Dreamed A Dream" in 3 weeks since the CD's release in the US, and another 1 million in the UK. Sales forecasts predict it should hit at least two million in the US by the end of the year, and will probably be the biggest selling hit by a female artist this year. All in a little over a month!

SuBo wasn't the only one selling, with Andrea Bocelli's "My Christmas" nearing a million in sales after 3 weeks, as well as a host of more contemporary artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood all selling more than a hundred thousand a week. Just to show you how significant these figures are, there were weeks during the year when the number one record sold around 50 to 60,000 units, so when multiple artists break 100k for several weeks in row, that's significant.

Does this mean that the CD business is coming back? No way, it's declining and will continue to do so, but perhaps at a slower rate than predicted. Sure, a lot of the sales (especially for SuBo) has to due with curiosity and seasonal buying patterns, but he takeaway here is not to take the CD lightly as a product just yet. Fans buy it for the same reason they ever did - as a souvenir, a measure of their fandom, or just a way to be cool. It doesn't matter what the reason, they still buy. And it's a fact that some demographics (like hip hop, metal, country and christian) buy a lot more than others since they're still somewhat adverse to digital music.

What this means is that in Music 3.0, artists at any success level have to be distribution agnostic and treat all music containers (either digital or a plastic shiny disc) as simply vessels that get their music out to the fans. You can't become attached to only one. They're all important.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Most Overlooked Part Of A Website - The Press Section

I'm constantly amazed at the number of brands (which includes artists and bands as well as companies) that don't have a proper "Press" section on their website that contains all the information that a journalist or blogger might need when writing a story. I speak from personal experience as a writer in that I'm always surprised with I can't find on a typical site, instead of what I can.

Many brands think that just having a list of press releases is enough, but they're sadly mistaken (especially when the releases are not well organized to begin with, which is so sadly typical). You have to make available anything about your brand that you think might be needed no matter how mundane, because sometimes the smallest item can make the biggest difference in how the article is written.

Here are the essential items that every website press section should have:
  • High resolution color and black and white photos that can be used for print. Yes, print is dying, but it's still with us and can have a huge impact. You never know when you or your product will get a mention in a newspaper, magazine or book.
  • Low resolution color photos and graphics for websites and blogs. A picture says a thousand words and you'd rather someone use one of yours on their blog or website than just supplying a link. Make it easy for them, but giving them a variety to choose from.
  • Your logo. It's surprising how often this is overlooked, but it's just as important as your photos and other graphics.
  • A biography. Maybe you have an "About Us" or "About Me" section on the website or blog, but a more complete bio, or even a link to it from the press section, makes finding background info about you, your band or company a lot easier for the writer. The easier it is, the more likely it will be used.
  • Quotes from the media. Great quotes about you or your product are also big with writers, since it adds credibility. Limit the quotes to those that are unique though. 10 quotes that all say the same, "You're the greatest," have a lot less impact than one, but it's OK to use it if it says the same thing in a unique way.
  • Links to any interviews. No need to have the entire interview on your site as a writer will probably not read it unless he needs some additional facts that he can't find anywhere else.
  • Scans of just 3 or 4 of your best press clippings. Once again, less is more. 10 press clippings that say the same thing tends to actually diminish credibility. 3 or 4 seems about the right number to add to give the writer sufficient information.
  • PDF of adverts, promo flyers and posters. This has a dual purpose in that its additional info for the writer but can also be used virally by fans. Many "superfans" will print these out and distribute in their area if asked (more on this in an upcoming post).
  • Web ready graphics and banners in a variety of sizes. If you're doing any online campaigns (either advertising or fan-based viral), these can make it quite easy to be up and running in no time since everything is readily available.
  • Press releases. These are only helpful for a writer if they contain enough background information on a subject so details are important. It's also easier for a writer if they're grouped by type (personnel, products, events, etc.) instead of by date.
It’s a fact that the easier you make it for a writer or an editor, the more likely you’ll get covered. Having these tools easily available will increase your chances of getting media coverage.

By the way, I don't believe in making this info only available to writers approved by management. Make it available to everyone as it can lead to unforeseen viral opportunities. Just keep it up to date (I know, this is difficult), and your press section is good to go.


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