Give your fans as much value as you can

I’ve spoken of focusing on building your email list as your second most important activity (just behind your most important one; actually making music!).

I also suggested that, when gigging, it might be preferable to get someone’s email address, rather than sell them your new EP on CD for £5 there and then, but without getting their email.

(that post “Why you shouldn’t sell your music at gigs” caused quite a bit of divide and debate – you can read it here and form your own opinion)

The basic premise is to exchange some of your music (e.g. the songs on your latest EP) for an email address and the opportunity, and permission, to contact that person again in the future.

There has been some confusion on this; I’m not advocating that you then give all of your music away for free, forever.

I’m solely suggesting using a few songs as an “ethical bribe” to get the relationship started (e.g. the six songs that might comprise that EP you have on CD).

Once you have the email address – and the permission to contact them – it’s how you follow up that’s crucial.

Your first email will likely be the songs that you promised to send them in the first place (i.e. your EP).

(as a side note, one benefit of delivering your music digitally is the cost; you remove the expense of a manufacturing a physical product, as well as the risk of having redundant stock)

How you then continue to nurture that relationship will determine it’s true value.

For example, if your second email is six months later, with the subject line “Buy my new album!” then that relationship will unlikely blossom.

(unfortunately, this is what the majority of musicians do)

However, if your second email is few days or a week later, with a title like “Here’s a bonus song for you to say thanks!” you’re probably going in the right direction.

The strongest human relationships are those where both sides feel they are getting excellent value.

And that’s key to remember; your fans, your customers….are human. They are just like me and you.

So you want to build a real human relationship with them – not just treat them like disposable cash machines.

Customers who feel they are getting great value will be far more likely to become repeat customers.

They are also far more likely to become evangelists; actively promoting you via word-of-mouth, telling people how great you are.

Your goal, with your email list, is to cultivate evangelists by giving as much value as you can.

But there are different ways to give value, not just by sending free music. Here’s an example:

If you are a U2 fan and you received a postcard from Bono on your birthday, with a nice personal message, you’d find that of immense value – and you’ll probably bang on about it to anyone who’ll listen.

The point is not that you should send everyone a postcard (although people do appreciate it!), it’s that your email list gives you this wonderful opportunity to creatively, and pro-actively, develop this personal, human relationship into something much deeper, and ultimately more valuable to both of you.

What you are aiming for is the cultivation of a community of “superfans” – people who will purchase everything you produce, including the higher-ticket-price items.

What would be preferable:

  • Finding 20 customers who pay you £5 a year
  • Finding 1 customer who pays you £100 a year

(Hint: it’s finding 1 customer 🙂 )

Now, if your initial goal was to make £30k a year from music, which would be easier to focus on:

  • Cultivating deeper relationships with 300 people, who each pay £100 a year
  • Finding 6,000 people, who each pay £5 over the year

(Hint: 300 people is easier to focus on than 6,000)

In sales, after a certain threshold, it is generally preferable to go for less quantity and more quality customers.

As a musician, the days of huge quantity physical/download sales are gone.

Whereas we do have huge quantity streaming now, only those with huge promotional budgets are going to get enough streams to make a living from the per-stream micropayments.

Focusing on building a quality, over quantity, fanbase is preferable for the modern, independent musician.

And email is the ideal tool for the job.


If you’ve not already read it, check out Kevin Kelly’s now pretty legendary essay “1,000 True Fans“.

And if you’re thinking that it’ll never work, check out Amanda Palmer’s Patreon.