Why Email For MP3 Exchanges Fail

image from www.vocabvideos.com The entire music industry is infatuated with the idea of free. It is a valid and strategic marketing tool. But if not used correctly, then it holds no relevance for  the oversaturated fan. There have been numerous times when I've gone to a band’s site to get a free mp3 and have decided to not complete their process. The reason being that the value of the mp3 was not free, it was work.

In the digital age, time is money. If artist’s have the sense to put Google analytics into their website to see where their audience is coming from, they should have the decency to make the process of getting their "free" songs easier.

The exchange of an email address for a song should be relatively painless.

The user gives the artist their email address and the artist emails or gives them the song. If the user likes it, the artist gains a fan and a potential album sale.

If the user doesn’t complete the process, then, it's your problem, not theirs.

The Potential Fan Experience

Right now, the music industry is failing to take into consideration the experience of the potential fan. The artist’s job is to make the potential fan want to listen to their song, purchase their album and give the artist the means to contact them.

In the new music industry, the artist wears many hats. This includes thinking about how fans would approach your widgets and how they relate to them.

Anyone can set up a Twitter or Facebook account and post tweets and blogs and events to those accounts. The validity of your image coincides with your music.

Fans are no longer buying music. Artists need to find new ways to make potential fans become interested enough in their music to actually buy it.

The Business Exchange

Without fans artists don’t have a career. Without song sales they don’t make money. And without money they fail to survive within the new music business model. Though artists are constantly on the search for ways to make money, they fail to use the tools available to them to help engage their potential fans.

By understanding their audience better, artists can then plan a social media strategy to engage the ones they have and utilize those fans to gain new ones.

When you set up a way for fans to get your MP3, please remember that this is a business exchange. They get your music and you get a way to make them want to buy your music. As an avid music consumer, I can honestly say that 9 out of 10 times if you make this process painless and your music is good; I will buy it.

Written by Hypebot intern Corey Crossfield (@popqueer), author of Blog It: How The Web Changed Music Criticism.

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  1. Am I missing part of this story? I feel like you’re stating the obvious (or maybe the headline is just a bit misleading)…

  2. @B Skrilla: a more accurate headline would have been “Why SOME” Email For MP3 Exchanges Fail”. I think Corey’s point is that artists should make it as easy and widespread as possible for potential fans to join the email list. Embedding an email-for-media widget on all your websites (homepage, Myspace, facebook, etc) is a good step. If you’re reaching out to bloggers to write about your music, it’s not a bad idea to send them the code and request that they embed your widget in their post. Topspin’s email-collection widget functions well because it doesn’t steer the user away from the page they’re on. Email is still the highest-converting marketing channel on the internet, so it’s extremely important for a band to build a large, highly-qualified database.

  3. I have to agree with Jason on this. Stating that all email-for media-campaigns fail is a gross overstatement. To give away music for free without an equitable exchange of something of value is a missed opportunity for an artist. Real fans who aren’t out to scarf up everything free in their midst should have no problem providing an email address. It’s a completely fair trade.
    And you’re right – this is a BUSINESS EXCHANGE, but what you’re suggesting is to take away one of the most valuable (if not THE most valuable) marketing tools the artist has at his/her disposal – an email address – and that’s bad business.
    Nice to hear from a fan’s point of view every now and then, but let’s be honest…if artists did everything a fan wanted (especially fans who’ve grown up with the expectation that music should free and that everything in life should be easy) they would be broke.
    Opinion noted…

  4. Kyle. What artists specifically make it hard to get their mp3s for email? Give specific examples. With a lot of widgets including reverbnation, bandcamp, fanbridge and topspin it’s pretty painless. what experiences have you had that were painful?

  5. Corey, you stated that “without song sales [artists] don’t make money.” I’m going out on a whim here, but no one sells songs anymore. That’s the nature of the NEW music business model. This is why we have things like http://twitter.com/TweetForATrack and companies like fanbridge, reverbnation, bandcamp, and topspin.
    Time to make a change away from relying on record sales unfortunately.

  6. The value of trading e-mail info for MP3’s rest squarely on intent.
    If you are doing it because you are trying to collect and update your fans info, this is a great deal for the fan. But I would frame it so that your fans understand that you are updating your database and, if they give you some help, they get a free (preferably new and unreleased) track for their trouble.
    But… if you are using it as a promotional tool, in an effort to gain new fans or expose people to your music, it’s a horrible plan. The last thing I want you doing is e-mailing me if I discover your music is not for me. Now I won’t listen to it at all.

  7. I think you miss the entire point of the article which is a potential fan’s experience. By this I mean someone who is not already a fan of the artist’s music.
    Why would I as a potential fan want to complete an email process which has me complete x-amount of steps all to get something which was supposed to be free? The value is the mitigated to work as if the fan has to work to get a song which is supposed to be free.
    Email addresses are a valuable tool as stated in the article and with Spitz’s comment. But if the way to get the email address is difficult and not smooth then you lose fans.

  8. Actually if email address collection is used effectively artists can get both fans and sales.
    And yes there are a majority of artists out there who do make money off of song sales/album sales. The problem with making money is not only having and keeping an audience but figuring out how to leverage new media to your advantage and gain new fans.
    I think a lot of artists fail to look at the idea of potential fans and where they come from. I don’t by any means think it is an irrelevant idea because of how technology has allowed fans and artists to interact with one another making the relationship between the two more social than in the past.

  9. There’s gotta be SOME work involved – a potential fan must divulge their email address and click “submit”, otherwise how will the artist receive it? Furthermore, legitimate email campaigns are built on a double-opt-in structure where the user must confirm their desire to be on the list twice. It might be more “work”, but it results in a much more qualified email list (and it stays within the bounds of internet law).
    I guess if you wanted to avoid making potential fans “work”, you could buy a big list of addresses and send them all your MP3 without their asking you. But that’s spam.

  10. Of course there has to be some field to fill out with your email address and a submit button. BUT the user then shouldn’t have to confirm their email address via their email client, click on a link taking them to another website where it states they have been added to a list and receive a follow up email with the free download. I think in this process (which many artists use) the lose a potential fan and fail to think about said fan’s experience. There are a lot of unnecessary steps involved which don’t need to be there.
    Also the second part of your statement above is just stupid. Why call something “free” to a potential fan if it is going to be work? Perhaps it should be called “work for an mp3” instead?

  11. I might be wrong but is the confirmation process not a legal requirement in most countries? Otherwise I could just sign up for the free email using YOUR email address. If I’m right then that isn’t a usability problem; its marketeers working within the legal framework. Identity and Data Protection are taken very seriously in most places now, and you have to observe those guidelines.
    Oh and regarding “free”; its free because you don’t have to transact money to get it. I think that is most people’s definition of free: it costs no money. So the whole “work for an mp3” thing is silly, IMO.
    Lastly, as Seth says below, you should be naming names here. Your description above of the signup process doesn’t reflect that of any service I have used, so I’d be curious to know which one you’re referring to. On most, you sign up, get the confirmation email, click the link and go back to the website to click on the download link; you don’t get it emailed to you.
    I think it would also be nice to see some more constructive insight here Corey; its all well and good to slate some (or all – you don’t really clarify) email-for-media tools but what do you see as positive alternatives? As others have pointed out, email is still the highest-converting platform, so of course people will look to drive sales through that; its a simple ROI thing. Of course the process should be as painless as possible within the (legal?) frameworks the marketeers are bound to, but I’d argue that could be applied to any marketing process, no?

  12. Darren is basically right — the “double opt-in” is not technically a legal requirement, but it’s among the standard best practices of online marketing. All legitimate e-commerce services use it because it results in a measurably more-qualified email list. By forcing fans to jump through that one little hoop, you get a much better-performing email list and a clearer picture of who your real fans are. Anyone who runs an online business knows this is worth the effort.
    RE: the word “free”, Topspin refers to our widget as “E4M”, or “email-for-media”. Is that an accurate enough description for you?

  13. Good enough definition yes but where in the actual Topspin email widget does it say email for media and not the word free.
    Here is the example I am referring to (note it does not say email for media anywhere on the widget):
    I think that is a bit of faulty advertising with the word free. Also why use a uniform email widget like everyone else and not offer artists a way to create a custom email exchange experience beyond offering them a customized little widget offering them nothing but an image upload as “customizable”?

  14. @Darren The definition of free I was referring to means “not costing or charging anything” (source). Also you will note the other definition on Merriam-Webster which states “having no obligations (as to work) or commitments”. I think in the average music consumer’s mind free equates to a mixture of both of these definitions as mine certainly did.
    I understand both the ethical and legal requirements for a double opt-in and am not arguing on that basis. I completely agree that standard best practices should be followed. The entire point of this post was to argue the case for the potential fan’s experience using these “email address for free mp3” tools available to artists who use them to engage potential fans.
    A lot of artists forget about this experience and just post an email widget or email contraption on their Facebook, Myspace or website pages without customizing these to the potential fan’s need.
    I think with the development of all of these useful tools for artists they forget how people will interact with them. How an email exchange is a business exchange and one which is faulty or a pain will not enhance either their experience or the artist receiving emails from potential fans.

  15. Several countries in Europe require a double opt-in process for email signup. Best marketing practice aside it also inherently weeds out fans just like yourself and produces a well qualified database to reach back out to. Chances are if you went through the trouble (albeit a small one) to sign up for an artist’s mailing list, you’re genuinely interested in receiving messages or new content from them.
    Where the potential fan battle is fought and won is with an artist’s presentation and way to interact with content. Streaming players and solid web design are usually a good start. It is an artist’s or marketer’s job to then make the fan engagement process as streamlined as possible so that a fan can go from discovery to then signing up and eventually purchasing or attending a show hopefully quickly. This all depends on the marketing task at hand however.
    I have to agree with Jason’s first comment on the title. This should be called “Why some Email For MP3 Exchanges Fail.” Sure there are people that don’t use these tools correctly and sometimes alienate fans like yourself. That is a hurdle in the new music business – to present content in a way that engages new and current fans alike. Scratch that, it has always been a hurdle in the music industry.
    Cory, to your point:
    “Also why use a uniform email widget like everyone else and not offer artists a way to create a custom email exchange experience beyond offering them a customized little widget offering them nothing but an image upload as “customizable”?”
    This is very possible. Topspin for one has enabled this all along. It is then the artist’s or marketer’s job to customize this with something as simple as an image, or if deemed necessary or affordable via development and API integration.
    These tools are out there to make great fan experiences, not everyone knows how to use them.

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