You've just opened your email box, and a deluge of unwanted, suspicious, and possibly fraudulent messages glare back at you, smugly daring you to open them. You open one up. Hmmm — you don't remember signing up to receive that promotion. So you hit the Report Spam button, and off it goes into the void, hopefully never to bother you again.
With any luck, the sender's email address, and possibly the entire domain name, will end up on a spam blacklist. This blacklist is a continually updated collection of supposed spammers that will be blocked out by any email service provider who consults the list. That's the good news.
The bad news is that you, as a musician innocently sending email to fans to announce your gigs or new releases, may end up on that same list — banished from the cyberworld. And if you're not carefully monitoring your email list and removing anyone who requests (or demands) to be taken off, you may face hefty fines. Following a few simple rules will help you comply with U.S. laws and craft more effective promotional email.
Can Your Spam
The U.S. CAN-SPAM Act went into effect in 2004 and puts in place rules about the sending of all commercial email, both solicited and unsolicited. The acronym stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. It sounds serious because it is. Violators can incur large fines and can even receive jail time.
Hopefully, those threats won't cause you to forgo all future email communication. Instead, you should brush up on the dos and don'ts of CAN-SPAM so you can continue to promote using email without your messages crossing over into the realm of spam.
Never use fraudulent headers
Use your own email account or a separate email account created for email promotions. It must be traceable and accurate, and cannot be created using false information or names. Be sure to register and update your domain name with your correct and most current information, including mailing address, phone number, and a working email address. Your From line must not be misleading or false, or ambiguously list the always suspicious “unknown sender.”
The Subject line must not be deceptive or misleading. Have you ever opened an email because the Subject line said “Hi, sorry I haven't called back” or something similar, only to find an advertisement inside for cheap software or erectile-dysfunction drugs? The safest Subject line is one that clearly states who you are and what you are writing about, such as “Joe Musician Performing at the Tropical Club This Weekend.”
Provide an opt-out option
Sometimes after people sign up to receive your promotions, they later change their minds. Don't take it personally, but do take their names off your list. Every email you send must offer the recipient a way to opt out. It can be as simple as “To unsubscribe from all future email communications, please click Reply and write ‘Remove’ in the body of the email.”
More sophisticated promoters may want to try an email service such as Constant Contact, which lets you automatically monitor and update lists through a link method (“Click here to unsubscribe”). (See the sidebar “Where to Find Help.”) Whichever opt-out method you prefer, the mechanism of your choosing must remain in effect for at least 30 days after the promotional email is sent.
Remove unsubscribers immediately
Now that you've provided a way for people to tell you “Thanks, but no thanks,” it's important to honor that request as quickly as possible. The law gives you ten days. Along with your opt-out mechanism, you can write something like “It may take up to ten days for your information to be removed from the list. Thank you for your patience.” Then be sure that they are taken off the list before that time.
Include your valid postal address
In every promotional email you send, put your mailing information at the bottom. It doesn't have to be your home address if you're uncomfortable sending that out to a sea of strangers. It can be a business address, and it can be placed in small type at the end with your copyright information, after the unsubscribe info. Providing valid postal information reinforces that you are a legitimate entity.
Don't use protected computers or networks without permission
Using an open relay (an unsecured mail server) or unauthorized computers or networks in an effort to send multiple email messages and conceal your identity is a no-no.
Use legitimate list sources
Using harvested email or randomly generated email addresses is not allowed. Use only lists you have cultivated through opt-in mechanisms from your Web site, sign-ups on paper from your gigs, or by purchasing a reputable list. Be sure to qualify email addresses you obtain from your Web site or gigs before adding them to your database. Send email to those who signed up, saying that you received their information from the Web site or through the gig sign-up sheet, and ask them to reply in order to be added.
Remember that anyone can put a friend's email address on a list, so it's wise to make sure you are sending your promo email to someone who really wants it (and to cover yourself in case there is ever a question). You can also purchase lists from magazines and Web sites whose subscribers fit your target market. Contact them directly or enlist the help of a reputable list broker.
Identify unsolicited advertisements
If you are sending unsolicited email (meaning the recipient did not opt in), then you must clearly identify your message as a solicitation. It can be in understated letters at the top (“Advertisement”) or incorporated into the body of the email (“Jane MusicFan thought you would enjoy my music and recommended you to me”). Companies that purchase email addresses often put at the bottom of their email, “You are receiving this email advertisement because you have opted in to a list that indicated interest in products and services similar to the above.”
The preceding pointers on CAM-SPAM compliance are no substitute for actual legal advice. For more information, and to read the full law, go to www.ftc.gov/spam.
Avoid the Blacklist
Anyone who uses email to keep large numbers of people informed will likely be reported as a spammer at least once. The day might come when the email you sent out comes screaming back to your in-box as undeliverable, with the headers of the returned messages containing words like “abuse” and “spam blocker.” At that point, you'll know you've been blacklisted.
A number of things may have happened. A message you sent out may have been reported as spam by somebody who forgot that they once signed up for your list. Or someone may have reported messages previously sent through your ISP or hosting company as spam — and they might not even be ones you sent. Email from your provider's IP address that has been tagged as spam can affect your ability to send promotions as well.
“Tagged” IP addresses are reported by the recipients' ISPs to various spam blacklists such as SpamCop.net and Spamhaus.org. Then, service providers like AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and others consult those blacklists before delivering mail to their customers. If your IP address is on that list, your mail won't go through. It ends up in the Bulk or Spam folder, or simply never sees the light of day. Consider it a blessing that your email was sent back as undeliverable, because now you know there is a problem, and you can report it to your ISP so you can get off the blacklist.
Email is one of the most inexpensive ways to promote yourself or your band. Not only is it cheap, but when done respectfully, legally, and with consideration to your audience, it will help you build your image, as well as a fan base that looks forward to finding out about your performances and recordings.
Fran Vincent is the president of Retro Island Productions, Inc. (www.retroisland.com), a music-marketing and public-relations consulting company. She teaches music and entertainment industry courses at the University of Miami.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
Enlisting the services of a company specializing in email marketing is the way to go for many time-pressed musicians. These firms handle any unsubscribing and keep your lists clean. Here are some worth checking out.
Campaigner (www.campaigner.com) Powered by GotMarketing, Campaigner is a set of self-serve marketing tools also used by Yahoo to promote Yahoo Stores.
Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) A popular subscription service that also tracks your email campaigns and how well they did.
Email Express Direct (www.emailexpressdirect.com) Build and manage custom databases and track your results. Offers subscription and pay-as-you-go pricing.
VerticalResponse (www.verticalresponse.com) Design beautiful email promotions and pay per promotion you send out. The more recipients you send to per promotion, the cheaper it is per email.