Concert ettiquette: guest list do's and don'ts

I was listening last week to an interview with singer/songwriter Mark Erelli where he talked about communicating with fans in this hyperactive media world. He credited his monthly email newsletter as being a crucial way of maintaining that connection.

He’s not alone. Email is still the most effective way of reaching your loyal fans — the ones who will come to shows, contribute to crowdfunding campaigns, and listen to every new song you write.

When we’re playing live though, it’s easy to put the goal of growing your email list on the back burner. You have merch to sell, amps to lift, a set to play, drinks to drink, people to impress.

But if you integrate the goal of growing your email list INTO your performance, you won’t forget to do it, and your attempts to build your email list at live shows will be more successful.

Here are six methods for boosting email signups at your concerts

1. Contests and audience participation

Last night I hosted (and performed at) the first in a new monthly reading & music series called VERSES vs. VERSES.

Each month, two songwriters and two writer-writers (poetry, fiction, essays, etc.) approach the same theme from different angles. I thought it’d be a good idea to get the audience to contribute too.

Before the show I put cards on all the tables, and at the bar, asking for people to contribute their own sentence, confession, story, haiku, or joke relating to the theme — PLUS THEIR NAME AND EMAIL. The winner would get a prize.

In between each of the featured acts I read these contributions, and at the end I picked a winner and awarded the prize: CDs from each of the musicians.

It was fun. It kept the audience engaged. It helped me build my email list.

2. Offer a “free” incentive

I’ve printed little cards that have my poems on them, and I always set them up next to my merch display. Leave your email, take a card!

You could give away pins, pens, old socks, whatever. Just make it simple so you can communicate the details from stage, and have your signup list close to the free items.

Now cross your fingers that your fans understand the honor system.

3. Use a mobile app

There are quite a few tools out there — such as Adva Mobile — to help you grow your email list through mobile interaction. Many of these mobile tools allow you to offer an immediate incentive in exchange for contact info.

I’ve seen my friend Sean Ardoin tell the crowd, when the room is most jumpin’, to get out their phones and text to his personal SMS number. Lots of people reach for their phones.

4. Discount your merch for subscribers

This one is real simple to announce from the stage: “sign up for my email list and get a discount on merch.”

If someone’s about to purchase your CD, remind them about the discount and see if they’re interested in subscribing to your list.

5. Tell your fans how important your email list is to your career

Unless there are other musicians in the crowd, your audience probably has no idea how much they’re helping you when they sign up for your email newsletter.

Tell them. Try an honest appeal.

If you want, talk about some of the challenges facing musicians these days.

And then let them know that one of the biggest ways they can support your music is by signing up to hear more from you down the road.

6. Dispatch your most attractive or compelling friend, with a clipboard

Are any of your friends or fans great salespeople? Got any super friendly, super hot, or super funny friends? Send them out into the audience to collect emails — seat to seat, row to row, table to table — and then give that friend something huge to show thanks for their help: undying love, free merch or tickets, a shout-out from stage.

This approach obviously depends on the size and setup of the venue, but for the right room it can be super effective.

Those are six ideas that I’ve tried at various times, and sometimes they can be used in conjunction, to boost my email signups at live shows.

Got any tips to add to the list? Let me know in the comments.