The Email Junkyard: Why Your Booking Emails Fail

If you’ve been reading the Educate and Entertain blog for any amount of time, you know that I do a ton of email marketing to keep my calendar full of good gigs.

Today, I’ve got some quick but powerful tips to help you do a better job with your own outreach emails (the ones you send in hopes of booking a gig for your act or band).

Best practices for sending marketing emails8 Email Mistakes Musicians (and Plumbers) Make

Whether you’re a storyteller, musician, poet, or pipe fitter, avoiding these mistakes will all but guarantee better results with your marketing emails.

Mistake #1 – The Subject Line Stinks

This is the first – and perhaps most important – place to get things right, because it all ends here if we don’t.

A weak subject line means your email simply does not get opened.

So, put yourself in the shoes of your recipient – do they care about “XYZ Band – Cleveland’s award winning disco trio,” or “Now booking 2021-22?”


email marketing for musicians - dave ruchThink instead about what they care about…

  • a happy audience?
  • an interesting presentation?
  • a packed house?
  • a reliable performer?

…and that should give you some better ideas for your subject line.

Another approach is to include the name of their venue in the subject line, which always encourages more opens.

Mistake #2 – There’s No Hook Once They Open It

The quicker you can establish that your email is directly relevant to their needs, the more likely it is that they’ll continue reading.

You only have a few seconds to do this.

If they have to scroll around to figure out why they should be interested, you’ve probably lost them for good.

Mistake #3 – It’s Too Long

People are busy. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point, providing links to anything you can’t describe succinctly.

Mistake #4 – It’s All About You

Similar to the advice on your subject line, craft your email messages with your recipient’s needs and wants in mind – what do they get out of hiring you?

What is the benefit of having you perform?

There’s a great exercise for turning your features (recordings, notable gigs, awards, etc) into benefits (what do they get out of it?) in the article Want Better Gigs? It’s Not About You.

Mistake #5 – No Relevant Testimonials

When we’re hoping to interest a venue in booking us for a gig, the words of other venues are far more powerful than anything we can say about ourselves.

Always include a few choice testimonials.

Dave offers pro instruction for artists.
– CD Baby

BUT, if you’re approaching a summertime festival with an adult audience, for instance, and the raving quote you use is from a children’s show you did, that doesn’t work either.

Use testimonials that are relevant to the exact audience you’re reaching. (See how I did that above?)

Mistake #6 – You’re Not Sending to Enough People

I hear from performers all the time that they’re exasperated with email outreach – they’ve sent 50 or 100 emails for bookings and not gotten a single response!

Get used to it.

email marketing for musicians - dave ruchThink about it. Of all the unsolicited emails that show up in your own inbox every week, how many do you respond to?

Yes, but my show is perfect for them. I just don’t understand why they didn’t get back to me?

Plain and simple, they’re swamped.

Or it might be budgeting time, or they might be all set for now, or it might take several more “touch points” before they feel comfortable contacting you, or ….

It’s a numbers game – not a spam game, but a numbers game.

The more highly-targeted, relevant contacts you have to reach out to, the more booking inquiries you’ll receive.

Want to get a bunch of gigs? Plan on sending thousands (not hundreds) of emails to exactly the right people.

Email Marketing Numbers Laid Bare

Here’s an illuminating example – let’s say you’ve emailed 100 venues. We’ll use some current averages from the email marketing industry to put things in perspective:

100 emails sent
x 20% average open rate =
20 emails opened
x  3% average click through rate =
.6 people (as in LESS than one person) who clicked on any of your links

Now, you may end up hearing from one or two of those 20 people who opened the email and didn’t click a link, and you might even be contacted by one of the 80 that supposedly didn’t open your email – the reporting isn’t perfect.

But it’s just as likely that you won’t hear from any of them. The sample size is just too small.

Want a bigger contact list? Try this.

NOTE: With all of my mailings, I shoot for at least a 25-30% open rate and a 10% click-through rate, but the numbers above represent industry standards for email response.

Mistake #7 – Spam Triggers

Whatever you do, avoid any and all spammy language when sending bulk email, lest yours ends up in the dreaded folder-of-no-return.

email marketing for musicians and artists - dave ruchWhat to avoid?

  • dollar signs in the subject line
  • the words “Free” and “Sale”
  • excessive punctuation!?!

For further reading, here’s a big list of 100 words to avoid in your subject line, and another list of general spam words to avoid.

Mistake #8 – Too Many (or No) Calls to Action

It’s a really good idea to have exactly one thing you want your email recipient to do, and make sure you actually ask them to do it – preferably in a few different spots within your email.

marketing emails for musicians - dave ruchIf the goal of your email is to generate bookings, don’t also provide links to “buy tickets for our upcoming show at the XYZ theater” and “follow us on social media” and other things not directly related to your goal.

Competing calls to action confuse people, and confused people tend to NOT take any action.

Pretty Simple, Right?

So there you have it. Eight painless and proven ways to increase the number of responses to your next email campaign.

I’d love to hear what’s working for you, and what you might add to my list. Questions are welcome too!

The “Comments” section is just below.

About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.

Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.

The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.

Please Post Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


21 Responses to The Email Junkyard: Why Your Booking Emails Fail

  1. I sent out dozens of personalized but what were probably too long of intro emails 3 weeks ago for my WWII zoom talk offerings — got some responses but not as many as I’d like. Next week i plan to contact those I’ve not heard from w/ a reminder email including a 2-3 min vid segment of my in-person talk as a follow up. Now I’m wondering if I should make it a zoom talk segment since that is what we’re looking at.
    Not even sure how that could be done. Do you ever do that?

  2. Excellent info Dave…I’ve always done all but the 1st one LOL…Great idea to put the venue name in the subject line. I am going to try that approach 🙂

  3. Hi Dave, I recently came across your blog and am SO thankful! Your information is incredibly helpful and clear. I’m exactly in the process of building my mailinglist and have 2 questions:

    1) What are examples of content that venues WANT to receive? How often?
    2) Is a mailinglist for fans also important? How is content for fans different from content for venues?
    Would love your insight.

    • Hey Mao – glad this stuff is helpful to you. I don’t to send “content” to venues; I send booking info every so often. Sometimes a summary of lots of things I offer; other times info on one specific show. I don’t assume they’re interested in any other content from me unless they ask.

      As for mailing list for fans, absolutely important. Yes, everyone is on social media, but only a small percentage of people we’re connected with actually see our posts and invites. So…email is another way to reach at least a percentage of our audience. Content for “fans” can be anything and everything from videos to news to upcoming performance dates. Hope that helps.

  4. Is this a repost? Read it before the June 20th, 2019 date. At any rate it’s good advice and if it is a repost, well, it bears reiterating. One question I have for you and anybody else who’d like to contribute an answer; how do you close an e-mail? We’ve already established that you need a strong and concise subject line, get to the point, show them the benefits, and include a call to action. The closing, however, always confounds me. Often I spend more time crafting a closing sentence than writing the rest of thee-mail.

    • Hey JJ – yes, this is an updated (2019) version of an older article. I always like to close the email with the call to action (even if it was included earlier in the email as well). If it’s an individual email to one person, I might close with a question to try to generate a response, and if it’s a “bulk” email, then I’d close with a large obvious button for them to click to contact me or take things to the next step. Hope that helps.

      • Hey Dave,

        Just wanted to get your thoughts about something…When you send out introductory emails, do you include a link to your website? I’ve heard that including links, attachments, pdf files in your emails could trigger spam. Also, I’ve found some people are reluctant to open links from people they are not familiar with. I’ve received responses from emails where there is a warning message at the bottom of their email. CAUTION: This email originated from outside of the organization. DO NOT click links or open attachments unless you recognize the sender and know the content is safe. I suppose people can manually type in the website address if they are afraid to click on the link.

        • Hi Dave,

          Hope all is well. I recently purchased an email tracking system. I can now see if and when my emails are being opened and read. It also mentions if and when someone has clicked on the link to my website. I have a few questions:

          1. If after a reasonable amount of time, (a week or two) some of your emails have yet to be opened and read, what do you attribute this to?

          2. What do think is going on if your emails are being opened and read but you’re not getting very many click throughs to your website?

          Any input would be appreciated.

          • Hi Bill,

            1) the majority of your emails will be unopened/unread, even weeks after you send. It’s just the nature of doing email marketing. A really GOOD open rate is under 40%, and often under 25%. Some go to spam/promotions/junk filters and are never seen by the recipient, some are seen in the inbox but never opened (this is where a good subject line is critical), some are opened but can’t be tracked by email software as having been opened, etc. If you can get 30-40% of your emails opened and read on a regular basis, that’s about as good as you can hope for.

            2) if you’re not getting many click throughs from those who do open the emails, I’d have to assume your offer is not landing well with them. I’d need to know more about what you’re sending and to whom, but I’d try a different offer or enticement.

  5. So true! In my younger band days I knew all the club owners or we would piggy back off another band to get the gig. In the 90s I started a duo so I was starting over…took 30 promo packs around (yes, hand delivered…way before email) and of those 30 only ONE place called me without me knocking 2 or 3 times (pleasantly of course 😉 ) on their doors a few times. Now everyone is just inundated every day so it’s even more difficult. Your math sounds about right lol. Ironically, that in itself is one of the reasons I don’t gig more these days…many gigs just aren’t worth the time and effort and I would rather play fewer (fortunately I do other musical things to compensate) and play better paying gigs that are less headache 😉

  6. This is one of my favorite Dave Ruch articles. As a musician/businessman, I receive lots of “sales” emails, and believe me, if they contain any of the missteps Dave has listed, they’re not taken seriously and quickly deleted.

  7. Nice post Dave, thanks. And you are right it is a number game – but I live in NZ and we only have 4.5 million people in the entire country, so numbers of potential venues are very limited. So the tips above are more relevant than ever in increasing the likely positive response of an email. I’m practicing many of the above, and my latest email template currently has a 75% open rate and almost 30% resposne, so they do work.

  8. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for another great post. A blanket email has alwasys seemed a bit impersonal to me. I’ve been making phone contact first and then sending info by email. That being said, this process is very time consuming and leaves me feeling like I’m spinning my wheels trying to get to everyone I want to contact. So I am interested in doing more email marketing. Any programs you can suggest using to easily organize and keep track of email contacts? When you send a mass mailing does each recipient see everyone elses address? Can you personalize each email? Sorry for all the questions.
    Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing what you’ve learned with the rest of us.
    Tom Fisch

    • Hi Tom – yes, each person can get a personalized email, and they will never see the other recipients’ email addresses. This is easily accomplished with any email service provider such as Constant Contact, Emma, AWeber, Mail Chimp, etc.

  9. Another great post Dave! Over the last few years, I’ve gone almost exclusively
    to email. I’m able to tailor my emails to specific markets…schools, libraries,
    scout groups, etc. I have several types of emails at my disposal…Introductory,
    reminders, keep in touch, etc. Dave is spot on when he says you must send
    out tons of emails. You are not going to get every booking you try for. One
    disadvantage with email marketing is the bounce back problem. This is when
    your email fails to reach it’s intended recipient. There are a few reasons for this:

    1. As Dave mentioned, your subject line and or email content is full of spam.
    Some email systems are set up to detect spam.
    2. Your contact list is not up to date. For example, some of your contacts
    email addresses may have changed during the year. Also, staff and
    committee members change from time to time. Last year’s contact
    may no longer be involved with the PTA, Library, Festival, Rec.Dept., etc.
    That’s why it’s important to update your contact list at least once per year.
    It’s a lot of work, but it needs to be done. I’m anxious to hear about other
    people’s experiences with email marketing. Good luck to everyone!

Get Dave's News, Discounts, and More
Join Dave's Mailing List
Quick Contact

Have questions or looking for booking information? Call Dave at 716-998-2001, or send him a message below.