Email Subject Lines That SUCK!

How’s that for a subject line?

We’re going to get into the “weeds” today, talking about something that might seem small or even insignificant.

But I’ve got two bold proclamations to make about your email subject lines….

marketing for musicians and artists

Email Subject Line Proclamation #1

If the subject line sucks, the email doesn’t get opened.


Whether you’re sending one email to one person about a gig, or 3,500 emails to a big list – the email subject line is what determines whether the message gets seen or not.

Think about it.

How often do you decide NOT to open an email based on its subject line?

If you’re like most people, the answer is “all the time.”

Generally, either of two scenarios will hasten that email’s trip to the “Trash” folder…

  1. We think we know what’s inside based on the subject line, and we don’t care about it
  2. Or, we don’t recognize the sender’s name, and the subject line does nothing to entice us to open it

In either case, the email ends up in the same place.

email subject lines

Your email subject line is your wingman, and its job is to warm your recipient up to the idea of opening it.

Email Subject Line Proclamation #2

Most email subject lines suck.

Don’t believe me?

Here are some examples from real people (not spammers) that have come through my inbox – each from a name I didn’t recognize:


<no subject>

Yes, keep me

October 13

CHARLIE PARR premiers new video “Peaceful Valley” with NPR


Looking to help your Group


What Would You Do?

I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that.

Most of these would have been fine if I knew and trusted the sender, but they all came from people whose names weren’t immediately familiar to me.

(As the sender, you only have a second or so to inspire an “open.”)

Because I’ve missed good opportunities before, I have actually trained myself to open most of these things to find out if they’re asking about a gig.

(Three of the above senders were.)

But you can’t assume your email recipients are going to do that.

They’ll probably glance…decide…and then delete, or simply move on without reading.

email subject lines that suck - dave ruch

Email Subject Lines: Some Best Practices

All of this begs the question…what SHOULD my email subject line say?

Of course, there’s no “right” answer there, but here are two ways I think about it:

#1 – Personalize

One thing I’ve had great success with is using THEIR name in the subject line (rather than mine).

So, for instance, if I’m sending to the Cornell Arts Center because I’d like to get booked to perform there, the subject line might say “Cornell Arts Center 2021 programming,” or “performance idea for Cornell Arts Center.”

Notice what it didn’t say – – anything about me.

There’s no hype, no bragging, and nothing “salesy.”

Using their name in the subject line accomplishes a bunch of things:

  • it establishes relevance – this email is for them
  • it signals that this might not be a mass email (even if it is)
  • it tells them exactly what it’s about

All of which increases your chances of getting the email opened.

(This is all easily accomplished, btw, with any modern email marketing software.)

#2 – Put Their Needs First

If you have a situation where you need to do a little “selling” with your subject line, think about what’s important to the recipient.

Not what they should know about us, but what’s actually important to them.

An Example

Let’s say you have a list of prospects and you want to make them aware of your wedding band, “The Majestics.”

TERRIBLE SUBJECT LINE: The Majestics Wedding Band

(What’s in it for the recipient? You’re going to make them open the email to find out?)

WAY BETTER: Hassle-Free (and Kick Ass) Wedding Band

See what happened there?

You took a lame subject line that doesn’t even touch on what’s important to the recipient, and instead you told them you’re easy to work with (which is important to them).

You also showed some personality and “fun factor” with the whole Kick Ass thing.

Let’s stay with the wedding band scenario for a moment

What else might be important to a couple that’s about to be married?

Well, they want to make the “right” choice for music, right? Something like “The right Jazz Quartet for your event” almost guarantees an open.

That its not too loud? “Wedding band that doesn’t piss off Grandma”

That they can afford it? “Perfect (and affordable) music for your wedding”

I’m just making stuff up here, obviously, but you get the point.

Feature what’s in it for them, and more of your emails will get opened.

Wrapping Up

Marketing copywriters routinely talk about budgeting 50% of their time for composing the email and saving the other 50% to create a great subject line.

It is that important.

So do a little brainstorming before your next email campaign (or even your next “one-off” to someone), and it should pay off for you too.

If you’re sending a mass email to enough people, try split-testing two or three subject lines to a random 20% of the list, and whichever one gets the most opens can then be sent to the remaining 80%. (This too is easy to accomplish through your email marketing software.)

And if you’d like to go “pro” with your email marketing, have a look at the How to Book Gigs Through Email Marketing webinar.

Have you tried a variation on any of these? Let me know some of your favorites in the “Comments” section 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 *


19 Responses to Email Subject Lines That SUCK!

  1. Thanks Dave! This is so helpful and the information was concise and easy to read. I’m a folk musician and about to send out a lot of emails to kindergartens and this blog post has given me lots of great ideas. I really appreciate it.
    Have a great day

  2. Hello Dave,

    I am a screenwriter ( Well I try to be one!) I wrote several screenplays; I’ve sent at least 2000 emails to producers with very few answers. I am sure the subject line are not good enough.. I am not good at it, really! Don’t know what to do to improve my chance to be read.

  3. One of the most startling subject lines was one that said “Hell Cindy!”. They meant to say Hello. Luckily I did recognize their email address and opened it. I might have anyway just to find out why they were cursing at me.
    Thanks for the great tips, Dave.

  4. Great advice as usual! What are your thoughts regarding length of subject line? So say 3 words max, while others say 5-6 words is fine. A subject line containing too many words probably won’t be seen entirely on someone’s tiny IPhone screen.

    • I don’t have any strong feelings on length of subject line other than what you mention Bill re: if it’s too long, it will be cut out of view on most devices and even on desktop computers. I do try to pack the most important words into the beginning of the subject line for that reason.

  5. Wow, fifty percent of the time toward the subject line! That seems more difficult to do if you’re sending a bunch of booking emails, no? Or just everything’s streamlined but those proportions remain the same?

    • Hi Rob – I think it could apply either way. If I’m sending individual booking emails (as opposed to personalized booking emails en masse), then I would take the time to create a highly relevant subject line based perhaps on who they’ve booked in the past, or something I know about the series, and the content of the email would include relevant info also.

  6. This is quality advice, Dave, and I genuinely hope your readers take it to heart. As a professional copy writer for more decades than I care to count, I can assure you, the best copy on the planet goes unread if you don’t draw the reader in with a killer headline. What they see first determines what they’ll do next. Put some thought into it from your customer’s point of view and you’re on your way to better, more successful communications. Keep up the great work, Dave!

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.