Come see my show, come see my show, come see my show, eh? Oops, I just got fined a million dollars.
In Moses Avalon’s recent article about Canada’s new anti-spam law, called CASL (pronounced “castle”), he describes a Kafka-esque or Orwellian nightmare in which bands who use a web-based form to gather their fans’ email addresses can be fined a million dollars for each e-mail they send to a Canadian recipient. Avalon focuses on the impact this legislation has for musicians, but this can apply to theater companies and any business owner, small or large, who needs to be able to reach a lot of people at once, on the cheap. Basically,
-if you have a super-cheap or free website, coded in HTML with a text box labeled, “fill in your e-mail address to join our mailing list,”
-and the user’s address is put on a list without a second opportunity to confirm that
-yes, they do want to join your mailing list,
-then, if you send them an e-mail, and they are a Canadian Citizen,
-you just bought the Canadian government a new library. Or something.
So, what are artists supposed to do to avoid this? Avalon says:
“The CRTC demands that every recording artist get “express consent” from each Canadian member of their mailing list before July 1, 2014. This requires figuring out who on a mailing list of potentially hundreds or thousands of opt-ins are Canadian, extracting their names, and then sending them another double opt-in permission email before proceeding to email them further. A task that experts on the subject agree will be impossible to do by the deadline. For the most part there is no way to tell which emails on a list belong to Canadians without expensive tracking services.”
Essentially, he implies that this law is an unnecessary and tiring burden on musicians, to pick through their e-mail lists with a fine-toothed comb, extracting the Canadian addresses and getting a second opt-in permission from the users in question. Furthermore, Avalon points out more about how this is all part of the vast government conspiracy to kill off every last independent artist with sweeping legislation;
“Or, or for the poor-man’s approach, if you’re a US band, you could simply stay out of Canada. And if you’re a Canadian band, you could move to the US.
I cannot think of a more bone-headed move on the part of our sister country. And all this time I thought they were supposed to be the kinder more polite America.”
I don’t think the government wants to kill artists off in one fell swoop. They wouldn’t enjoy that anywhere near as much as hunting us individually for sport.
So, before we all panic, let’s find out a little bit more about what this really means and what we can do about it.
Again, CASL states that e-mail recipients must have provided express consent. Generally, most businesses use what’s called a DOI, or double-opt-in method. You have probably seen this if you’ve signed up for any newsletter or social network in the last few years. Jeremy Moskowitz, who is a sharp mind among Internet technology people, describes DOI as:
1. They fill out a form on a website.
2. They get an email to confirm.
3. They confirm.
4. It’s registered as confirmed.
Jeremy said that e-mail list management systems such as Infusionsoft can show an e-mail list manager immediately if an address is confirmed (a human got the confirmation e-mail and responded) or unconfirmed (that hasn’t happened and you might want to remove that e-mail from your list). He said, “If you plan on running a business of any kind, you should consider using something that does this for you.”
Using a double-opt-in method allows you to be confident that your e-mail is actually going to humans interested in your work, not people who’ve been pranked, mis-spelled versions of the e-mail addresses of your fans, or bots.
“If you send out commercial e-mail, then you have to make sure that
(1) the recipient consents to receiving it, expressly or impliedly; and
(2) the sender/originator is identified, the sender/originator can be contacted, and
(3) the recipient can unsubscribe.”
So, basically, your e-mail list has to be based on a conscious and consensual exchange of information. (I can hear you now. “Oh, that sounds hard. Being a rock star isn’t supposed to be hard.”)
This is not a hassle, it’s an opportunity. Seriously. Remember when you were little, and your mom sent you to clean up your room, and you didn’t want to do it, so you shoved all of your books and stuffed animals into one pile at the end of the bed and said, “Okay, all done, Mom!” and she wasn’t too thrilled? Now, remember when she sent you to clean up your room, and took all your books and put them on the shelves in the order in which you knew they would get along with each other best and lined up your stuffed animals and dolls under the window in the order in which they best got along so that they wouldn’t fight, because really, that’s how all this trouble got started?
What? Was that just me?
Basically, you have to engage with your audience. Your e-mail can afford to be fun, as long as it’s clear and concise. Use your sense of play. That’s what got you into being an independent artist in the first place, right? Grant points out that the government provides a FAQ devoted to the intricacies of the new anti-spam legislation (really, they don’t want outsiders to stop doing business in Canada completely), but it can be about as simple as, “You’re receiving this commercial message because you signed up on our mailing list. Do you really want to be on our mailing list? If so, click here. Thanks!” and making sure that every e-mail you send out clearly states, “If you no longer consent to receiving these e-mails, ‘click here’ to unsubscribe. Thanks!” Think of this as a way of keeping your relationship with your audience engaged and active.
You might be saying, “But I have, like, dozens of fans on my mailing list, and I played a show in Wildwood last year while the Alliance de Surf Internationale de Quebec was in town, and they loved us! How do I reach them, legally, when I want to sell the new EP I spent my last dime recording and pressing?”
Okay. So, first of all, you get yourself a cheap e-mail list manager. Moskowitz recommends MailChimp, which, along with d0uble-opt-in gathering methods, can give you 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. Send an e-mail out to your current homemade list BEFORE JULY 1, 2014, telling them that you want to make sure that everyone on the list is getting the email because they really want to. Give them a link to your page with the link for a double-opt-in option to join the new mailing list (this is where Mail Chimp comes in). While you’re at it, throw in a perk for joining the list: a free download of a secret track you’ve recorded, a pdf of a connect-the-dots puzzle, some kind of incentive for joining, to remind them just how terrific you and your craft are.
Look at managing your e-mail list as an opportunity to connect with your fans in a different way. You’ll clear out the old e-mail addresses that no longer function, and reconnect with your listeners in a way which shows them that you’re responsible as well as entertaining.
Moses Avalon is a guy who knows a hell of a lot about the recording industry. His books are chock full of good advice, not only for businesses, but also for anyone who wants to make their music, art or craft without being financially punished for it. In the case of his article about CASL, his opinion and description is fair, but slightly alarmist. Sometimes anxiety is a good thing, it can jolt you out of complacency and get you to try new things. Use this opportunity to change things for yourself and your audience.