Mailing List Management

It happened again this week: an event producer to whom I had given my email address sent out an announcement of their next event. But instead of using a mailing list management tool they copied and pasted all 100-odd mailing list addresses… into the TO: field of their Gmail message rather than BCC:. So I and every other person on their mailing list now have those 100-odd addresses in our email client!

Asided from having to scroll through them to reach the actual message, why is this anything other than mildly annoying?

– If anyone who received the message hits “reply all” (and may do that by default) can all end up in a looping flamewar as others reply all “Stop sending!” “Take me off this list!!” etc.

– All recipients whose inbox resides on their computer (i.e., they don’t only ever access email via a web browser) now have all of our addresses on their hard drive… which means if any of them get a computer virus that looks for email addresses to “harvest” (most viruses do not want to destroy your computer, but to take it over and use your data and internet connection to spam others) we all get even more spam as our addresses are added to lists for sale to spammers.

It’s particularly easy to forget to use BCC when using a Gmail account because the default Compose window now doesn’t give you a BCC field by default – you must click on a small link to open it. The event people use Gmail and did successfully use BCC previously.


If you are sending an email announcement to more than two people, you risk running afoul of the US CAN-SPAM Compliance Act, which requires all commercial email to contain certain features:

  • A visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism is present in all emails.
  • Consumer opt-out requests are honored within 10 days.
  • Accurate from lines
  • Relevant subject lines (relative to offer in body content and not deceptive)
  • A legitimate physical address of the publisher and/or advertiser is present.
  • A label is present if the content is adult.
  • A message cannot be sent to a harvested email address (e.g., what spambots collect from open TO lines as I mentioned above)

The best way to avoid violating the above rules is to use some form of mailing list management tool. There are many free options available for small users who have at most hundreds rather than thousands of fans – here are a few:

Google Groups Create a new group of

  • type =  Email List
  • View topics = Anyone
  • Post (i.e., who can post messages) = only List Owners (making this an announce-only group)
  • Join the group = Anyone
  • Once created, under Members choose Direct Add to add your current email list addresses. Note that if you add a bunch at once Google may put a hold on them until you reply that you are adding emails given to you at an event, since they don’t harvested lists created.

Mailchimp is free for up to 2000 email addresses sending to up to 12,000 messages per month (so 6 campaigns to 2000 people). It provides many more features than Google Groups since it is specifically designed as a mailing list manager. Some of them are:

  • Walks you through account setup that makes sure you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, e.g., puts your postal address at the bottom of every message you send.
  • Provides an easy unsubscribe option for recipients.
  • Helps you to format good-looking emails by grabbing html elements from your band/company website.
  • Lets you set up automatic newsletters via RSS feeds, which are useful for blogs (I use it to send out weekly summaries of this blog’s posts).
  • Reports statistics on how well your email is received, e.g., how many people actually opened it or clicked on links within it.
  • Create signup forms you can embed on your website/Facebook/blog

Livewire Contacts provides contact management for musiciansartists and general business. Livewire Musician is free for up to 200 fans and 50 contacts.


2 thoughts on “Mailing List Management

  1. One note on ESPs (email service providers) like MailChimp–they have low to zero tolerance for lists that are not permission-based. Recipients must opt in and give you permission (implied or actual) to mail to them. In addition to harvested emails, traded email lists are a huge “don’t even think about it.” Don’t swap lists with your buddy’s band. Because if the recipients haven’t heard of you, they’ll report it as spam to MailChimp (or Constant Contact or AWeber or whomever). Even two spam reports on a 100-name mailing list can freeze your account or shut it down until you talk to a friendly list hygiene person at your ESP of choice. ESPs need to maintain good reputations with the Yahoos, Googles and Ciscos of the world so that their customers’ emails can get delivered. If the ESP thinks your list has sketchy origins, they’ll proactively seek you out first.

    • Very true. And usually they have you add a sentence to your template explaining why the person is getting the email. For instance, my band’s Mailchimp template says “You are receiving this email because you signed up at a show or on our website, or purchased/downloaded our music on Bandcamp” because some people agree to give us their address in return for a free download, but might forget that’s how we got it.

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