The dos and don’ts of proper email etiquette

Email Dos and Donts

Dear reader: Are you in a band, managing a band, working their PR, or writing about them? Perhaps you’re about to send off that all-important request to photograph a live show of your favorite artist or apply to write for a major publication?

Regardless of what area of the music industry you work in, there is one universal aspect that connects all of us: emails are every bit as important as phone calls and Skype meetings. In our world, an opening email is often your first and best chance to make the right impression. Make a good first impression with a band or company and you can be set for years. Make a bad impression, however, and it is extremely difficult to recover.

As a publicist, managing editor and former hiring manager, I’ve seen nearly everything over the last five years. A few of my email experiences with bands and industry clients include alcohol-driven rants, smiley faces after every sentence, misspelling my three-letter name (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been called Jo or Joy…), being called Insert Name Here, and being outright insulted.

It’s a roller coaster, this music business. But with five years of experience in multiple fields, I’m here to share with you some tips on maximizing your email correspondence. Whether you’re in a band looking to get a label’s attention, applying for that dream paying job, sending a request to your favorite band’s PR team or just looking to expand your relationships with the right people, these are a few do’s and don’ts to make you look as professional as possible in all your industry dealings.  

DO: Get straight to the point.

This is essential, regardless of what industry field you work in. Whether you want to speak with a label executive, get your band some coverage or send a job application, don’t overload your message with unnecessary text. A quick 1-2 sentences for a polite introduction, then get down to business.

Use your first main paragraph to outline your reason for contact and what you’re looking for. For publicists, in particular, state the artist’s genre and who they sound similar to. With many industry workers forever fighting losing battles against their inboxes, if you take too much time getting to the point, your message may be deleted. Always make your language clear, concise and professional to give yourself the best chance of getting your desired response.

DON’T: Try to fake sincerity.

Sounds incredibly obvious, right? Well, just like measuring someone’s tone in person or on the phone, it is also easy enough to judge a person’s sincerity in e-mail correspondence. Do your in-depth messages receive a sentence or two in response? Are there a lot of basic spelling errors? Sentences with no punctuation at the end? Particularly blunt language? All of these imply a level of laziness, a lack of respect, and too little desire to be helpful. An insincere person can often be spotted a mile away, even through e-mail messages, and news of an unpleasant experience spreads quickly in this industry. So how can you maximize your chances of making the right first impression?

DO: Be as kind and accommodating to the other person as possible.

The music industry is all about building relationships, and chances are you’ll be dealing with a lot of the same people over and over. If you make yourself easy and pleasant to work with, new friendships will emerge and the number of great opportunities you receive will grow very quickly. This quality could make the difference between being approved or denied from that “dream opportunity” you’ve been waiting for.

DON’T: Introduce yourself with “What’s up?”

For job applicants, in particular, this is a must. During my hiring manager days, the number of applications I received that started with “What’s up, Joe?” was startling. More often than not, that intro was followed by a poorly written application letter and no resume attached. When you’re looking to get your foot in the door of your chosen field of work, keeping your language proper and professional (and, of course, actually having a resume) is essential if you hope to land that all-important interview.

DO: Always click “Reply All”.

Bands, this one is for you. Before a recent meeting I had with a potential PR client, we introduced ourselves through e-mail and I kept my boss on CC so she could see how the talks were progressing. A total of 10 messages were sent back and forth, and not once did the client hit “reply all” to keep my boss in the loop. This was a red flag – one of several throughout the correspondence – because it told us the client was not reading my messages carefully (despite me repeatedly mentioning my boss’s name). After a not-so-great start, the meeting resulted in my boss and I decided this was not someone we wanted to work with, despite being incredibly talented.

Obviously, there were more important factors than the client’s lack of CC knowledge, but bands, it is vital to keep ALL parties involved in your correspondence. Many of us have bosses, interns, managers, editors, etc. who need to know what is going on at all times and can offer insight when necessary. It’s a simple task to check if anyone is CC’d in a message, but if you really can’t remember to do it, Gmail even gives you the option to make “reply all” your default setting.

On behalf of every industry friend, co-worker, and acquaintance I’ve ever known, please use “reply all” so we can stop tearing our hair out!

DON’T: Put your subject line in all caps.

DO YOU SCREAM AT PEOPLE IN PUBLIC TO GET THEIR ATTENTION TOO? Unless you’re in a crowded bar or at a concert, I doubt it. An all-caps subject line makes us feel like we’re being yelled at, and although some believe it increases your chance of getting the other person’s attention, it often does more harm than good. Just like the message itself, keep your subject line short, to the point, and with normal-sized letters. As long as your words are clear and attention-grabbing, you’ve done your job.

DO: Respond Promptly Whenever Possible.

Now, I’m not saying be a slave to your e-mail inbox. Many of us get overwhelmed with hundreds of messages every week and sometimes it’s not possible to respond quickly. But this isn’t Facebook, where everyone plays the “click on the message notification to see the first few words and if it doesn’t look important, I’ll respond 10 hours later” game. Many music industry workers use apps like Mandrill or SendGrid which lets them “track” the e-mails they send to see if and when they are opened by the recipient. Personally, if I read a message and see that it doesn’t require an essay in response, I try to reply within 24 hours. Look at it this way: do you take days to respond to a call or text from a friend? Of course not, so why should professional work-related messages be any different?

Responding promptly tells the other party that you are taking them seriously, you’re dedicated to the cause, and you’re being accommodating to their needs. Amazing how many details you can see through someone’s online correspondence, isn’t it? However…

DON’T: Respond to important/lengthy messages with your phone.

Have you ever sent a super-embarrassing text to a friend or family member thanks to the ultimate frenemy known as auto-correct? Yes, you have – don’t lie. Unless it’s just to say “thank you” or it’s absolutely time-sensitive – in which case a phone call is better – hold off on responding to your most important messages until you’re in the much safer confines of your laptop. A later, well-written response is always better than the virtual foot-in-your-mouth typo that phones often bestow on us.

Joe Ballard is a music writer and publicist. He cares as much about the words used to promote music as he does the music itself, and that is part of the reason we love him. Learn more about Joe and his work with talented young artists through the Muddy Paw website.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.