The single most important thing you can do to support creative work you enjoy. (No, it’s not give them money.)

OK, actually, before I tell you the most important thing you can do, if you were only going to do one thing to support someone’s creative work, maybe you should indeed think about throwing some money their way. I recommend buying a t-shirt, especially for bands. Seeing a band live is good, but a huge portion of your ticket money goes to the venue and those venues are often on a spectrum of corruption from corporate monsters to low-level mobsters. When you buy a t-shirt, the band makes a huge profit and pockets nearly all the money. And when you wear it, you not only show you are a part of some obscure-music-loving-knowledge tribe, but you’re also doing some free advertising for the band. It’s win-win-win, and schilling for a band you like carries no shame these days considering how hard it is to make money in music.

Buying t-shirts is good for creative work. But there is one thing you can do that’s actually more important and requires no money from you and nearly no effort: Get on the mailing list.

For all its ubiquitous dullness, and despite the domination of gmail, unlike virtually all other social networks email is not controlled by any individual corporate overlord. It’s the original social network, and as more decades pass where we have watched various platforms wax and wane and often dwindle out of sight, email perennially persists, and remains strong. And now creative creators are finally realizing the power having an email list gives them: it is a quantifiable representation of their fanbase that they control.

With an email list a writer, band, artist, or puppet-maker can communicate with their fans directly, and more importantly will always be able to communicate with them no matter what corporate platform they are forced to use to publish their work, and regardless of whether than platform gains or loses users.

Let’s use Medium as an example. Having a Medium account allows you to follow authors you like. It allows you to support that author monetarily. And you can even get an email notification from that author when they post something new. But suppose a year from now the biggest mass of readers gets fed up with Medium’s “clean” but confusing design and emigrates en masse to some new platform that’s actually easier to use if somewhat wordier in their instructions. Now you as a fan need to go re-follow all the authors you liked on Medium. Which, let’s face it, you are never going to do as a conscious action. You will instead just slowly add authors as you remember you’d like to read them. And in that process you will forget, say 40% of the authors you used to follow on Medium. For all intents and purposes you are no longer their fan — not because you didn’t like their work, but because the network of interaction with them was controlled by the decision making of a few people in charge of keep Medium popular as a network.

A robust mailing list makes a creator a free agent. Someone with a large mailing list (read: fan base) can take that list with them to a book publisher or a record label along with their new work and say, “look, if you publish me, we can instantly tell all these people the work is out, and where to find it.” In marketing terms, the creator with a mailing list has their own marketing slice pre-made for their work. For a publisher or a record label, creating that slice is one of the single most expensive things they would have to pay for if they sign a new author or band. And they certainly don’t want to give power over it to the artist.

That’s why you should. Many creators have started to realize the significance of controlling their own email list, hence the growing popularity of [that site]. But even for creators who think it’s all about followers on tiktok and haven’t yet realized the power controlling their own email list gives them, you are still giving them that power by signing up for their possibly little-used email list.

But what about spam!? You say.

For one thing, because the law requires it, the unsubscribe button mostly works these days if you get sick of someone constantly emailing you about special deals on their new branded thong underwear and covid masks. But also feel free to create a “spam” email account just for signing up for fan email lists. As long as you check it once in a while to see what’s going on in the world of creators you enjoy, you’re still giving them the power they need from that email list. (Step two is to open the email, and make sure you load images — loading images uses the power of the internet to let your creator know you actually looked at the email, which grants them more statistical power with their email list.)

Mailing lists are critically important to both big name acts and struggling small-time creators. But especially to the struggling small-time creators. And the effort required on your part is so nearly nothing that I am deeply offended that you haven’t signed up for my own email list yet.

Come on! Be a fan!