Mainly because we’ve seen so many awful band websites, in this week’s article, we thought we’d give you some advice on how to build a great one. Read on for some key tips about what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to building what is still arguably your most important promotional tool, either as an independent or established music act.
Most bands make one of two mistakes when it comes to the aesthetics of their website. Either they let their desire for a funky-looking site trump all other considerations, or they completely ignore the importance of design.
Let’s start with the first mistake that bands make – going on a design binge. There is a huge arsenal of powerful but dangerous tools available to musicians - Flash, Photoshop, After Effects and so on – which can ruin a website just as easily as make it look fantastic. Misuse of these tools can spoil a music site in two main ways: first, by inducing amnesia about the important things that a site should actually do as well as be, or by making a site so reliant on wizardry that it causes problems for users viewing the site in certain browsers.
To draw a comparison with music recording, the appearance / design of the website may be viewed as similar to the production style of a song, and site functionality as similar to how good the song itself actually is. If you’ve got a crap song that’s excellently produced…it’s still a crap song. Likewise with websites: if your site looks great but doesn’t do anything useful or contain any good content, it’s a poor site.
A key thing to bear in mind with design is that sites that look very impressive but which are hugely reliant on large files, Flash and so on may cause problems for users who are on slower connections, or are trying to view your site on a mobile device. The latter is a particular issue for sites aimed at music industry professionals. You can bet your granny that a large proportion of those 22-year-old A&Rs who wear skinny jeans, Converse runners and glasses without any proper lenses in them also devote as much attention to how fashionable their mobile device is. Which means they won’t be seen dead without an iPhone or an iPad – so if you’ve got a Flash site, they won’t be able to access it (as these very modern Apple devices helpfully block Flash).
The other big design mistake is to go to the other extreme and ignore the importance of aesthetics completely; to just make something that looks crap. This usually happens when the band designs the site themselves. Although it’s often the case that there is a web designer in the band (there is a weird connection between computer geekiness and rock and roll), there often isn’t, and it's very tempting to try out the plethora of free or cheap online design solutions (like Wordpress, Squarespace and GoDaddy) and do a DIY job on the site. Good design skills don’t come easy, and the DIY approach can result in something that looks like it was built in 1995 by your dad.
The trick is to get the balance between functionality and design right. Let’s look at functionality.
Functionality is one of those horrible words like ‘actioning’ that people use in episodes of The Apprentice. However, it’s crucial for your website.
Functionality is all about what your website does. And at the end of the day this may actually be more important than how it looks (important as looks are in this shallow industry of ours).
To avoid having a site that does nothing useful, it’s a really good idea – before going near a designer or a hacked copy of Photoshop – to make a comprehensive list of all the things you want your site to do. For example, you may want it to provide users with a free download in exchange for an email address; you might like it to have a forum; you might want an easily-updatable gallery and so on.
In our humble opinion, when it comes to functionality, the perfect site should, at the very least…
- work on all major web browsers and mobile devices – test it on everything going, including mobile phones!
- have a music player containing quite a few tracks (Soundcloud's widget is usually good for this)
- capture data – you want to form a relationship with as many site visitors as possible – so allow them to sign up to your mailing list (usually you will need to incentivise this with a free download). Tools like Mad Mimi or Getresponse make it really easy to do this.
- make it easy for people to follow you on social media - use Facebook fan boxes to make it a doddle for people to follow you on Facebook and view your latest Facebook content. Add a Twitter icon and stream too. As a minimum you should have clearly visible Facebook, Twitter and Youtube icons / content.
- contain a blog – in an age of phone hacking, rolling 24-hour news and reality TV, people expect their pop stars to share their innermost feelings on the price of cabbage with their fans. Use your blog to share this and other inane information and build a strong relationship with your audience.
- provide RSS feeds so that people can view your news, gigs and blog in a reader - or so that you can share your content automatically on Facebook / Twitter etc.
- give music away for free – in fact, we’d go as far as to suggest you devote a page on your site to freebies. In an age where people almost expect music to be free, it is bonkers to be completely precious about your tracks. You don’t have to give away an entire album, but you do need to make it easy for people to listen to and download at least some of your music for free.
- provide an electronic press kit – this should contain hi-res images, press releases and any supporting information / links to help journalists write glowing reviews / news features on you.
- have google analytics installed on it so that you can look at how many people are visiting your site and where they are coming from.
- a gallery / embedded Youtube videos - people want to look at you, you know
- be optimised for search – your band name should be in the domain name, title bar, meta-data and site headers. You should also register your site with Google Search Console.
Top tips for building and running a site
In addition to the above tips on functionality, here are some general pointers on how to go about building and running a site.
- Do a load of research. Look at what established artists are doing with their websites, and steal – sorry, take note of – their ideas.
- If possible, involve a designer, rather than building the site yourself.
- Create a site map and a list of content that you need for the site, so that you have everything ready for the build.
- Don’t be too prescriptive when briefing a designer – let him/her play with some ideas, and present different concepts to you to review. You may have a clear idea of what you want, but your designer may be able to come up with something a lot better.
- Give your designer good stuff to work with – invest some time or money in getting some great band pics. Write some good copy.
- Keep your site regularly updated – there’s nothing worse than the whiff of tumbleweed blowing through your site, no matter how great it is. If you can’t take your music career / website seriously, nobody else will.
Now, off you go and build that Flash-based site that you don’t ever update.