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Music websites

How to build a music website

Music website design

In this post, I share some some key tips on how to go about building what is arguably the most important promotional tool for any band: your music website.

I’m going to discuss three things: design, functionality and platforms.


The design

To draw a comparison with music recording, the design of a 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 bad song that’s excellently produced…it’s still a bad 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.

Most bands make one of two mistakes when it comes to the design 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.

Overdoing it

Let’s start with the first mistake that it’s possible to make – going on a design ‘binge’. There is a huge arsenal of powerful (but dangerous!) tools available - Flash, Photoshop, After Effects and so on – which can ruin a website just as easily as make it look fantastic.

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.

And sites which overdo it with heavy use of Flash or video can look really naff.

To avoid overdoing it with design:

  • Have a conversation about the look and feel of your site and what you are trying to achieve before starting the design process.

  • Don’t use Flash or any other technologies which may cause mobile users difficulties.

  • Avoid cheesy or gimmicky effects on photos or text.

  • Keep things minimalist where possible - it will make your content easier to digest.

Neglecting it!

The other big design mistake is to go to the other extreme and ignore the importance of aesthetics completely; to just throw a few songs or videos up on a web page. This often happens when a the band designs a site themselves.

Although it’s often the case that there is a web designer in the band (there is a long-established 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 and do a DIY job on the site.

But 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

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 the music industry…).

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 might like your to provide users with a free download when somebody subscribes to your mailing list; you might like it to have a forum; you might want an easily-updatable gallery and so on.

Here are some suggestions on how to create a music site that does useful stuff for its users:

  • Ensure your site displays nicely on all major web browsers and mobile devices – use a responsive web design (one which adapts to the device it’s being used on), and test it across devices

  • Include a music player which showcases your best tracks (Soundcloud's widget is usually good for this).

  • Include a sign up form on your site – you want to form a lasting relationship with as many site visitors as possible, so your site should contain a mailing list sign-up form (and one which spells out the benefits of joining the list). Tools like Getresponse and Mailchimp make it easy to do create one of these.

  • Include pointers to your social media profiles - consider using Facebook page plugins to make it easy 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.

  • Include a blog – blogging, done well, is arguably the best way to develop a strong relationship with your fans, and it’s a brilliant way to get more traffic onto your site. To find out how to do it effectively, check out these tips on how to increase traffic to your blog.

  • Provide RSS feeds - these permit your website to share your content automatically on social media and via e-newsletter every time something is published. They also allow people who use RSS readers to subscribe to your content in a reader. Find out more about RSS here.

  • Give music away for free on your site – in fact, we’d go as far as to suggest you devote a page on your site to freebies. In an age where people pretty much expect music to be free, it is bonkers to be completely precious about your tracks. You don’t have to give an entire album away, but you do need to make it very easy for people to listen to and download at least some of your music for free.

  • Include an electronic press kit – this should contain hi-res images, press releases and any supporting information / links to help journalists write reviews of your music or news features on you.

  • Install Google Analytics on your site site, so that you can look at how many people are visiting it and find out where they are coming from.

  • Make sure your site contains a gallery / embedded Youtube videos - people want to look at you, you know.

  • Optimise your site for search engines – 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. You can get some simple SEO tips to help raise the visibility of your website here.


Platforms

There is a huge number of website building platforms now available which allow you to build a website without needing to understand web development or code.

Popular ones include:

  • Squarespace

  • Wordpress

  • Wix

  • Jimdo

  • Moonfruit

Of the above platforms, I generally recommend Squarespace or Wordpress as the best solutions for building band websites, chiefly because the templates available for them are the most professional in appearance (and most suited to music website building). For a full rundown of the pros and cons of both these platforms, you might like to take a look at this Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison.

These DIY building solutions are good for bands on a budget, but the key thing to remember is that you should only use them if you are confident you have the skills to use them in a way which will produce a professional result. If you’ve got the option to use a good designer, I’d still recommend that over building a site yourself.


Top tips for building and running a site

To finish off, here are some general pointers on how to go about building and running a site.

  1. Do your research. Look at what established artists are doing with their websites, and ‘absorb’ (nick!) their ideas.

  2. Create a site map before you build the site — this will give you an idea of all the content you need to collate for it.

  3. And, when it comes to content, make it great. Invest some time or money in getting some good band photos. Write some engaging copy. And of course, record some amazing songs!

  4. 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 good idea of what you want, but your designer may be able to come up with something better.

  5. 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.

If you need help with your music site, do drop us a line - we now provide music web design services.


Website building resources

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7 ways to give your music website a spring clean

Music website design project

So, spring is finally with us it seems.

It’s a time for daffodils; bunnies; the first appearance this year of your rusty old barbeque…or maybe a long overdue glance at your music website, and a realisation that it looks like it a 1983 bulletin board.

Don’t panic. Here are some tips for giving your website a bit of a spring clean and adding some features that will help you promote your music more effectively.

1. Ensure your website is talking to Google

It’s all very well having a slick website, but if it’s not showing up in search, nobody will be able to find it. So make sure Google knows about it, by…

  • ensuring that your band name and influences are present in each page title
  • ensuring every page’s ‘meta description’ includes your band name and a good description of your music
  • registering your website with Google’s Webmaster Tools
  • creating some back links (links to your site) from as many quality sites as possible.

You can read more about SEO for bands here.

2. Ensure your site is capturing data effectively

Your website is not simply a place for fans to go and check your band out, it’s the place where they should be able to start a lasting relationship with your band (a relationship that involves not wining and dining but easily notifying fans when you are doing a gig, releasing material and so on).

The best way to make this beautiful relationship happen is to ensure that your site is capturing email addresses effectively.

There should ideally be a form on each page of your site where visitors can subscribe to your mailing list (ideally in exchange for some free content).

This form should be hooked up to an email marketing tool service like Getresponse or Mailchimp so that you can email your followers easily.

Another advantage of having a good mailing list is that you can use it in various ways on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to display online ads to people on the list.

3. Make it easy for people to follow you on social media

Obviously a huge number of people follow artists on social networks these days; even the most technically-challenged musicians tend to be aware of this and put social media icons on their website accordingly.

However, they don’t always put them in the best place, or use them in the best way. To get the most out of social media on your site,

  • ensure you are putting the social media icons in a very prominent spot - in other words, ‘above the fold’, so users don’t have to scroll a lot or nose around the site to find the social links
  • where possible use buttons that allow ‘one-click’ follows, rather than icons which direct you to a social media profile containing another follow button. For example, use an embedded Twitter follow button or Facebook ‘like’ button wherever possible; with these, once they are clicked, the user will automatically be following your band without ever leaving your site.
  • consider using a sharing tool such as Addthis as a way of encouraging follows and content sharing – it allows you to add follow / sharing icons to your site very easily, plus gives you some very interesting stats.

4. Blog!

Unless you are getting a truckload of Radio 1 airplay, it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to get a truckload of visitors spontaneously rocking up at your website.

However, if you’re writing interesting blog articles regularly (interesting = not necessarily about your band) these are likely to get picked up by search engines, resulting in organic traffic to your site and, if you’ve followed steps 2 and 3 above correctly, a good opportunity to capture data and gain new social media followers.

When done well, blogging can be a strong component of a good inbound marketing strategy (you can find out about inbound marketing here).

5. Compare your website against others

Compare your site to those belonging to seriously huge artists: the U2s, Bowies, Red Hot Chilli Peppers of this world.

How does yours stack up? Is the photography and use of typefaces as strong? Is your site as clever or comprehensive when it comes to data capture and social media?

Actually, the answer might be yes – some big acts have surprisingly awful websites. But it’s important to take a look at what the ‘pros’ do anyway, in case there are any tricks you are missing.

Typically I tend to find that where a lot of unsigned bands’ websites fall down is in their use of photography – the images use just aren’t professional enough. 

My advice to any band is always to sort out the music photos before going anywhere near a website designer.

6. Check your website on a variety of devices

Given how many people are accessing content on smartphones these days, it’s worth checking how your site appears on a variety of devices – not just your fancypants 27 inch iMac.

The main thing you need to do is ensure that your site displays correctly on any device, and not just a desktop computer – basically you need a ‘responsive’ website which automatically resizes itself depending on what device it is being viewed on.

7. Use analytics

There is little point having a website if you are unsure whether or not anyone is visiting it. So,

  • ensure you have a Google Analytics account for your website, and are checking it regularly
  • register your site with Google’s Webmaster Tools
  • use Addthis to measure how many people are following you or sharing content, and which bits of content they are sharing.

Act on the information you receive: if your blog articles are particularly popular, write more of them; if your videos page is heavily visited, make more of them and so on.

Useful website building resources

Building a website for the first time? You may find some of these website and online store building tool reviews useful:

You might also like to check out our music web design services.

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Typefaces: why they are important and tips on choosing the right one for your band

Typefaces

Recently I bought a new pair of glasses. A pair that are a little bit more ‘out there’ than some of my previous spectacles. When I say that, I mean they are big and goofy and more in line with something that Clark Kent would sport than my more restrained, sensible eyewear purchases of yore. And to be honest, they are my sole nod to fashion. The rest of me looks as scruffy, non-descript and as ignorant of the latest trends in clothing as ever, but – oh! – you should see my eye-area. It now looks totally at home in any Dalston bar full of hip-spectacle-wearers that you care to mention. The top of my face has become fashionable; it looks like somebody has done a professional job on styling it.

I’m tempted to just leave this article at that, leaving you in awe of my spectacle-purchasing decisions and imagining what my improved eye-area looks like, but I suppose the purpose of these posts is actually to provide music promo advice, so I’d better try to find a way to turn this anecdote about glasses into something of relevance to the rock-success-craving muso. So read on and I’ll explain why the transformative power of my specs is going to help your music career.

You see, a good pair of glasses is like a good typeface. Useful. Possibly sexy. Quite often cheap. Image-changing. And before you put your promo CD in the hands of any A&R guy, or point any unsuspecting music listener in the direction of your website, you need to ensure that you’re using the right fonts on both. That may sound like a ridiculously cautious approach – or overly-reverential of fonts – but there are some very good reasons for ensuring you’ve got your typeface selection right before you unleash your music on an industry contact or a member of the great unwashed.

Firstly, the typeface you use on your promotional material is one of the biggest clues about the kind of music you make. Say, for example, you are in a band called The Folk Poppers and you make polite folk pop. The drummer in the band says he knows a thing or two about graphic design, and he duly whips up a logo using a typeface called Squealer, which is rather reminiscent of the font-du-choix of AC/DC. Not knowing any better, you plaster this all over your album sleeve, your posters, your website and your e-newsletters.  In doing so, you become a hard rock band before anybody’s even heard your CD full of tasteful folk-pop ditties. This of course means that you now run the risk of having to deal with some seriously confused hard rock fans who are absolutely disgusted by your CD; and worse, you might never reach the eardrums of those who are into polite folk pop, because they took a look at your album cover and assumed you were a hard rock band.

Secondly, a font can instantly tell an industry contact or potential listener how professional you are as an outfit (and thus how seriously to take you). For example, if you design promotional material that makes extensive use of Comic Sans, you immediately come across as amateurish. Your tracks may sound great – recorded with vintage analogue synthesisers run through valve pre-amps that only accept inputs from cables that end with quarter-inch jacks made of gold – but if the song titles are presented in Comic Sans, well, seriously, you’re screwed. That’s the kind of font that mums and dads get the pleasure of seeing when they receive a newsletter from a playgroup. It screams ‘small time’. Childish. Local. Unambitious. Not very rock and roll. And ultimately unworthy of further exploration. (Note to any kindergarten-users or proprietors amongst you: it’s fine, however, for playgroups to use it; probably quite appropriate).

It all comes down to this: in showbiz, preconceptions are everything. And typefaces are actually one of the earliest generators of these preconceptions. Like band photos, they technically don’t have anything to do with the kind of noise your band makes – but they sure as hell make people think they know what you sound like, without you ever playing a note.

So, given all the above, how do you actually get your band typeface right? Here are some tips:

  • Before you start thinking about fonts, think about your music. What kind of noise do you REALLY make? Try to nail down the genre as best you can as this will eventually inform your typeface choice. (This can be surprisingly difficult in these post-post-post-modern days of ours, but try your best.)
  • Do some research. Look at the typefaces used by bands that operate in the same genre as you and compile a list of potential fonts that get your act into the right ‘font ballpark’.
  • Use tools like Myfonts.com to see what your band’s name looks like in a particular typeface (just whack your act’s name into the ‘sample text’ box above font search results). If you see another band using a particular font, and are minded to nick it, you can also use Myfonts.com’s “What the Font” tool to find out what the name of that typeface is (by uploading a screengrab of it).
  • Once you’ve decided on a particular typeface, gauge opinion on it – ask some music industry professionals, your Facebook fans, etc. what they make of it, and if they think it 1) suits the sort of music you play and 2) looks professional.
  • Remember that if you want to use a particular font for general body copy on a website, there must be a ‘web font’ version of it available. However, if you are particularly keen on a using a typeface for your band name, but there isn’t a web font version available, you can just convert the band name text to a graphic – for use in headers and so on –  and use a similar / complimentary webfont for general text on the site. (A good source of free web fonts is Google Fonts).
  • If you feel in any way out of your depth with typefaces, do consider getting a graphic designer on board – and preferably one that regularly works with bands (rather than one who does corporate stuff – you don’t want to end up with your band’s name looking like the Barclay’s logo or similar).

And finally, remember this above all else: there is nothing funny about Comic Sans. Even if you are in a comedy band that sings extremely jovial songs, it is still worth avoiding like the plague.

About The Prescription

‘The Prescription’ is written by independent musician and Head of Digital Communications and Irish PR at Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.  

Find out how Prescription PR can get your band noticed - contact us today. We offer music PRdigital marketing and music web design services.

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Four things today's bands can learn from David Bowie's comeback

Some David Bowie outfits

Music has come a long way since David Bowie’s legendary 1972 Top of the Pops appearance – the one where he flung his arm casually and camply around Mick Ronson, and proceeded to blast out one of the catchiest songs about a gay alien (Starman) you are ever likely to hear. Yes, things have changed alright. We have (nearly) abolished ‘physical’ music; we’ve shut down HMV; and we give away music for free (not for people's listening pleasure but in order to make databases).

Yet amidst all these sad developments, with the surprise announcement of the release of new album The Next Day, Mr Bowie has managed to make a comeback that seems almost as arresting as his 1972 Top of the Pops appearance. And there is a hell of a lot that today’s contemporary artists can learn from it.

1. Silence is golden

In this instant-communications era of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and so on, it is incredibly tempting for today's bands and artists to say something online every five minutes.

Whether constantly imploring people to buy their next album or letting their Facebook fans know what they've just had for lunch, bands – both unsigned and established – never seem to shut up.

Contrast that with Bowie, who kept 100% mum for 10 years regarding what he was up to musically, meaning that when he actually had something important to say ('hi guys, I've got a new album out') it was said with maximum impact.

Now admittedly, most artists are not rock legends like Bowie and simply being quiet for ages and then suddenly issuing a press release is not going to shock the music world to remotely the same extent as Bowie’s surprise comeback. However, there is still a huge amount to be said for the ‘less is more’ approach to communicating music news; and a bit of enigma (read silence) can do your band the power of good, by adding an air of mystique to proceedings and generating intrigue amongst fans and the media.

The key thing for bands to remember is to use their arsenal of social media tools judiciously. Ensure every status update is genuinely interesting; don’t hit your mailing list with e-newsletters every week; and only send press releases to journalists and bloggers if there is an absolute need to. The way that Bowie announced the release of his new album was a classic example of quality of communications trumping quantity; and you will note that in his first message about his music in 10 years or so, he didn’t mention that he had a chicken kiev for lunch.

2. Live up to the hype

I still haven’t forgiven the international community of rock critics for persuading me to purchase a copy of Oasis’ Be Here Now album back in 1997, so I’m not quite ready to buy their unanimous conclusion that Bowie’s new album is as good as Ziggy Stardust or whatever.

However, even after only a couple of listens it is clear that there are some very strong songs on the album – it’s fairly apparent that Bowie has done enough here to (largely) live up to the hype that the dramatic announcement of the record’s existence generated.

Again, few (if any) bands will ever find themselves in a situation where their next release is accompanied by as much hype as The Next Day, but nonetheless, some artists who have yet to release anything will find themselves in a position where they are starting to get feted by some very cool people indeed (largely Instagram-food-snapping types with a slight tendency to overuse the words ‘subtle’ and ‘textures’ when discussing music).

The natural reaction to being talked up by such types is to seize the moment and rush out a half-baked record. This is always a bad move. It is far better to bide your time and concentrate on putting together the strongest album you can rather than release something that fails to live up to the hype. For nothing offends a fashionable champion of your band more than a mediocre record that makes the aforementioned champion look a bit silly. And, if it’s a mediocre album, the average music fan isn’t going to like it anyway.

3. Work with interesting people

Most bands these days have a laptop and a copy of Pro Tools or Logic, which means (in theory) that they have a state of the art recording studio at their disposal.

Having this studio on tap often leads these bands to think that they can ‘do it all themselves’ without involving producers, arrangers and engineers (the financial implications of involving such professionals also puts them off).

But working with really good people can do wonders for an album, in two ways: firstly, it can seriously improve the quality of the results, and secondly, if the producer / mix engineer etc. constitutes a ‘name’, this can add a dash of kudos to the project and help generate mediate interest around it.

Bowie’s choice to work again with the legend that is Tony Visconti certainly didn’t hurt this release; nor did getting Tilda Swinton involved in the video for single The Stars Are Out Tonight; or letting long-time collaborator and guitar hero Earl Slick noodle all over his songs again.

Your band might not be able to get these sort of high-profile dudes on board that easily – but that shouldn’t stop you trying to get talented people to contribute. Even getting a decent mix engineer to do your final bit of knob-twiddling could pluck your record straight out of the amateur division and transform it into something that, sonically at least, could give The Next Day a run for its money.

4. Write / record significantly more than you release

I’ve always believed that whilst music-making involves a lot of artistry, skill, effort and so on, sometimes you just get lucky and a good song seems to pop along out of thin air (Yesterday by McCartney being a case in point – he just woke up one day with it going round his head).

Simply put, the more you write, the greater the odds become of this kind of musical serendipity popping up and slapping you round the face (maybe this is because the more practice you get at doing something, generally speaking, the better you get at doing it).

Now, if the contributors at Wikipedia are to be believed, Bowie recorded 29 tracks for this album – but how many songs made it on? 14: less than half. If the ‘record way more than you need’ way of doing things is good enough for Bowie, I suggest you investigate this approach too.

Or think of it as an argument in favour of editing your album heavily: try to make it all killer, no filler; leave out the self-indulgent numbers. This has always been sage (and obvious) advice, but in an era where people can download individual tracks from an album and skip the dodgy stuff, it makes no sense to put duffers on your record.

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