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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.


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Top online tools for promoting your music

An old computer

An old computer

Although there is still a place for CDs, records and tapes in my, er, book, selling music is, for the vast majority of DIY musicians, all about the internet these days. So in this week’s Prescription article, I thought I’d talk about some of my favourite online tools for shoving your music in unsuspecting punters' faces (which is why you're really reading this isn't it? Anyway).

1. Building websites that let you sell music

Shopify is a tool that allows you to create a really nice-looking website that lets you sell music easily. Even if you don’t have a huge amount of technical knowledge, you can build a site fairly easily with the platform, which also comes with useful blogging tools. But crucially, it makes selling digital and physical goods direct to fan very easy, which is absolutely vital for any musician. There is a monthly fee for using it – depending on your requirements, you can expect to pay between £9 and £20 a month. Grab a free Shopify trial here.

2. Sending e-newsletters – Mad Mimi or GetResponse

A crucial part of any band promotion shenanigans is beating your fans into submission with e-newsletters, and Mad Mimi and Getresponse win my vote for the best all-round ‘e-newsletter-sending’ tools.

Madmimi is great simply because it is very, very competitive on price. For $36 (£22) a month you can send great-looking HTML emails to up to 10,000 fans. If you don’t have as many fans as that, Mad Mimi has a range of other packages that enable you to send to a smaller number of contacts – all of which seem to cost considerably less than the equivalents offered by Mad Mimi’s main competitors. On top of that, using Mad Mimi to manage data and create attractive HTML e-newsletters is very straightforward. Find out more about Mad Mimi and get a free trial here.

For a richer feature-set, including more control over design, autoresponders and social sharing, I'd probably plump for Getresponse. The pricing is still pretty competitive too. One thing worth noting though is that Getresponse doesn't allow you to import data - you have to start building your list from scratch with it.

3. Sharing files – Dropbox

Dropbox is a great way to store data ‘in the cloud’ which means three things: you can back up your files easily, access them from anywhere, and – probably most importantly from the music promo point of view – share content incredibly easily. At Prescription we use frequently use Dropbox to share songs, videos, hi-res pics and press releases with journalists; on top of that, we even use it as an office network and a data-backup solution. We love it, and I’ve come across fewer handier tools for musicians (or indeed anyone in need of somewhere to store/share a load of stuff online). Most importantly for me, it means that the days of clunky uploads to Yousendit or attaching large files to emails and hoping for the best are over. You get a 2GB with a free Dropbox account, and if you want more, a 100GB package costs around £6 per month. Find out more about Dropbox here.

4. Productivity – Google Apps

If you are a DIY musician you’ll know that really, you're trying to run a business as much as you are trying to write music. As such you’ll need a truckload of tools that let you do the former (and far more boring) activity effectively. Fortunately “don’t be evil” Google (who may or may not be evil these days but let’s put that momentarily to one side) have come to the rescue with a suite of free goodies that let you manage your time (via Google calendars), send IMAP emails using your own domain name (thanks to Gmail), set up a basic band email list (via Feedburner), find out what people are saying about you online (using Google Alerts) and see when your mum is visiting your website (via Google Analytics). There's also Google Docs, for those of you who are too cheap to buy a copy of Microsoft Office. I wrote a post last year about how you can use Google apps to further your music career – you might want to check it out.

5. Making your Facebook page better – Woobox’s static Iframe app

Back in the days of yore (well, until about a year ago I think), you used to be able to add ‘static HTML’ pages to Facebook fan pages. This meant that, providing you were prepared to fiddle about a bit with some HTML code, you could add a whole load of funky stuff to your Facebook fan page – content embedded from your site, mailing list sign-up forms, ‘fan-gated’ content (where people have to like a page to get a free song etc.) and more. Then Facebook took this functionality away, which was Very Annoying. Fortunately a crowd called Woobox came along and created a great thing – the-not-very sexily titled ‘Static Iframe App’ – which allows you to add your own custom tabs to Facebook again. What’s more, the app actually makes it much easier than it was before to add the funky stuff I was talking about above. The app itself is available at https://apps.facebook.com/iframehost-heart/?fb_source=search&ref=ts; for an example of it in action may we suggest you check out a bit of work we did recently for ex-Seahorse and now fantastic solo artist Chris Helme, where we used it to embed a mailing list sign-up form on his Facebook page and offer a track in exchange for a like.

6. Checking how good your website is - Marketing Grader

So good is Hubspot's Marketing Grader that I thought it deserved a mention all of its own in a recent Prescription article - and it's worth mentioning again here. Basically it's a tool that looks at your website and tells you everything that's wrong with it from a content / SEO / social media point of view. But thankfully, it also gives you a list of things you need to do to improve your site. You can take a look at Marketing Grader here.

7. Testing your band's name out in a variety of fonts - Myfonts.com

Most band logos aren't really logos at all - they are simply the band's name displayed in a particular typeface. And how good or bad that typeface is can make the difference between your band looking like rookies or pros. Rather than relying on whatever default fonts came pre-installed with Windows, you should be a bit more adventurous - you can use Myfonts.com to experiment with different fonts and use your band name as the 'test text'.

That's it for now, musical chums. Hope the above tools help you in your quest for glory.

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