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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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How to market your music to a smartphone audience

Smartphone at a gig

In this Prescription PR article, we look at some of the challenges that smartphones bring to music marketing and offer some tips on how to promote your music to a smartphone audience...

I’d like to take issue with the term ‘smartphone’. If anything, smartphones make people dumb. Try having a conversation with somebody whilst they staring at an iPhone; all you’ll get out of them is an ‘um, yeah, huh…um, huh, yeah, sorry, what was that again?’. Dinner-time conversation in posh restaurants is a particular victim of this, as your squeeze will be too busy instagramming their food to talk to you. And don’t get me started about SUV drivers on the M25 who feel compelled to, yes, check their email whilst driving. That is potentially lethal, not smart – even if it means they’re enjoying a Prescription article at 70mph (sorry, 95mph).

Regardless of the dumbing-down effects of smartphones, these devices are increasingly a fact of online life. We see proof of this every time we send a Prescription article out via email – our stats indicate that at least 30% of the people reading it are doing so on a mobile phone (mainly iPhones – that’s the music industry for you!). Similarly, a significant proportion of visitors to our website – around 20% - are peering at it on their phones. Although we’d like to think that we’re the kind of hip agency that almost demands being experienced through the prism of a glossy smartphone screen, these stats are actually going to be quite similar with regard to any online bumph.  (And musicians, as we know, excel at inflicting online bumph on the world.)

So, as a DIY musician plugging your wares, how do you take this new smartphone audience into account and actively cater for it? Here are a few tips:

1. Write copy that works for both desktop and mobile users

Any time you send a band e-newsletter, remember that a large proportion of your victims (sorry, recipients) will be reading it on a phone, with all the reduction in attention span that this entails. Consequently, you probably want to avoid writing an essay to your fans. Put your key ‘call to action’ (come to my gig / buy my record / be my groupie) near the top of the message, and keep waffle to a minimum. Same goes for your website really (particularly if you are not planning on having both a desktop and a mobile version of your site).

2. Avoid flashing

iOS devices don’t do Flash, and increasingly, neither do Android ones. (Try visiting a Flash website on a phone and you’ll just get a helpful blank space where the content should be.) However, for many years now bands and musicians have been big into ahem, flashing: even in the dial-up era, the web was packed full of whizzy sites packed full of flash animations. These sites cost an arm and a leg to build and took an age to load, but bands put up with this because they thought that having a flash site made them look cool. Plus ҫa change. However, these days, unless you deliberately want to confuse or irritate your smartphone audience, there is little point in having a Flash-based music site. Best to concentrate on putting together a simple music website that looks nice, loads quickly, contains great content and (crucially) captures data. If you must use Flash, get a website-building boffin to ensure your site does some OS / browser detection – this works out what kind of device or browser a visitor is using, and serves up the right sort of content accordingly (i.e., desktop users get flash; iPhone users get text etc.)

3. Ensure that your free tracks are accessible on a smartphone

A lot of bands offer free EP downloads – or even free albums – to their fans in exchange for email addresses. A lot of the time these are presented in ZIP format, with all the songs being contained within one ZIP file. This is a neat way of doing thing for desktop or laptop users…but seriously, try opening a ZIP file on an iPhone. It is doable, but it’s a royal pain in the bum. So make sure that when you give away a free track in exchange for an email address, or an interesting encounter in the green room, that the fan will actually be able to listen to the song afterwards (particularly if you’re going down the encounter-in-the-green-room route; why disappoint them twice?). One way to do this is to offer a non-zipped, down-to-earth, old-fashioned MP3 as well as a ZIP file. The former should play fine on a smartphone; and the latter will allow the user to save the content into a music folder on a PC. Another option is to also provide links to smartphone-friendly streams of your EP / album.

4. Check all your ‘online assets’ on a phone as well as a 27” monitor

If you’re a musician, the chances are you’re looking at all your online assets – websites, HTML e-newsletters, videos etc. – on a big shiny 27” iMac screen (all broke musicians have iMacs - it's an odd fact of musical life). But it's vital to check all this content on a phone too before unleashing it on the world (well ideally, on a few phones, and the odd tablet as well). A website that looks superb on the big screen may look rubbish on a phone; an e-newsletter which looks lovely in the desktop version of Gmail may be completely unreadable in the mobile version. With the increasingly large variety of devices in circulation, it’s getting difficult to create online content that works perfectly on everything; however, you should aim to ensure that your content looks good on as broad a range of devices as possible, especially iOS and Android ones.

5. Build a mobile-friendly site

One way to ensure that your site looks good on mobile devices is to, yes, build a mobile-friendly site. You can either create an alternate version of your site which displays automatically to smartphone users (a 'mobile site') or, better yet, build a 'responsive' website, which is one that resizes page width automatically to suit the device it's being viewed on. The advantage of the latter approach is that users see the exact same content, regardless of what device they're using; bespoke mobile sites tend to be more static affairs that require periodic syncing with a desktop site, or only provide a selection of content from it.  

6. Get creative with smartphone technology

Don’t overlook the creative possibilities that smartphones offer musicians. Can you create a game that is somehow tied into your music? Can you develop an app that offers your fans an interesting experience which takes your music to another level (man)? Can you use smartphones to capture data at gigs? Can you use text messages to market your music? Can you release your album as an app rather than a download or CD? It’s quite easy to go overboard with this sort of thing – and spend way too much money on developers  – but it is still worth thinking about, because some ideas can actually yield great results (and double up as good PR angles).

Now, put that phone down, stop reading this article and concentrate on the M25. Or flying that plane.

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