By Jimi Heath
You've written your music, recorded your album or demo, constructed an effective bio and have completed your press kit, but there seems to be something missing. You are in need of a website. Ah, the allure of millions of online junkies digging around to find musical gold, but you'll need to be online in order for anyone (fans or industry execs) to see and hear what you have to offer the world and the only way to do this is to build your own website. Just think of it as your online demo package and/or press kit, because that's exactly what it is.
You know that you want one, but how do you begin? After all, you're a musician not a computer techie. Fortunately, it's not as complicated as you might think. So, before diving into the proverbial ocean of .coms, www's and protocols take a deep breath and relax. We're about to embark on a journey to bring your music to an international audience, all from the comfort of your own home.
Before we can contemplate design, layout and content, we must first approach the technical aspect of your new website. So let's start by getting familiar with a couple technical terms and lay down some basic ground work. Learning the meaning of these terms will help you better understand things that may seem technically complicated. A cool byproduct of this is that in no time, you can start throwing your newly expanded vocabulary around in casual conversation to impress your family and friends. Additionally, getting all of this boring techie stuff out of the way now will leave you plenty of room for your creative juices to start dripping onto what is destined to be a great website.
Naming Your Website
Your first step, before you do anything else, is to name your new creative baby. That's right; it's time to choose your Domain Name. Your domain name is your website's calling card. It is how people will find you and more importantly, how your website will be branded.
In simplest terms, the domain name is the characters that follow the www in any website address. For example, www.domainname.com. It's important to note that domain names, like apartments, are never owned. Rather, they are leased.
In other words, you will have to register a domain name and "lease" it for a period of time. The costs of domain name registrations are usually $25-$35 dollars per year. You can register your own domain name by going to any of the hundreds of Internet companies who offer this service, however to save time you might want to head to one of the most popular sites, such as www.networksolutions.com, www.register.com and www.tucowscom.
Remember, the Internet has been around for a while now and there are millions of domain names that have already been registered, so be creative and patient when it comes to choosing your name. Most importantly, be sure to choose a domain name that most effectively represents you as a songwriter, artist or band. For example, if your band name is THE HOOSERS, then www.thehoosers.com or the www.hoosersband.com would both be effective domain names to utilize. Again, be sure to come up with a healthy list of choices to avoid being frustrated during the registration process.
Finding Your Host
Okay, you've registered your website domain name and now it's time to find the company that will "host" your domain name and your website. Think of your hosting company as your landlord, who will provide you with an amount of hard drive space on their servers and bring your domain name and website contents to the Internet and in front of a potential worldwide audience.
There are thousands of hosting companies on the Internet, and with so many companies vying for your business, you can find remarkable deals. Setting up hosting is fairly easy, you simply locate the hosting company you want to use, give them the registration information of your domain name and in most cases they will set up everything else on your behalf.
One of the most popular hosting companies is www.valueweb.net, but you might be able to secure a hosting company through your domain name registration as well. If you want to price-shop before settling on your hosting company, take the time to do some Internet searching for "website hosting." Remember also that it's not all about price, as you need to keep in mind how much "space" your website will require (this will impact how many songs, photos, pages, etc. that you can use).
Layout, Content and Design
Now that you have your domain name and hosting all in place, its time to move forward to the fun part; creating the masterpiece that will be your website. In an effort not to turn this article into a book, we are going to assume that you either know how to build a website or are really smart and will trust the production of your website to a professional.
Don't worry; having a web designer do the actual construction does not take any of the creativity out of your hands. Additionally, having a professional take care of it for you is much cheaper than it was even a year ago. In fact, an average artist website will cost you only about $300-$500. And when you consider all the mass mailing and marketing savings that a website will bring you, this outlay of cash will more than pay for itself in no time.
Also, it's important to remember that because of the dot.com crash, there are thousands of talented web designers out of work these days, so you can really get a bargain on that end. Hell, you might even have fans that will want to do it because they believe in your music and want to help you gain more fans. The fact is that you probably have a friend or acquaintance that was once in this line of work or is in need of some freelance work, so hit them up!
The key thing to remember is that whether you decide to hire a website designer or do it yourself, there are certain things that you'll need to take care of no matter which avenue you ultimately choose.
Storyboarding Your Layout
Just as any song you write follows a basic, fundamental structure, so should the foundation of your website. Utilizing a solid structure for your website will ensure fluidity and ease of use for your online audience. We've all been to websites that were confusing, overly elaborate and basically a pain to get around in. Don't let your website become one of these technical nightmares.
A good way to get started in structuring your website is a process called Storyboarding. This is where you decide early on how you want users to maneuver (or "navigate") your website. It's important to take the time to lay it all out in front of you to make sure that it all makes sense for ease of use. Pretend that you know nothing about your band-just like a majority of your website visitors-and what it would take to grab your attention.
For a band, musician or artist website, there are some basics that should be included in the overall layout: Homepage, Bio, Music, Picture Gallery, News, Gigs and Contact. Utilizing these basic chapters will allow you to best present all the written information (bio, news, gig schedule, etc.) and media (song mp3s, photos, etc.) in a clear and concise manner that will make for a pleasant stay for your website visitors.
To begin the story boarding process, start with a basic story board layout such as the example below:
Building Your Content
Now that you have the basic storyboard for your layout, let's move along to coming up with the content for your website. During the content population process, we will be adding to our storyboard.
Needless to say, content is the most crucial element in your website. Too little will leave the user uninformed and too much could possibly cause an aneurysm, so it's important to keep it simple while still making your website an interesting experience to all who visit. Let's begin with the elements we have already created in your storyboard:
|Homepage:||Your homepage is your visitor's first impression of your website and, subsequently, you as an artist. Keep the content interesting, yet to the point and on the mark of what you want to convey to your audience. In most cases a nice headshot, or band shot and a simple description will do.|
|Bio:||If you haven't already read "Creating an Effective Bio" by Dan Kimpel on the TAXI website, we encourage you to do so. Remember, being simple and concise is your best bet. No one wants to know that you've been singing since the age of 3. Industry reps and fans are interested in what you've done in the past few years; not in your entire life. Also keep in mind with all of your pages that you will apply graphic design to them which will also make your text more visually appealing.|
|Music:||Your music page should be exciting and represent not only YOU, but also your overall style. If you are going to utilize your website as an online press kit, then you will need to have at least two full songs available for users to either stream or download.
If you are selling your new CD online, then you should have "snippets" available for preview, as to entice your audience to purchase your music. Additionally, if you are selling your music online, you can utilize a music promotion service and link over to that from your music page. This is really your call. Additional to your music being placed on this page, you may also want to consider linking to a "lyric" page so listeners can view your lyrical content while listening to your songs.
|Pics:||In this section you can make a gallery of your photo spread. Please be sure that you don't include you and your family at last year's barbecue or you water skiing on your Florida vacation. This website is about your music, so make sure your pictures reflect that. A few headshots or band shots as well as some shots of you performing or in the studio will suffice.
|News:||In this section, make a bulleted list of your musical achievements as well as any late breaking news about your career. Anything from winning a songwriting competition to you opening for a larger act will do just fine. Remember, this is a section that should get the user excited about your career in the music industry. This is also a good area to include brief quotes from industry reps or music trade publications.|
|Gigs:||In this section, you will be listing your upcoming events and gigs. This is a key element for a performer. Any A&R exec is going to want to know that you are active, so keeping this page filled and up to date will only increase your chances of industry interest.|
|Contact:||In this section, you will be including your contact information. Please remember that this information will be made very public, as it will be hosted over the Internet, so leaving your home address as a point of contact may not be the wisest of decisions. Usually an email address will be enough contact information that you will need on a website.|
Now that we have covered the basic content, let's review our story board:
As you can see we have added a second layer that will be secondary pages to our basic layout. You can add more pages where you feel they are necessary, but
remember the simpler the better. Design Design is the quintessential element to a really great website. More mistakes are made in design than in any other aspect of website construction. Again, we must reiterate that simplicity always makes for the most effective and attractive website. Let's look at a few key elements in design:
Branding is very important if you are a band or have a logo that you want to be easily recognized. A book could be written on the aspects of branding alone, but for now and for time consideration, just stick to the basic rule of consistency. If you utilize a logo on your homepage, be sure to repeat the logo in your other pages and on your printed materials.
|Concept:||Obviously the basic concept of your website will be about your music, but in developing a truly effective site, you should look at the concept of your music and use that as a staging point for your design. In other words, if you are a thrasher metal band, utilizing a concept of pastel colors, flower graphics and pink text may not be what most effectively mirrors your music. So choose a concept that reflects you as an artist, your music and the image you want to convey to your online viewing public.|
|Color:||Color is something that many first-timers don't give much thought to, but ultimately it's one of the most important decisions you're going to make. Not only is it important to your concept design, it's just as significant to how easy your pages are to view.
Be sure to use nice contrasting colors. Remember, that pink text on a red background is not only scary but incredibly difficult to read. Also, keep in mind that what looks good in print may not look good on a computer screen. The best advice we can give is to sit down with your web designer, and test some color variations out during the design period, although you should bring some color concepts to the table. Having your website designer trying out every conceivable color scheme is only going to lengthen the design time-frame, but ultimately cost you more money as the designer's time IS money.
The best way to get your own concepts together is to look at other websites that you find visually appealing and investigate their color schemes to see if those colors would coincide nicely with your concept.
|Graphics:||The use of graphics throughout your website is an aspect of the design that should not be taken lightly. Be sure when choosing graphic elements for your website that you don't go too sparse or more importantly too heavy. Try to stay away from backgrounds that are busy as they tend to detract from your content.
Generally speaking, a nice subtle background will have the best atmospheric impact. Also, we advise that you stay away from large files that may take visitors too long to download, such as large flash splash pages and huge gif or jpg files. Again, keep it simple, and remember that the vast majority of Internet users have still not made the move to broadband connections.
|Branding:</td>||It's our hope that this brief primer on website development will be enough to get you moving your music and your career online, as all serious artists, songwriters and bands need to have an online presence in this day and age to reach the widest possible audience and industry attention.|
By adhering to these simple tips, you'll find yourself not only dipping your toes into the Internet water, but you'll soon be swimming in the musical ocean that is today's Internet. Take the plunge; you'll be glad you did.