Making a Great Music Website

Linescratchers welcomes Jennifer Thomas, an extraordinary pianist and violinist, performer and composer of music for short films, television, and her own albums. You can check out her music website here.

With how rapidly social networking and other new technologies have completely changed the way websites have been looking and developing, I’ve known for about a year now that my website has been in desperate need of a complete makeover.  I’ve been putting it off until my release date gets closer for my  upcoming album, “Portraits” at the end of this year. – just assuming that it would be the best time to make the changes then so that everything was “new”.

However, lately, I’ve been feeling the urgency to work on my website.   Not at the end of the year, but NOW. I suppose a big reason is while I’m currently in limbo between albums and not releasing any new music for a while, I feel like I need to do a better job at keeping my fans interested.  One way to do that is to get with the game and put out a website that has all the new bells and whistles that so many sites seem to have now.

Sounds great right?  But it’s all very time consuming.

I actually designed my current website myself. I certainly do not claim to be any expert on web design at all, but with some knowledge of HTML (thanks to a previous job I had working for a major online company many years ago), and a family member who is a web designer and who has given me many tips and tutorials…my website was created by my own hands.  Granted, it took me many, many countless hours in doing so.

I also admit that my process of creating my website was not very efficient either.  All of the tricks that pro web builders know and do, well, I don’t know how to do and didn’t do them.  Things like making a general template so that each time you want to do any sort of change you can just make the change to the template and not have to go through every page of your site to do so. Hello – duh?  You’d think I would have figured out that one, but nope. Guilty on that  design offense.

What can I say? I’m a musician, not a web designer!

So now here I am, starting to toss ideas around about my website redesign.

My current website has basically had the same format for about 4 years.  I have tried my best to keep it looking fresh and updated over those years.  I have twice switched out my fonts and tags so that they looked cleaner and better.  I have changed my header several times.  I’ve changed my navigation tabs, and added some as well.  I’ve always strived to keep my homepage up to date so that when people visit my site, they are hopefully seeing something new at least once a month or so.  I’ve tried to make sure that I’m up to date on my social networking links. I’ve also consolidated how many pages you have to click through in order to get to my store.  I’ve simplified my contact page, twice.  And I consolidated all of my myspace, and facebook posts into a blog, which is now my centralized location for news/updates.

Even with all of these changes that I’ve continually made to my site, I feel like I’m just not able to keep up.  And the more time that goes by, the more websites advance and the more my very limited knowledge of site-building decreases.

So right now, I’m in the research phase.  What are my options?

1.  I can hire someone to build a site for me, and it would completely eliminate any time/effort that I would need to spend on building one myself.  It would most likely look incredible, and professional.  But it would also cost me several thousands of dollars, and after it’s finished what would be my level of ability to keep it updated myself without having to call someone each time I want to add something or make a change, I wonder?

2.  I can build an entirely new website, myself, from scratch.  But again, like I said earlier, my website building knowledge is limited and so what I would end up with would be a very similar site to what I already currently have.  And what would be the point of that?

3. Since I use Yahoo as my webhost/domain/small business, I could use one of their ready-made templates.  However…I’m just not really a template girl.  I tend to think most templates are cheesy and unoriginal.  I also tend to have a specific idea in my head of what I’m going for, and it’s rare that I find it just ready and waiting for me.

4.  I can build a website on WordPress.com (which is what powers this Linescratchers site).  I also already use WordPress for my professional music blog, and I know that you add tabs and everything else to make it a website and not just a blog.  I have to say though, that it’s rare that I’ve come across a WordPress site that doesn’t look like it’s a blog.  What is the point of having a website if it’s going to look like a blog? That is what a blog is for.  A website tells the world that you are legit and that you are a professional.  Your blog is not your website.  There is a big difference.  With that being said though, I HAVE come across a few wordpress websites that have done an outstanding job of disguising the fact that it’s a WordPress site.  www.johnalbertthomas.com is one, for example.  I honestly had no idea he used WordPress and was pleasantly surprised.  His site looks amazing, in my opinion.  It’s professional, it’s user friendly, it’s clean, it’s minimal (I’m a website minimalist).  It looks fantastic.  So then I thought, well, maybe I can do a WordPress site.  But then upon further research though,  I found that converting a wordpress blog into a site is more steps than I was hoping it would be and one also needs to have a good knowledge of design in order to accomplish what John did with his site (he is a web designer, by the way).  Things like Javascript, and CSS.  Both of those are jibberish to me.  Otherwise, the inevitable happens and you get exactly what you don’t want – which is a website that looks just like a blog.

5.  I can use Wix.com, which is a website builder for Flash websites.  Secretly I’ve always envied Flash websites.  They look incredible, they do cool animated things, and look so professional.  However, typically Flash sites have a difficult time showing up on the Google radar because there isn’t a lot of text within these types of sites.  For example, if you try to right-click within a flash site, you can’t copy/paste.  But instead you get a little box that says something along the lines of “Learn more about Flash” or whatnot.  That is a good way for you to know you are dealing with Flash, not html/text.  However, Flash is coming along, and Wix has developed something that aimes specifically at Google crawlers, thus making their websites easily picked up by search engines.  Sounds good, yes?  Well the other big hangup with Flash websites though, are now that Smart phones are so widely popular, you want to have a website that works with these phones and guess what? Flash websites do not show up within mobile devices.  So all those people who are using their mobiles to view your website and going to be sorely disappointed.  BUT!  Again, Wix is going to be releasing a product in the 2nd quarter of 2011 that converts the Flash into HMTL 5 and therefore…makes your flash website (through Wix) accessible to smart phones. AND it’s not something users have to download to their phones for the conversion, but rather they are specific templates for creating your websites.

So as of right now, I’m sort of leaning towards Option #5. Afterall the entire goal here is to spend LESS time on my website, and MORE time on my music.

I’m still running into the issue of not being able to find that perfect template that suits my needs, my taste, or my vision.  But I think I can manipulate the Wix templates enough to get something I will end up being happy with.

What do YOU look for in a music website?

I’ve thought long and hard about this myself.  What do I look for when I visit a musician’s websites?  Here are some things that I would like to change about my own website – perhaps you can relate.

1.  Consolidate and clean house. Right now I feel like I have so many navigation tabs on my homepage that I really could simplify those a lot.  For example, instead of having a tab for “Bio”, it would be a tab for “About”.  When you hover your mouse over the About tab, a drop-down menu appears and includes things like “Photos, Bio, Facts”, etc.  Whereas right now I have separate tabs for bio and photos.

2.  Make it easier to get to my store. This has been such a hard thing for me on my current website, because I use Yahoo small business for my store.  So right off the bat, once you click on “store” you are connecting to a URL outside my own website.  You leave the site.  And then once you are there, you have to click on which product you want, and then go through the entire shopping cart experience.  My sheet music is through a completely different site all together.  This is simply because my sheet music files are PDF downloads. They are not physical items for sale, but digital. Anyway – all in all – it can be confusing, and time consuming. I realize this.  A friend of mine, who is a business website analyst, told me that for each additional page that someone has to click through in order to complete the ordering process, I lose a lot of customers.  I’m an independent musician and I deeply depend on the sales from my website as they are the only source of income I make where I keep most of the profit for myself (aside from credit card merchant fees, shipping, etc.).  Thank goodness for sites like Amazon and iTunes that also sell my music (I truly mean that), but they do take upwards of 50-60% of my sales.  So getting the shopping experience consolidated and less confusing on my website is another goal.

3.  Minimize the photo gallery. When I first created my website, I had just gotten all of my photos taken for my debut album and I had, oh, about 3,500 photos  total.  In my mind, putting about 50 of them up on my website gallery was nothing. However, now, 4 years later I look through my photo gallery and think WOW did I really need to post all these photos of myself?  That would be a big fat NOPE!  So on the new site, I will only post a few select photos that I feel are needed and let my fans know who I am as a musician and person through those photos.  This will be hard – I admit, because I do love to share photos.  But again, I’m trying to simplify.

4.  Add new features. I want to utilize YouTube more. I’m thinking about creating some short videos to put on my site that will make for less reading, and more listening/watching (which I think a lot of people would love).  I want to tell stories about exeriences that I’ve had – whether they be random or professional.  So I’m thinking of adding a stories tab.  I want a licensing section, and a Press page for my EPK and Press pack.  I also want a section for free stuff, like free downloads and sheet music.  I’ve contemplated deleting my Education section entirely, but have decided to keep it but just redo it.  When I release my album, I want to have a “Listening Party” page where fans can come and stream longer clips of the songs to experience the album.  I want to add a tip jar to the Listening Party page.

Finally, I just want to quickly share what I’ve found makes a good or bad music website. I’ve cruised around the web quite a LOT these past few weeks as I’ve been checking out other musicians’ website and what they have to offer, to get ideas for my own, to see what is hip/new, etc.  This is what I’ve found:

Bad Ideas for Musician Websites:

1.  No Bio or About section. I was surprised to visit some of the big name artist website and find that there was no bio or about section included.  Even though they might be famous, I still would like to know about them.  I think it’s a little prideful to just assume that everyone knows you, and therefore, you do not need to write an “about” section.

2.  No contact info. Again, just because you are super famous, doesn’t mean you are above getting fanmail. And besides, who doesn’t love fanmail?  And even if you are too busy to answer emails, you could at least post some sort of contact info such as a business manager or something.

3.  Lots of clutter. Run on sentences, too much text on the homepage, too many navigation tabs…all bad ideas.

4.  A bio without a hint of humility. Yes, so you have won Grammy Awards, could you at least be a teeny bit humble and not have to give us your list of all the famous people you know but just concentrate on what YOU have accomplished?

5.  No Photos. Even if it’s one photo, at least let us know who the person is behind the music.

Good Ideas for Musician Websites:

1.  Simple Navigational tabs with drop down menus. This all equals a cleaner site with less clutter.

2.  A clean and organized store. I’ve been to way too many musician websites where when you visit their store, all of the products are out of order and are a jumbled mess.  It would be nice to see all the CDs together, the sheet music together, and any other product together in a similar fashion.

3.  An upfront explanation of what you do. Sure you’re name is John Smith, but what do you do John?  Are you a composer?  What type of music do you compose?  Are you a pianist?  Solo or orchestrated?  What genre?

4.  Links. I don’t want to have to search the entire website to find your Facebook link, or your contact info link.  It’s great to have those on the homepage.

5.  Videos. It seems most musicians have at least one video on their site for their fans to view.  However, it’s not a good idea to post ALL of your youtube videos. Pick one or two and post it.

6.  Music. Don’t make your fans have to spend more than 15 seconds finding samples of your music to listen to – or else you’ll lose them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What do you LIKE or DISLIKE about musician websites?

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Making a Great Music Website

One thought on “Making a Great Music Website

  1. I always enjoy the bios on European musicians’ websites, with all the personal information about favorite foods and the slightly off translations.

    Since I started listening to music I have wanted to know as much about the musicians themselves as I could. If not necessarily their favorite foods and books, then I at least like to read a bit about how they started, who some of their inspirations and/or influences are, if they’re a band how they got together, and so on.

    It’s always sad to me when there’s a band website that doesn’t have good pictures of the drummer, including their equipment.

    Like

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