It’s a funny thing. Not “ha ha” funny, not really Twilight Zone weird-funny, but somewhere in the middle. As recently as ten years ago, a “Web site” was still a novelty, and something no singer/songwriter or band even gave a thought to. Now it’s something that’s not only a necessity, but a possible career maker or breaker.
But exactly what is a band or performer's Web site supposed to accomplish? How do you go about integrating the Internet into your overall marketing plan? What can you do, Web-wise, on your own and without spending a lot of money?
Hmm, as I look at that last paragraph, I’m glad I allotted two articles to cover all this Internet stuff. In this first one, we’ll deal with the basics of design, what software you’ll need, how to set up a simple site, web hosting alternatives, and start-up costs (little or none, thankfully); in the next article, we will take up streaming audio and video, what to give away and what to sell, keeping your site current and inviting, devising a media plan that includes your site, finding some low- and no-cost help, and extending your “virtual reach” with "link networks" and "Web rings."
It’s a lot to cram into two articles, so it’s going to be dense reading with lots of cogitation required on your part. If you’re not the “techiest” person in the band, you might want to get your resident geek to read these articles; they may know most of it, but you never know what might help and what you and they might learn. As far as I’m concerned, if I don’t learn something new every day, I’m not paying attention.
Getting a Web site is just the latest way of following the age-old advice about marketing: There’s no income without outreach. The Internet is another way of reaching out, one with all kinds of pluses and upside, along with some definite minuses and downside, of course. By itself it will do nothing but occupy some space on a server (a big computer somewhere that “serves” the content up to your site’s visitors).
From the mid-1990s until about 2001 — following the introduction of the World Wide Web, a graphical “layer” on top of the Internet’s text-and-code framework —every company with “dot com” in its name seemed to be making money or attracting investors. The operative word here is “seemed,” since the bubble burst rather ingloriously and showed that very few firms were actually profitable. We have learned infinitely more in the five years since the “Web market crash” than in the ten gung-ho years before it.
Now we know, even though some musicians refuse to believe it, that just putting up a Web site will not bring people to your site. Like anything else, people need to know it’s there and have to be motivated to go. So the first thing to do is have a realistic expectation for what your site will do for your band or yourself. It is a part of a bigger plan, it is not the plan itself.
You might end up distributing all the records in your upcoming career via your Web site, but it’s not very likely. Your music, whether in downloadable form or on a standard retail-packaged CD, is like any other commodity, and will sell more units the more places that the units can conveniently be purchased. However, we’ll continue with our model in this series of a band that’s been working locally, and is ready to become a regional act with a managed media profile.
Hey, you’re going to have a managed media profile! Don’t get too excited; Charles Manson has one of those, too.
Seriously, though, you’re just starting your push now, and you know there’s a lot of other things to do, so how you can get a quick Web presence that can be immediately useful and be flexible enough to grow down the line? If you don’t have a geek band member, just have the most computer-literate one of the bunch be the “webmaster,” with input from the best writer and whoever has an eye for design or can create and work with computer graphics.
Check a few other band sites, big names and small, and you will find that the basic underpinnings are pretty similar: a home or welcome page, a bio page, a page for upcoming shows, a reviews and press page, a music page, and maybe a guestbook. In short order you can also add a page with video of a live show, a “shopping cart”-style band store for CDs and merchandise, and so forth. You will be continuously tweaking, updating, redoing, undoing, and otherwise modifying your Web site, so don’t get too comfortable.
There are free software packages for both Macs and PCs, some of which come pre-installed on the new computers or are part of the operating system (OS), that can build some pretty elaborate sites. Before you start, have all of your text files (welcome message, bio, show schedule, etc.), graphics files (logos, scans, pictures, etc., in only jpeg/jpg, gif, or png file formats), and mp3 files of the one or two songs you are willing to give away as free downloads (plus 15-second clips of your CD tracks, if you’ve finished your CD). Using the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Web site creation tools at your disposal, assemble them into a workable set of pages. (Teaching this step is beyond the scope of this series, but there are numerous free how-to articles online — and there’s always the “Web for Dummies” books, too.)
Pick a domain name, preferably your band’s name, and search at internic.com to see if it’s available. You might have to settle for a variation, and/or go for a .net, .org, or other domain, to get what you want. Once you have a name, you can register it and then buy a hosting plan for as low as $8-10 a month. Study the options on all the low-cost plans, which you will find advertised in music and computer magazines, in addition the bazillion hits that “web hosting” will get you on Google.
Finally, get ready for the next article in this series, because that’s all for now, folks!
Erik Jay is a writer, designer, and BMI composer/artist who lives in L.A. with one wife and two dogs. At his site, erikjay.com, you can take Door #1 for his editorial and design work, or Door #2 for original music.