It’s all coming together now. You have a demo, you’re working around town and getting some interest from professional management, you’re building a buzz — so let’s get that site up and running. That will be your New Millennium Business Card, so to speak.
At this point in your progress as a band and as a business, you need to make decisions carefully, especially ones that will obligate you to make monthly payments. Take it easy on the budget. For your website, for now, you really do not need to pay the extra amounts that the hosting companies charge for streaming audio (and video). If you have a three- or four-song demo, you won’t be putting more than one full-length tune on your site, plus some 10- or 15-second clips of the other tunes as enticements. You do not need a streaming audio server (in addition to the server that handles your pages and graphics) for this small amount of bandwidth and potential traffic.
The streaming servers are definitely needed when you have a full-bore music site with albums and albums of material, videos, etc. All you need to do now is make the mp3 files a component of the “music” or “audio” page, whatever you want to call it; the people with broadband connections (getting up towards 30% of American net households, as opposed to 75% in South Korea, for example) will get the file fast enough for it to play as if it were streaming anyway. The old-timers on phone modems (who are still in the majority in the U.S. by a wide margins) will be informed by a polite note on your page that they should be patient, as it might take “a few” minutes for the song to download.
What happens for any site visitor, fast connection or slow, is the same thing: if they have a media plug-in properly installed (QuickTime or Windows Media Player on PCs, QuickTime or iTunes on the Mac), it will play the file as soon as it can. If the visitor has no plug-in to handle the mp3 file, the file will download completely (again, either quickly or not so quickly) and the person will be able to play it with a standalone mp3 player, of which there are plenty, free and low-cost ones, too.
You need your site to reflect your band or whatever kind of act you have, so as the designated webmasters learn more and find additional free graphic and design resources, they need to keep the site evolving. Have an overall theme that you will stick with, of course, as you do not want to confuse your fans with a new look every month (or week, if you’re really getting into it). Remember: Evolutionary, not revolutionary. However, you do need to set aside time on a regular basis to keep the site running right.
Now, when you got your hosting plan to go along with your domain name, you would have received e-mail addresses, too — 10 or 20 or 100 or even an unlimited number, depending on your plan and its cost. This is the part of the address that comes after the “@” or “at” sign; you will now be able to create e-mail accounts for whatever members or “departments” you need. All the band members, just for the sake of consistency and PR, should get (and use!) a band domain e-mail address; it is easy to configure your present e-mail application to pick up the mail from your new mail server (probably what’s called a POP server, although it might be IMAP, like AOL mail). All the good e-mail applications will be able to sort this new mail into a special folder so it can be kept separate from one’s regular, non-band mail.
Back to the site for a minute; you need to get those pages we talked about last time — for audio, bios, upcoming shows, reviews, links to other cool stuff, etc. — set up to debut all at the same time. There are few things as frustrating as visiting a cool new band’s site, clicking on the Review button, and seeing “Page Under Construction.” You just lost a visitor, perhaps for a long while, perhaps forever. Don’t put the site up piecemeal; get it finished, at least with enough on each page to look and act and sound serious, and upload it all at once.
You will handle this process through what is called an “ftp” program. Sometimes this function is built in to the Web site creation application (as it is with Adobe GoLive, for example), and sometimes it’s not. Regardless of whether or not ftp functionality is in your Web page package, it’s always good to have a standalone ftp application on hand; there are plenty of good free ones for PCs and Macs, they’re small, they don’t use much RAM, and they work simply. Your hosting firm will set up a used name and password for you, and you will use the ftp program to upload your site, as a whole or in parts, to the domain name server. You will learn about how to manage the directories (html pages, the actual Web site, at the root level, and images in an “images” folder at the same level, etc.) from your Web program as well as educational materials on the Internet.
This is all part of a bigger plan. You now need to think about how you are going to “drive” people to your site. You need to put your band’s URL (Unique Resource Locator, your Web site address) on all your materials — business cards, drum cases, stationery, flyers, CDs, tapes, and so on. You will need to find allies on the Internet and join what is called “Web rings,” groups (or circles, to stay with the metaphor) of like-minded people who refer visitors to one another. Bands in your genre may or may not want to share fans, but look around the Internet and you will find that many do. There is also a great deal of upside to linking to and from other artists, in and out of your genre. It all helps.
Next time we’ll take a look at some of the ways your overall media plan can take advantage of your new Web home, and how your Web home can grow to accommodate some newer, grander goals. If you want to think about making a video of a live show, well, go right ahead; you will be able to get that sucker posted for fans new and old to see, and you will be able to do it yourselves, on the cheap. The whole point is not to look, act, or sound cheap, so always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how important the music — the art, the craft, the lifestyle — is to you and your bandmates.
There’s a lot to this, being a working band. But if it’s what you’re on the planet to do, then you might as well do it as well as you can and leave something of value behind you when you check out. Since nothing that ever goes on the net ever disappears, getting the music up now gets you a head start on your gift to posterity, know what I mean?
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.