As website standards have changed dramatically over the past few years, I thought it may be useful to write an updated guide on how to build a killer band website in 2014.
I’m not going to focus on the platforms too much (there are enough comprehensive Bandcamp vs. Bandzoogle vs. Music Glue vs. WordPress posts already written), but I will briefly touch on some of the benefits of each, and talk about which one I’d choose.
So before we go into that, what should bands focus on when creating a website?
Responsive – in 2014, your website must be responsive, meaning that it looks good on mobile and tablet devices. At Venture Harbour, we have access to a large amount of website performance data for music companies and labels (and their artists), and we’ve noticed almost all of our client’s websites surpass 23% of their traffic coming from mobile devices. In a few cases, some music companies are now seeing over 50% of their web traffic coming from mobile devices.
Unless you’re happy to give one quarter to one half of your website visitors a clunky experience, make sure your website is responsive. If you’re not familiar with responsive design, you can see some examples in this list of responsive WordPress themes.
Fast – The Internet is becoming increasingly impatient, and as such we need to ensure that our sites are fast loading. This isn’t just about the user experience, Google now consider page loading speed in their algorithm, and many studies have shown that even the smallest lag time on a website can have detrimental impact to a user’s likelihood of purchasing something on the site. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but Amazon have written that for every millisecond(!) they speed up their page load speed they sell an extra $1,000,000 or so per day.
Beautiful – We know that music isn’t about actually about the music. Great music is about triggering the senses, creating emotional shifts, and telling stories.
Why was MTV a success? Why do we create album artwork? Why do we see a band live when we could just listen to them in a living room? Because these things hit our senses and produce stronger emotional stimulation. We shouldn’t forget the power of visual stimulation stacked on top of aural. As such, beautiful websites will win. Since the widespread use of HTML5 and CSS3, there are now a myriad of amazing things that we can do with websites, that the music industry has barely dipped their foot in. I could explain these amazing features using geeky terminology, but it’s probably best to just take a lookat this and this.
Monetised – We’re not creating a website for the sake of creating a website. We’re creating it to further our goals as a band and push ourselves forward. Money is rarely the end goal for bands, but it’s an important means to an end.
Make sure your website is linked up to your online merch store and has easy checkout options. This is actually one of the reasons why I recommend WordPress over some of the ‘band specific’ platforms, because WordPress uses WooCommerce integration, which has ironed out virtually all of the weird and wonderful problems that you may ever run into, whereas many of the music-specific band platforms have their own custom-built checkouts and payment processing solutions. They’re absolutely fine for 99% of what you’d need to do, but they have their gaps.
3 Years From Now – I recommend bands act and appear 3 years ahead of where they are now. If you’re a small band in Texas that has never played a gig to more than 200 people, you don’t really want to appear that way. Think ‘what would we look like and be doing three years from now?’ and start looking like that tomorrow.
Look at the website of a band who is where you want to be in three years, and try to make yours appear even better. It’s hard to fail completely, so aim for something phenominal, and you’ll probably be left with some that’s great, at least.
Okay, so that’s the top level ‘what to focus on’ stuff out of the way. Now let’s briefly look at how to get started.
The first step in building your website is to decide on the right platform. I’ve touched on a few already, and while there is no right or wrong answer, i’ll share a few things to consider.
You basically have three broad options:
1. A music-specific band website platform – Bandzoogle are the leaders in this space, although BandCamp are also pretty good, and here in the UK MusicGlue are doing some really interesting things and likely to be a major player in years to come.
Pros: The benefit here is twofold – you can build a nice looking site very quickly without any coding knowledge, and they know exactly what musicians need from a website. HTML5 mp3 players, tour date listing widgets, and merch store integration are the norm. Brenden Mulligan of SonicBids wrote an interesting post on the Midem blog a while ago in support of these kinds of DIY platforms that focus on providing a service to bands.
Cons: You pay a monthly fee, the websites can look a bit homogenous, and your slightly limited in customising the website (compared to WordPress).
2. A generic website platform – For example, Wix, Moonfruit, Shopify etc. For bands, I wouldn’t touch these with a bargepole. They’re basically exactly the same as the options above, but without bands in mind, meaning that the only real benefit is that you can build a website on one of these platforms quickly without coding knowledge.
3. A self-hosted platform (e.g. WordPress, Drupal) – If I set up a band tomorrow, this is the route I’d go down. The advantage with WordPress is that the sky is the limit, and probably always will be.
There are literally millions of themes that you can use with WordPress, some of which were built yesterday by some of the best design houses in the World. You can download a theme for your website that is responsive, has eCommerce integration, translation support for 100+ countries, and much more for less than a fortnight’s worth of cappuccinos. On top of that, there are 100,000s of plugins to extend your website without having to code anything.
The downside to WordPress is that it’s a bit harder to install. I’ve attempted to write a guide to building a website on WordPress with step-by-step instructions, but it can still be a bit of a challenge for those doing it for the first time. However, it’s usually worth it.
So in other words, I’d weigh up the pros and cons of options 1 & 3, and go with what seems best for you. As I say, the band-specific platforms are brilliant and I’ve recommended a lot of artists to use them over WordPress. Ultimately it’s a question of whether you want the freedom and expansiveness of WordPress, or the handholding and easyness of a band website platform.
In 2014, my biggest concern with band websites is user experience and the wow-factor. With so much noise, it’s harder to stand out, and I think your website is a huge opportunity to make an impression. The other side of the coin is the measurement and marketing aspect, which is talked about in more depth here in an interview with the digital distributor EmuBands.
If you have any questions, feel free to tweet me @MarcusATaylor or leave a comment below. I’ll keep an eye here to answer any questions.