Musician’s Guide to Making a Website

If you are a musician, you are probably wondering why you need a website at all. After all, all of your music is on Soundcloud, right? All of your events and news are on Facebook and within your Twitter feed. Your video clips and pictures are on YouTube and Instagram, respectively.

Isn’t a website a thing, from, like, 1990s?

It is. And it isn’t.

The point is – if you are a musician, you absolutely, positively need a website. And here is why:

Why Musicians Need Websites

If you are a musician, you need a website because you are not likely to make money selling your music. Because of how the Internet economy has evolved, while music downloads are at an all-time high, musicians are taking home less every week – because the fees that various music distributors are paying you are diminishing.

So the money you need to make in order to continue making music needs to be earned from selling products and services that are available to you because of your music, but not related to it per se.

The Rolling Stone magazine lists nine sources of revenue for musicians outside of music sales and concert ticket sales. Some of these are definitely not for everyone, like Bono’s knack of investing into startups. But some are definitely right up your alley, like sales of t-shirts and merchandise, live concert recordings, YouTube advertising revenue share and Kickstarter campaigns.

Bottom line, to do all that you need help. This is where your website comes in handy – this is where you can organize your content, maintain your music catalog, manage your news and tour date information, run your online store and manage fan clubs.

Years ago we ran into Metallica’s website manager, who shared that his job has turned from running a bulletin board to making the band money a long time ago. It was telling that the meeting took place at a licensing convention.

Thus, you do need a website if you want to make money in this business.

Your Own Dot Com: How To Pick A Domain

So where do you start as a musician who needs to launch a website? You start with a domain name. Owning your own dot com name is a lot like owning a trademark to a brand. It’s next to meaningless when you are still starting out, but it’s very annoying not to have it when you make it big, as somebody else – not you – will be getting a lot of revenue from Internet traffic that could be landing on your site. So you need a name.

Make your search concrete right away. Pick a domain registrar like Bluehost or Domain.com and start researching through their site. Bear in mind that the_name_of_your_band–dot_com scheme could be taken and you would have to get creative when picking the domain name.

Also, think through how you are planning to handle hosting and domain registration. Many Web hosters these days give you free domain registration if you buy hosting from them. Then, if you have to move, getting your domain released could be more complicated than it needs to be.

The cleanest – and most expensive – way to move forward is to keep these vendors separated.

To Template or Not to Template: Designing the site

So now that your future music website has a domain, you need to figure out how to build a site. While HTML coding is actually not that difficult, it is definitely not a skill you can just pick up doodling around on your computer.

Typically there are three choices. One, you can hire a web designer. Honestly, this is the way to go – BUT this will cost you time and money. Coming up with site wireframe, logic, structure, generating original art, etc. – all that could be a bit much, especially if you have other things on your mind, you know, like writing music.

The second choice is to go with the template company. Here you have what’s called a single page web site (long scroll) with a one template fits all type of setup. Templates can come as part of your hosting contract. Again, should you come to a disagreement with a vendor like this – your web site goes dark. Also, this is not going to accommodate some of the business needs that you have – an e-commerce store, a video and an audio library, at least not cost-efficiently.

Thus the third choice is probably optimal for you. As of late, there is a rash of new services like Wix and Tilda that offer free Web site design in exchange for hosting. The difference with the likes of Mopro is – there is a premium plan that actually helps accommodate more complex sites that have e-commerce and video for reasonable amounts of money.

This would be the best choice for somebody that needs to have calendar and videos incorporated into the site along with links to YouTube and Vimeo channels.

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Web Hosting

Just when you thought you were done, comes the final big question – what are some of the alternatives for services like Wix and Tilda if you were to design your own site (still the best way to do it) and then to just host it?

Thankfully, there are plenty of Web hosters out there who will do just that. The big plus here is that owning your domain outright, having your design stored on a hard drive gives you the utmost flexibility in changing the design, the structure of your site and moving it between hosters and hosting plans.

If you can afford to go down this path, I would turn to one of these online databases that compare hosters and looked at a couple that are near the top right now, as this space is very dynamic. I would also pay attention to how many years the company had been in business. According to hostingfacts.com, the undisputed champion for Web hosting value right now is Bluehost, offering $3.95/mo plans (with a three-year contract).

Web Site Content

So now that you figured out the plumbing for your site and narrowed down your list of vendors, here comes the part that no one but you can actually do: your website content.

Before you rush into this field headstrong – as the content is something you have plenty of, between the name of the band, the logo, all the art for covers, posters, and T-shirts, the actual songs and videos and concert photos and fan posts – you need a strategy. This is more of an exercise of setting up some ground rules other than anything else.

First, you have to settle on your images. You need to use the same image across all of your social media and have it on your site. This is how you create affinity, traction and promote your brand, which, as we started saying in the beginning of this piece, is how you end up making money in the long run.

Second, you need to think strategically about why certain content goes onto your site. Besides selling T-shirts and videos, and getting people to subscribe to your YouTube channel, you need to make some strides towards making yourself film and TV, and brand-friendly. You need to show that you can interact with your audience not only through music.

The easiest way to do this is by documenting your band journey, reality-TV way. People love hearing stories and seeing you tell your story will surely pave the way for some big contracts in the entertainment industry. The Rolling Stone estimates a film and TV rights and content license payday to be between $250,000 and $600,000, in the case of an established act.

Another popular way to get interactive with your fans in a constructive manner is education. How many musicians want their fans to sing along? How many want their song to come from every open window? The answer to that question is nearly all. Thus it is strange that more musicians don’t have how-to videos on their sites and don’t post and endorse sheet music. How cool would it be to sit down with your fans and teach them to perform your music?

Social Media, Plug-Ins, Content

Last but not least, once you have figured out your website plumbing and what the big content blocks are, the last question is: who will do all the work on updating the news, filling out the concert calendar, maintain all the blogs, etc.

Believe it or not, this is where deciding which social media plug-ins go into your site is important. When you add all your Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram accounts onto your site you will be making the decision as to which of these are “official” and which of these are “personal.”

Social media is an indication of a person’s or business’s health and standing in our society. Thus after your site is launched, and these plugins are made, not maintaining them is out of the question – go dark on Twitter and the next thing you know, your sales will dip.

Writing all these texts, posting all these pictures, maintaining all these merch and content catalogs is a full-time job – and the one you will gladly hire once you can afford to. But in the beginning, budget time within the band to take turns to do this. A lot of times you are already doing in via your social media feeds – only now this content will become part of your “official” web site.

Driving traffic to the site

There is nothing sadder than if after all this you have a site with a SimilarWeb rank of 10 millionth in popularity, and three likes on Facebook and one repost on Twitter. For that not to happen you need to do two things:

First, when your site is being set up, please make sure that meta tags are filled out properly in your HTML code. This way people searching for your band would actually “see” the page as opposed to getting a lot of garbage as top of the page results.

Second, spend a couple of bucks on some advertising. Strategies for how you promote your site is a topic of its own – but suffice to say you need to advertise the content that you have on the site to its target audience. Just follow simple logic – offer your music to people looking for similar artists, offer your merchandise to people where you are planning to tour, offer your news to people interested in entertainment, etc.

You rock! Let your site reflect that.

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