How do I even start?

Ready?

So you’ve decided to ‘go online’. How do you manage such a process?

You’ll need the following things:

A piece of paper
A pen
A computer connected to the internet
Some music
A credit card or Paypal account with about £50/$100 on it

And you’ll need a bit of time and patience. Having a teenager on hand for when things get a bit technically tricky can also be helpful. Okay. Are we ready? Then let’s get started…

Step 1:
Abandon the idea that you’re going to make a website for your band that has all the usual stuff in it like a contact page and a music page and a buy it now button. That may be the end result, but if you use it as your starting point, you’ll miss all of the great possibilities that starting with no presuppositions offers.

Step 2:
Take the piece of paper and pen, and begin to write down all of the things that you do with your music currently. Describe your audience. Think about the ways in which people currently connect with you and your music. Do you have a particular kind of crowd? What are they like? What do they do? What are they doing when they listen to your music? Dancing? Driving? The dishes?

Step 3:
Make a note of all the things you want to do, or that you’re aware of as possibilities, but don’t yet make use of. Film soundtrack work? Compilations? Collaborations?

Step 4:
Register your domain name. Choose a name you like (eg: thisisthewebsiteofmyband.com) and go see if it’s available. I’m not going to recommend a particular domain provider over any other. Just search for domain name registration on Google, and you’ll find some options to suit you. You need to have your own domain. http://myband.freebiewebsites.com just screams ‘not serious about this stuff’ and therefore a musical act not worth giving money to. Professionalism comes very cheap – but not completely free.

Step 5:
Get some webhosting. It’s possible that the people who sold you the domain will also sell you the hosting. The people I use do that. I can get two years of hosting and domain registration for under £40, usually. That doesn’t seem exorbitant for building a business online.

Step 6:
Install WordPress. Now, generally speaking, I’m reluctant to recommend specific products and brands in the context of these sorts of general advice sessions (especially since they lead you towards that kind of template mentality I warned you against in step 1), but you can’t really top it for a general purpose starter-pack online music website. Especially considering a) it’s free and b) there are people who will install it for you for free too. Go to Install For Free and give them your host and domain details.

Step 7:
Log in to your brand new WordPress site, choose a template, add some pages, upload some pictures – and whatever else you do, just start blogging. Once you get up a bit of confidence, you might want to add plugins. There are some really good guides to doing all that stuff online, so I won’t repeat that here, but you’ll be able to add music to your site, involve your readers and fans – and start to implement some of those ideas you had on paper in steps 1-3.

Step 8:
Start telling people. Put your website address (URL) on your flyers. Add it to your email signature. Get it out to your mailing list. Put it on your MySpace page (you have one of those, right? If not… there’s a post coming just for you soon).

Step 9:
Mess with the site. Have ideas. Change stuff. Get feedback and do course correction. Your concern shouldn’t be that your site is perfect before you launch it. It will never be perfect. But what it must do is continually improve. The appropriate phrase to bear in mind when you’re launching stuff online is ‘Ready, Fire, Aim!’ It doesn’t have to be on target right from the outset. What you want most is momentum.

Step 10:
Learn whatever you can. Talk to people about this stuff. Read some of those websites I link to on New Music Strategies. Get ideas and implement them. The best way to just get started online is to just get started.

_____________________

Now, it has to be said that there are some superb alternatives to WordPress. Squarespace is great, and very stylish. Newcomer Webnode is amazingly user-friendly and packed with really cool stuff. I’m using them both on different projects.

But to me, WordPress is the standard default. It’s no-nonsense blogging software designed to get you communicating and keep you communicating. Quick results and ongoing updates with about a ten-minute learning curve. And yes – you want a blog, rather than a static website. This is a conversational medium. You’re not designing a brochure.

So – why are you still here? Go get started online. And if you’re already up and running, go help someone else get started. We can’t take over the world until everyone’s on board.

26 thoughts on “How do I even start?

  1. Vergel E says:

    Also: regardless if you’re a label or an artist… get and create accounts on Last.fm, imeem.com and mog.com . as you have press releases, music, or whatever… post them on those services.. link back to your website URL. (that’ll give you some early search engine link traffic.)

  2. JP says:

    I have a question I hope you will address in the future… “Do I really need a blog?”

    Given the amount of (seemingly) abandoned band blogs out there, it would seem to be an indication that producing a good, interesting blog page with regular updates probably requires more time and energy than an active musician can afford to sacrifice.

    What about blog alternatives for the time-constrained musician who would rather spend their time writing, recording, rehearsing, and performing?

  3. Clif says:

    I disagree completely. If an artist is just now getting online, the last thing they need to do is worry about getting traffic to a blog. Sites like Fuzz.com (and soon MySpace) offer not only blogging but the functionality to stream and sell music, promote events and, most importantly, built in organic traffic flow.

    While your WordPressing artist is off figuring out how to spell and buying books about search engine optimization and how to get their music on iTunes, artists on music-centric social networks are getting new fans and downloads with a lot less effort and can focus on iterative promotion to augment organic traffic while not taking a huge amount of time and focus away from music to deal with a build-it-yourself learning curve.

    My $.02. :)

  4. I checked out Webnode and when I went to the live demo it told me that my browser wasn’t supported and gave me a list of ones I could “upgrade” to. It included FireFox 1.5 (or above). This is the browser I’m using.

    But I’m using it on Linux so the UserAgent string doesn’t exactly match what they’re looking for.

    Kind of a slow move on their part.

  5. Sorry Andrew, but this is just ridiculous, I’m removing my subscription.

  6. Chris says:

    Clif: while social networks are great to connect with fans, having a home base with your own permanent URL is also important. By directing fans to social networks, you’re essentially building *their* brand, rather than yours.

  7. Clif says:

    First of all, “great to connect with fans” is the main reason an artist is setting up a site in the first place. Secondly, building the brand of a company/platform you believe in (I love Fuzz) is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing – it’s what gives them their value.

    Blogs are great for writers, but to tell a brand new netizen (so you’ve decided to “go online”) who primarily generates musical content that they don’t need to worry about a music page is irresponsible and wrong. You have this hypothetical web noob spending a LOT of time building something that is immediately obsolete once they realize that a music site without music was probably not the best approach.

    Like them or not, music social networks are becoming the standard, because 1) they are essentially outsourcing for free, 2) you’re likely to attract more attention playing in a mall (social network) than in a garage (your own obscure site), and 3) people expect you to be on MySpace or whatever and 50% of the time are going to ask you for that ANYWAY, regardless of the hard work you put into building your own custom site with no way to hear the music.

    I agree that you should have your own URL for your home base, but you don’t have to build the home base, and you shouldn’t if you’re new to the web because it will most likely give the impression that you’re a rank amateur (which your hypothetical new webbie is, at site building), despite the quality of the music. For the true newbies listening in, you can point your shiny new URL anywhere, not just a site you built.

    My final advice: build a MySpace page and point your URL at it. Once you figure out what you hate about MySpace, then find another site (like Fuzz) that does those things you hate better. And then point your URL there. Once you’ve reached a point that no social network can possibly fulfill your needs – then you can build your website – but it probably won’t be a blog.

  8. Dubber says:

    I thought this might be the controversial post (don’t worry – there’ll be others). In response to Clif’s thoughtful response, let me briefly explain my rationale behind ‘set up your own website’ as against ‘join a social network’.

    First, I should say that my answer to ‘How do I even start?’ is not the same answer I would give to the question ‘What’s the easiest way to get started?’.

    There is a gravitational pull towards social networks. The reason everyone is on social networks is not because social networks are such a great way to connect with people around music (they are – but that’s not why everyone joins them). The reason everyone is on social networks is because everyone ELSE is on social networks.

    Not everyone else has their own site. This is swim against the current, stand out from the crowd, plant your flag in the ground, chuck you in at the deep end stuff. It’s not the easy solution.

    And for people who are beginning to understand the importance of the online environment, I would suggest that even though it takes more of an investment in time and capital, starting your own site requires that you roll your sleeves up and get stuck in — and that leads to a faster learning curve, and a deeper understanding of what’s possible and how it all works.

    I’m not trying to encourage the rapid proliferation of web-presences — I’m trying to encourage a rapid growth of understanding and application of internet tools and principles among independent musicians and music businesses.

    Finding it a little bit difficult is the point, in other words. I have given enough information to get people started and, hopefully, get them beyond the point of no return. I actually hope that they’ll get a bit stuck and have to go looking for help, scratch their heads and have to figure out some of the answers. Then, learning will happen.

    But let me make this clear: I am not laying a trap, and nor is this beyond the scope of some people (the ‘hypothetical web noob’).

    Anyone who can read this website can follow these steps and can end up with a much richer and deeper understanding of how they should be using the internet – and they’ll also have a place online that they can call their own.

    Telling people that making a WordPress site is “too hard” and they should content themselves with a MySpace page is kind of disempowering. I guess I’m saying that I’m not interested in what people can currently do, I’m interested in what they’re capable of.

    But essentially, we both agree that they should have their own URL as well as involvement in important online social networks. We simply differ about priorities.

    Your method is to get a reasonably decent structure thrown up as quickly as possible so that the business of music can get started straight away. Fair enough. My approach is to do some groundwork, lay solid foundations, and build towards an ongoing and sustainable career in music online.

    Both are completely valid, and readers will decide whether to take the easy route and stay away from the geekier end of things — or whether to acknowledge that they are intelligent, creative and capable human beings with the capacity to learn, and be prepared to undergo a bit of initial frustration in order to come to a deeper understanding of the online environment.

    And you’re right – if you start with a URL pointing at MySpace and develop from there, when you finally come to getting your own website one day in the future, it probably won’t be a blog.

    And I think that’s a real shame.

  9. Clif says:

    I understand and agree that for those willing and able to take the time, there is plenty to be learned. But that has nothing to do with the value of this exercise for the artist.

    Two points:
    1) Sometimes the easy way is the best way.
    2) The number one priority for musicians should be to give folks the ability to hear their music. I’m not saying setting up a WordPress site is hard (it’s not)… I’m saying presenting the core elements of an artist website (bio, music, mailing list) in the context of a blog is hard, and there are easier and better paths to get there.

  10. Anissa says:

    I completely agree with Andrew! Blogs in their functionality provide the best sources for free organic traffic, and they provide many other features. A newbie to this online marketplace isn’t going to understand all this, but, just because you have a blog doesn’t mean that you can’t add other subdomains, or pages that are html based.

  11. Clif says:

    Anissa, I agree that blogs are a great source of traffic (i.e. search results and link-backs) for people who write about topics other than “hey, we just released another track.” But for musicians, the best way to generate “organic” traffic is to put your music where people looking for music go.

    What Andrew is proposing here is akin to telling someone who wants to open a record store to open a book store instead (because they can sell records there too, right?). Sure they will both work to some degree, but this hypothetical store owner is less likely to succeed due to the fact that they will have limited knowledge and experience of their primary product (just like musicians generally have limited knowledge on writing interesting “diggable” content) and because people wanting to buy CDs generally go to music stores (as music searchers will go to music related sites, not search for musician’s blogs).

    Andrew, I really challenge you, if you stand by your advice here, to give some examples of musicians who have been successful with this strategy. I think you are at a disadvantage presenting yourself as an authority on new music strategies without having your own music to promote, having gone through the struggles yourself to see what works and doesn’t in the real world. It’s obvious that both you and Anissa are writers, not musicians, who see writing as the best way to get exposure, which is “right on” for writers, obviously. But it’s not the best strategy for musicians, who need to focus on getting their music to listeners as their primary goal.

    That’s just common sense to me.

    BTW, Andrew, I respect your viewpoints generally, or I wouldn’t be here having this debate. So thanks for indulging me in this discussion. :)

  12. Chris says:

    Clif; there is a trend towards artists running their own sites. For example: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/myspace_becoming_a_portal_to_artists_own_networks.php

    Having your own site doesn’t mean you can’t also be on social networks. They are important for music discovery. On your own site, you can control your own mailing list (not just send invites to “friends”), sell merch, etc.

  13. Andrew — This is a really great discussion, and it has many, many levels to it.

    I’m quite a bit older than most people trying to sell music online and sometimes it is a bit frustrating from the standpoint of “how many new things am I going to have to learn?” But, if you take a slow, gradual approach to the entire spectrum of online communications and networking — putting one foot in front of another day by day — you simply can’t go wrong.

    Thirty years ago I had grandiose dreams of teaching music to a large audience, and I was self-publishing my instruction books on the mountain dulcimer in tiny print runs and trying to sell as many as I could via mail order. Fast forward to the present, and I have the possibility of reaching a global audience via the web. I have a great deal of instruction now up on my web site, and a fairly new Google discussion group that is building nicely in momentum.

    Now —- am I making any money on anything yet? No…. not directly, but the networking opportunities are slowly building, and the changes at MySpace, as well as the tunecore possibilities, make the future look pretty bright. I’m in it for the long haul: I’ll just put one foot in front of another — day by day.

    So, for me the writing has always been part of my music, due to the fact that teaching is a very important component of what I do. I am very slowly working blogging into my plan, too, but I’m not yet totally there as far as rss feeds and such. This is part of being an old dog, I think.

    Clif — you make a good point about taking the easiest route to getting music up and around the web, and I am now in the process of doing that as much as I can (it is very time-consuming with all the uploading!). I think everyone finds their own mix of blogging, web-wonking, social networking, making music, etc. I have made html and css a major sideline hobby since about 1999, so some of the web stuff is very easy for me. But —- the new technologies centering around podcasting and rss —- I guess I have to try and catch up somehow.

    Andrew — I love your free ebook! Keep up the good work. I will come back here often.

  14. Clif says:

    Chris,

    First of all, the article you presented is about record labels building Ning networks for established fan bases. None of those artists listed are building their own social networks OR MySpace pages… I guarantee it. And none of those artists are just “deciding to go online.”

    Let’s stick to the topic. Trust me, I’ve been making music for most of my 37 years, and I’ve been a professional web programmer for something like 12 years. I personally understand what can be done and the value of having your own site. But this article is tailored for musicians just plugging in their cable modems, not folks like you and me.

    Frankly, step one destroys any value this article could have had for the proposed audience. Most of the others are written at a kindergarten level (get a pen and paper, mess with the site, have ideas)… come on. If I were a betting man, I’d say this is a combination of no great topic ideas for the day / week and needing a place to plant the “Install for Free” link.

    And all of this on a blog named “New Music Strategies”? I’m just thinking Krzysztof may have had the best argument of the post. This is feeling like a waste of time.

  15. Good day,

    I agree with CLIF *

    In the context that all things mentioned are ‘tools’, not ‘causes’. Andrew, not unlike Baker or a few others that I don’t particularly care for — have usually fallen into the category of ‘How-To Jockey’ (in my view).

    I think in the western portion of on-line territory, we have a lot of people who make their assessment as ‘experts’ but, that is problematic in some manner; or, it seems problematic considering that all things are seen referencing, on-line projections.

    Music, no matter how compact & mobile this world becomes, has a split difference via cultural perceptions and, lifestyles. You have those that crowd-source (generic term for research/gathering) and then you have those that market.

    One method adheres; re-active principles, while the other adheres pro-active principles.

    So in that regard, what the *censored* is this ‘Blogger’ going on about?

    But, that’s exactly it. He’s going on about nothing – A nothing that we can all discuss as something – A something that we’ll discuss as more ‘much ado about nothing’ but, still something – A something that dealt with how to approach getting here, to where we’re at, discussing nothing but all the while, having a ‘focused’ discussion about nothing…?

    And there’s nothing musical about it…..

    Well then…wasted words or wasted nothing…..?

    I don’t know; but I do think that a Musician should do what he feels in his heart and what his mind reinforces from those feelings. If opening a Blog doesn’t inspire you then don’t do it. If Google & SEO are Greek and you don’t have time to learn Greek then don’t. If you can go on tour versus doing on-line items then that is a cool thing to do.

    If your goal is to write 100 songs then turn off the computer and get 10 of those ready to showcase. If you have the pleasure of coordinating a live-show with a website launch then great. If all you have is your sound, your name, and a German-Shepherd, that’s still great – you have something. My reason for exaggerating these points…..?

    Your path will be drawn by the focal goal; and for all we know, you may never have to splash more than a web-page that says ‘buy it here’ or even better, maybe you’ll be a ‘did it without a website’ success story.

    Good luck everyone.

    Thanks for reading.

    Respectfully & Sincerely,

    - Ss
    leitung@sekrettscilensce.de
    http://www.sekrettscilensce.com
    *
    admin@filmtvman.com
    http://www.filmtvman.com

  16. JT says:

    WordPress with the plug-in PodPress (http://www.mightyseek.com/podpress) is all you need to create a great music blog. The PodPress plugin lets you post your music for folks to listen to, and you can configure it for iTunes podcasting. I don’t use it for podcasting, but when I release a new piano work my RSS subscribers are notified immediately to go listen and buy my new track. It’s easy and has nice stats feature. When you create a post you just select the MP3 you want to include with it and whether or not you want to include it in the RSS feed. Simple and effective.

    John

  17. Alex Cortes says:

    Excuse me for being blunt, but starting like that, with no information about how search-engines work is wasteful…

    Having the impetus to start is great, but if you don’t have the right tools or the right information, you will not be able to use the internet to leverage your music business!

    So I would recommend not going nearly that fast about registering a domain name. Because even if you build a super-creative, cool-looking website, if it doesn’t get found at the search engines, your online business is likely to fail.

    The following link is a free ebook for you to download:

    http://www.guitar-theory-in-depth.com/support-files/netwritingmasters.pdf

    It outlines the general principles involved in building a profitable web-based business. So, by combining that with niche-specific strategies like those described in NMS, you can leverage your music business to the skies!!!

    Best wishes!

    Alex

  18. John Shankster says:

    Hey, I am less than a beginner as far as webmarketing. I could just toss a coin as far as guessing whose right or wrong in this discussion, but to date, Andrew is the first instructor who has not taken off way over my head. I usually throw in the towel after the first hour of instruction. I know that I have some incredible knowledge to share with people and some good talent, but I definately need some special ed. to get anywhere on the web.

  19. I actually prefer Andrew’s approach.

    I think having an artist profile at a music social networking site is sort of the introduction at a party, but if you really want to do business, then come over to my place (in this case, the personal website).

    My most favorite artist right now, became my most favorite artist because he writes a personal blog (and uploads funny and stupid short videos, just to keep it real). Yes he has the obligatory MySpace, Facebook, and Imeem profiles, but what made me become a fan was that particular blog.

    Horses for courses I suppose. Still going with both approaches.

    Cheers

  20. Audrey says:

    I like the idea of a personal musician website. However, WordPress requires additional software and while Squarespace and Webnode don’t, they do have monthly service fees. Does anyone know of there other good website template options (such as BluDomain? or others?) for musicians and artists which allow the full range of features like blogging, streaming music, RSS feeds/podcasting, selling music (shopping cart), mailing lists, etc. that are fixed-price templates which don’t mandate hosting, monthly fees, or additional software to purchase?

  21. It outlines the general principles involved in building a profitable web-based business. So, by combining that with niche-specific strategies like those described in NMS, you can leverage your music business to the skies!!!

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