Setting up a website is easy. There are templates, models and standard practices that are tried and tested — so why would you want to do anything different? And what could you do that would be different anyway?
Most small business websites have a standard model. There’s a front page with a logo and maybe a quick paragraph about what the company is for. There’s an ‘About’ page for more details, a ‘News’ page with the latest press releases, a ‘Contact’ page so you can send them things or use their services, a ‘Products’ page with a bit of a catalogue or brochure — and, if it’s a music business, there’ll be a page with ‘Audio’, perhaps a ‘Gallery’ with photographs or even video.
More engaged music industry SMEs might operate a blog alongside this, and most will want some sort of shopping cart system so people can give their money in exchange for tunage.
And that’s what you do online. There’s a reason things become classics.
However, there’s a difference between a classic and a cliche. While you don’t want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to site navigation, falling into the trap of simply throwing together a site that has that standard structure, and something called ‘content’ assembled under the various subheadings, it would be a mistake to do that uncritically.
The internet is not a printing press for brochures and mail order catalogues. It’s a modelling tool. Like plasticine. Or, better still, like Lego.
There’s no end to the different ways you can put the bits together in order to create something absolutely bespoke. But you’ve got to know how the bits work, where they work and how you attach one of the hinged corner pieces to the 6-up axel blocks (to extend the metaphor beyond its breaking point).
The questions to ask are these:
1) What am I trying to communicate?
2) Who am I trying to communicate it to?
3) In what way am I trying to communicate it?
4) What response do I want from the person I’m communicating with?
These questions will inform what you build, how it looks, and also the more aesthetic values such as the ‘feel’ of the site, the ‘pace’ of the site and the overall design. It should reflect the music and the ways in which people interact with the music — and structurally, not just in terms of visuals.
By way of a f’rinstance, I recently consulted with a self-releasing musician (website pending) who composes and performs introspective and meditative piano works, occupying broadly similar territory to Michael Nyman. The artist in question is also something of a thinker. Your standard Buddhist poet-philosopher.
After some discussion, we went for a Zen Garden aesthetic approach. As there is no shortage of layout space online, we went for a minimalist, expansive approach. His listeners approach his music as a way of returning to a state of mind they seek, rather than as a background music for the chaos of ordinary life, so we thought that the website should reflect that ‘sanctuary’ aesthetic. Wide open spaces with just one or two nicely arranged features.
We talked about commissioning some photography. There are some photography art books that we like that have a similar approach and effect: to pause and consider rather than to skim read and keep moving.
Without giving too much away, the pages use the music and the visuals to encourage a slow approach to navigation. It’s not about seeking information, it’s about entering a space and inhabiting it. And that’s entirely a different mode of being for a website — and it requires a completely different architectural design.
And as you might do with a box of Lego, we threw out the instructions, found the blocks we needed, and built something that said the right thing.
I’m not saying an off-the-shelf approach won’t work for you, but musicians put so much creative energy into the rest of what they do, it would make sense to spend a bit of time considering the whole web experience, just as you might spend a bit of time considering your stage presentation.
Just chucking up another template clone that some web developer offers as a standard entry-level package is kind of the web equivalent of printing address labels, sticking them to a blank CDR and calling it your album artwork.