All this talk about the music industry online overlooks one simple fact: there isn’t one. There are many. One size does not fit all.
You’ve seen the website. It has a landing page with a photo on it and a little bit of blurb. There may be one or two things that move on it, or it might even have an animation. It has a fairly simple navigation system along the top or down the side. The links say things like About Us, Gallery, Downloads, Contact, Our MySpace — and the links take you to exactly the things you might expect when you get there.
These things are not, in themselves, bad things. In fact, it’s desirable that you don’t try and reinvent the wheel. People have expectations, and they don’t want to have to learn a new navigation system just for your website. This is not the problem I’m identifying here.
The problem I want to draw your attention to is the uncritical default position about what a website should be. In fact, the website should communicate you and what you do. More importantly, it should do it in such a way that your target audience has the perceptions about you that you would like them to have.
Your music company is unlike any other. You do things others do not. You deliberately avoid things others do. If nothing else, your music (at least hopefully) says something unique. Having a cookie cutter website does that no justice at all.
So your website should do a few things. One of those things — perhaps the most important — is to reflect you and the ways in which you wish to communicate. Because that will be different for everyone, all I can say is “think carefully about what that means” — which isn’t actually all that helpful, as advice goes.
That said, I can give you some examples to try and show you what I mean.
I think of the artist website that allows her fans to communicate with each other on a message board that resembles notes pinned to a board. That’s the front page. Everything else stems from there, because the board is the main thing return visitors come for. It’s not on the ‘discussion’ page — it’s first and foremost.
There’s the venue that has a ‘TONIGHT’ flyer as their front page, with information about that evening’s gig taking up the first page. That’s a reason to bookmark and revisit that page — because that’s what they found everyone wanted from the website: “who’s on tonight?” Having to click half a dozen times to get at that information, once you’d gone past the lovely photo of the front of the bar with the smiling staff, and the page about live music and bookings.
There’s the music publishing company that wanted to focus specifically on getting synchronisation deals for their artists, and so played different video clips with different music attached to give an idea of the ways in which those sorts of things would work.
There’s the record label that decided they didn’t want a website, but opted instead to build websites for each of their artists — with links to each of the others — on the basis that people don’t go looking for music by specific labels as much as they go looking for interrelated music.
And you don’t have to stick with building your own site. These days you can cobble together so many pre-existing ingredients that will effortlessly embed themselves into your own framework. This is one of the joys of Web 2.0 (about which, I will speak in more detail soon).
[Update: I have disabled the WordPress plugin that turns the above link into an embedded map, because it appears to slow down the loading time of the whole site. I would recommend instead either simply linking to the page in Google Maps, or including a screen shot of the map, and linking that to the relevant coordinates on Google Maps.]
You can use RSS feeds (again, more on that soon) to embed the latest news and content that’s relevant to your audience from all over the web and customise it to make it your own.
You can embed a Skype Me button, so that users of your website can speak to a real human at the click of a mouse, if that works for what you do. You could try it out by Skyping me, if you like — though I’m quite often otherwise engaged. This button will not only connect you with me with a click, it’ll tell you whether I’m around to take your call right now or not too:
This is just the beginning. The web is a kitset, and you can put it together how you like. I said, not so long ago, that it’s a bit like Lego — and to an extent, that’s true. But don’t lose sight of the aspect of design. There may not be the pieces that do what you need them to do. You don’t have to select from a menu, you can also build from scratch. A combination of those two things is usually best.
But what’s most important is that you don’t just get an off-the-shelf number. It might be enough to get you up and running and on the net — but if this is your livelihood, then you want to differentiate yourself in a positive way.
Yet another static website that follows the same old formula will not help. Not in the way you want it to.