(Click Here To Read Part 1)
A great website serves as a business center to enhance your career. With ASCAP’s new web tools, the power is in your hands
In Part One, I explained the factors that make a difference between a website that is useless and one that is successful. From proper design to a maintenance plan to accessibility and choosing a good service partner, there are many important decisions to make in creating an effective website. Now I’d like to detail some essential features that no great website should be without. You’ll see that a website is more than just a few web pages on a server, but a business center critical to your career.
There are some key elements that you’ll find in most musician websites that are thriving out there today. For one thing a good site creates a genuine sense of community amongst fans and with the artist. People go there not just to see where the next show is, but to "check in" on the scene they feel a part of, to get "access" to the artist and the latest material. All of the functional aspects of the site work together to create this community and invite visitors to regularly return. Here are some common features found on the more successful websites today.
Homepage That is Immediately Engaging
Keeping in mind the proper design approach, the homepage not only offers the right content, it creates the experience of having arrived somewhere special. The artist’s image, the tone of the message, the information and features presented should all work as one to assure the visitor they’re in the right place and give them a clear path to where they wish to go next. Be sure to plug new releases or appearances as well as any cool new site features for them to explore. Here’s a good example of a site that captures interest and leads you in:
A good website creates a genuine sense of community amongst fans with the artist.
Mailing List and Newsletter
Always, always, always solicit the email address of your visitors to build your mailing list. Place a sign up form directly on the homepage which saves their info. Send out reminders for shows and announcements on releases on a regular basis.
Contacts and Booking Info
Again, make this readily available. You can even put a simple inquiry form on your site that lets people inquire about availability and pricing. While you’re at it, put up your stage plot and technical requirements.
Up-to-Date Show Calendar
This seems obvious, but you would be amazed at the number of sites where the last show listed is January 2003. Make sure your calendar gives contact and direction info for the venues, and a link to the venue website if available.
Put up a good message board, with a couple different topic forums, so that people can offer feedback, ask questions and exchange with other fans. Make sure someone on your end is monitoring the posts and answering concerns in a timely manner. It’s nice if the message board you use is integrated into the design of the site as well.
Tour & Photo Journals
Many artists are posting regularly to an online journal that people can read. This is a great way to keep people coming back for more. Photos from tours and recording sessions are also good content. Make sure you can post this content from the road if you plan to keep a tour journal. Real time postings are far more engaging than ones that are two months old.
With the recent advances in home recording and the bounty of free software tools, there’s no reason to not have at least a couple samples of your work available for download. MP3, RealMedia, and Windows Media are all standard web formats that you can easily create once you’ve done some type of studio capture.
CD’s, MP3’s and Merch For Sale
The moment everyone waited for is here -- there are many doable options for selling stuff online and soon enough artists will be able to sell MP3 downloads right from their website as well. Starting with a simple PayPal account up to your own E-commerce and inventory management system, it all depends on how much product you are able to move on a monthly basis. Most artists do this through a 3rd party service, which will process the online transaction. Some services will actually process the credit card and ship the product on your behalf. A good site will give the user a "seamless" experience in that you never really appear to leave the artist website, even to hand over your credit card. Also, be sure there is a plan in place to handle fulfillment and customer support. This topic easily deserves its own article, but there are some suggestions on where to start in the next section.
Tools & Resources
Many of you are saying "Whoa, there’s so much work involved -- I don’t even know where to start." Relax. With a little education, some tools and some organization, anyone can stay on top of their online presence. There are a number of resources out there to help create and maintain a good site, some of which are specifically geared towards musicians.
Here are some resources for those in the do-it-yourself the quickest, with little or no budget category.
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Design/HMTL tools and resources:
-- If you want to get going quickly without learning HTML
-- If you have a little HTML savvy and want to put a site up cheaply
-- Tools to maintain your existing website
-- Places for selling online
-- Tools for booking shows online
The Next Level
As your career and your exposure grow, so should your website, both in terms of scope and functionality. As your community of fans grows, you may find that there is a large demand for access to the site and to you ‘the artist’. The more entrepreneurial artists, such as Dave Matthews, were quick to take advantage of this momentum and create entire networks of fan communities and services. Premium fan sites, which charge for membership in exchange for access to tickets and exclusive content are becoming valuable revenue sources for larger acts.
As you grow your online presence you’ll need to decide what the right business model will be - for you and for your fans. If managed correctly, your website will not only become a destination for your fans, it will become an online operations center for both the business and artistic aspects of your career.
Mr. Faucher is president and founder of Nimbit Web Services, which provides an entire suite of online tools & services for the independent artist. Hundreds of professionals use Nimbit to create and maintain websites, promote their careers and
conduct business. You can find our more at www.nimbit.com