The one thing worse than not having a website is having a bad one
Most musicians coming out of college are aware that they need to put together a website if they intend to have any kind of performing career. It sends the message that you are serious, provides necessary information for anyone interested in working with you, and gives people a taste of your musical personality.
However, the one thing worse than not having a website is having a bad one. If your website doesn't look like a grown-up made it, it isn't going to make you look like a professional and puts all of the contained information in a terrible context.
A great website is the best scenario, followed by no website. Not having a website at all is better than having a terrible one, but at this point it is so cheap and easy to make a nice, sleek page you should just bite the bullet and get it done.
The good news is your site can be minimal at first and still be executed well. I recommend this for people who are setting one up for the first time. Just make sure everything looks organized, works as intended, and is built on a platform that allows you some room to grow.
If it's only one page, that's totally fine! Just be sure that one page is excellent and you can build on it when you're ready
If the topic of building a great site for your music and professional identity is something you are interested in, let me know in the comments. I get complements all the time on this site, so I'm happy to teach other people how to make their own sites look sharp.
Before I talk about building a great site from the ground up, I want to at least help you tighten up what you have now. These are seven mistakes that I see constantly. They all make you look terrible, but fortunately, they're all easily fixed too.
I present to you:
The 7 Deadly Sins Musicians Commit On Their Websites
Sin #7: CHEAP LOOKING PICTURES
In today's day and age, there just isn't an excuse for bad photos. If you're trying to sell people on the idea that you're a polished, reliable, easy to work with performer but can't even find one sharp picture of yourself to represent your musical product, what do you expect people to think? You can't assume they'll give you the benefit of the doubt.
Paying a professional photographer to deliver out of the park amazing pictures is worth every cent. It is a high upfront payment, but the true cost of pictures is actually quite low when you think about it.
For my current set of photos, I paid about $600 after all was said and done because I wanted excellent quality on the first try. My photographer is expensive, but I got a great result in the minimum amount of time. The result and the time saved were both worth something to me.
On top of that, the pictures have been viewed thousands and thousands of times, and that is only in the last year. Divide $600 by how many times people have seen them and it comes out to a fraction of a cent per view. That is the true cost of good pictures, not the upfront payment.
It's like clothing. Tell me which is cheaper: buying the $80 coat that falls apart after a year or buying the $300 coat that lasts a decade? It's not about the upfront cost, it's about the cost per use.
The $600 photo payment only happens once, but the cost per view is constantly spiraling downward because people see them constantly. The longer I use the photos to promote my services and products, the cheaper they become because the cost per view gets closer and closer to zero.
If you're really tight on cash and can't swing the upfront payment, take an afternoon to find a good location, read up on the basics of good photography, and get it done with an iPhone. It won't look quite as sharp as a professional photographer could get it, but you can still get very respectable results that will serve the major goal of your website—establishing credibility in the visitor's mind.
The Easy Fix: Hire a photographer or get a little help from a friend and do it yourself in a great location.
An alternative solution: Whenever you play a concert for someone else, follow up a week or two later and ask if they are willing to share pictures. I've gotten hundreds of professional pictures this way that I still use to this day, for free. Even if you are playing a simple wedding gig, chances are high that you made it into a few pictures. More often than not, people are happy to share if you ask nicely.
Sin #6: A Sparse or Padded Event Calendar
If you're going on tour or promoting one of your projects that is playing often, you need an event calendar. This is strictly functional. People who want to see you play need to know the details like location, time, and ticket cost.
But, I see lots of musicians with event calendars that actually make them look bad in one of two ways:
- The calendar has almost no events on it
- The calendar has many events that aren't open to the public or the events don't feature the musician much.
These are bad because they aren't functional for the visitor and don't shine a favorable light on you.
The first calendar makes it look like nobody wants to work with you or you're lazy. Don't expect to have an empty calendar and have the visitor think, "Man, this player must be working on something AMAZING to be taking time off like this." They're either going to be indifferent (at best) or project something negative.
The second type of calendar shows that you're trying to pad your schedule. People see right through that. If you have a dozen events labeled "private event" or you're playing at the back of the section in some regional orchestra, it makes you look like you're trying too hard to prove you're a professional by including all that.
Much like a website, no calendar is better than an empty or padded calendar.
The Easy Fix: Disable your calendar when you aren't playing on anything that you want to advertise. I do this all the time. If something comes up that I do want to promote, I just put it on my blog (example) and push it to social media and my email list.
Sin #5: It doesn't work
This sounds like a no brainer, but if links are broken, the page doesn't display properly, or you have other functional problems, it doesn't reflect well on you.
You need to check things often. Just because the site works today does not mean that it will be working tomorrow. Software updates go out constantly so you need to be sure it is working on the major platforms and devices most people are using. Maybe the new Apple update breaks your site or causes a formatting problem—you need to be on top of this.
The Easy Fix: Check every link, every page, and every recording at least once. When you tinker and adjust little things on the site for your updates, check again. Have a few friends help you too. Whenever I do big changes to my site, I send a few links around to friends and ask them to take a look on their phones, computers, and tablets. Most of the time they catch something I missed or there is a problem specific to some device. Have a way for people to report problems as well. This can be an email form or something as simple as a link to your Twitter.
Sin #4: Poor Design
This one can take a few different forms.
One common form is the site is just plain ugly. I see lots of sites that use a dated layout or a "canned" template. Sometimes free website services stick their logos and their links in unflattering places. They usually say "Powered by [something awful]".
Another form is a confusing or difficult to use navigation. Or the font size is too small. Or the whole thing is in some ultra-stylized font that you think is cool but people find hard to read. Or your text doesn't display clearly over background images. There are a lot of ways bad design can make your site hard to use.
Basically, you want a website to be aesthetically pleasing (good pictures are a HUGE help here) and be as easy to use as possible.
If you want a quick litmus test, show your site to someone under the age of 12, a friend your age, and someone over 40. They all should be able to use everything with minimal instruction from you and tell you it looks good without you fishing for a complement.
The Easy Fix: Start with a one page site. This is also known as a landing page. They're super simple but can look great and tell the visitor everything they would need to know. If your site is currently a mess, cut it down to one page the includes your bio, picture, contact info, and an embedded link or two of your playing. Wordpress, Weebly, Squarespace, GoSpaces, and a few dozen other services will let you do this easily for a few dollars a month.
Sin #3: Bad Content
Bad content is always going to be in the form of what can be read, listened to, or watched on your site. You have to make sure all your content is first rate. Here are the common ones that any musician will have:
Biography. Your bio should sell you well, but within reason. Be truthful, but don't try to pad it. Again, people see right through that. You played at Avery Fisher Hall? Give some context.
I traditionally had the opposite problem—not selling myself enough. To fix this, I had my friends write a few quotes for me that I then weaved together into my biography. It is also a good idea to have a long and short version. My strategy is to have a casual biography and a modular press biography. It is modular because the first paragraph works alone, you can use the first two paragraphs together, or grab the whole thing—they all work. The person who needs it for a program or promotion can just take what they need.
Recordings and Videos. These simply need to be as good as they can possibly be and should be updated frequently. Good recordings and videos unfortunately cost money but, like photos, you can often get your hands on recordings from other people's performances that you were a part of. Ask your collaborators and keep an eye on YouTube for anything that pops up. Google yourself often—if you are representing yourself on the internet it is not a vain hobby—and stay on top of this.
Blog. I have a blog. When done well, it can do a lot of great things. I use it to increase my exposure in the musical community and to teach some of the music career stuff that is not as frequently discussed. Despite writing a book on the topic, it isn't enough so I blog to serve my readers even more.
I also work very hard to keep it up to date with good content, with the best delivery possible. Look at some of my earliest entries from 2015 and compare it to this post. The content, copy, formatting, and pictures are all improving constantly. Even my voice on the blog is closer to my day to day personality, which ultimately helps me serve the visitor better.
However, lots of musicians have blogs because someone told them they should be blogging. They don't write to serve the reader. I see a lot of, "Hey I'm playing this show/rehearsal/venue and it was great" or "Just another day in the life" kind of posts. Do yourself a favor and put the time into something else. This kind of stuff is just fluff that doesn't add value for anyone.
If you do or don't do the blog thing, it's all good. Lots of musicians don't blog and do very well. If you decide to do it, really do it right and always think about how you can build a great resource for your readers, not just go on about the minutiae of your life.
Sin #2: Autoplaying Background Music
Just don't fucking do this. Everyone hated the music autoplay "feature" in 1995 and it is still just as horrible today. It is inconsiderate. Maybe the visitor is at work, maybe they're listening to music already, or maybe they just want to browse the internet in silence.
The Easy Fix: Just don't fucking do this. Disable this feature. Instead, have a clearly labeled area of the site where the user can find your recordings. It's the 21st century, if you have a good design 99% of your visitors will be able to figure this out. Forcing your tunes down someone's throat does not add any value for them.
Sin #1: You can't Maintain The Site yourself
This is #1 for a reason. Even if you have to pay a web developer to do the heavy lifting of setting up your site, you need to make sure they show you how to keep it up to date. If you can't maintain the site yourself, you won't be able to fix any of the stuff I discuss without paying your developer a bunch of money.
If you're paying a web developer a monthly fee to maintain your site, you know what they're doing? Nothing! They collect your money and you occasionally ask them to change some things, which takes a couple minutes, but most of the time they aren't doing anything.
The Easy Fix: If you aren't a computer person, get some help with the initial setup of the site. Services like Squarespace and Weebly make it very easy to design a website so you don't necessarily need a web developer with a degree in computer science.
Once the design and functionality of the site is done, these platforms make it simple to stay up to date. If you can use word processing software and email, you can update and maintain your website yourself. The first website I made was clunky and difficult to maintain, but that was years ago. It really is easy now.
The Alternative: It is possible that you're good to go already and you just need someone to teach you how to keep your site up to date.
This was a longer post, even by my standards, but it is an important one. You can be the best player in the world, but if you don't represent yourself well enough to get people to take you seriously, you're dead in the water.
If you want to hear more about this topic or have questions, let me know in the comments below. Like I said earlier, I'm very proud of this website and I get questions and complements constantly. Want to know how I built this site? Who my (fabulous) photographer is? Something else entirely? I'm happy to spill my guts to those who ask.
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If you want even more advice and stories like this, you're going to dig my book Make It. It breaks down the strategies and techniques a young musician needs to find work and turn their musical abilities into an income.