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« 10 Pieces of Essential Content For Your Band's Website | Main | Turning TV Placements Into Fan Engagement: Lessons From Mr. Robotic - In Defense of 1,000 True Fans – Episode X »
Thursday
Mar242011

The Musician’s Guide To Affordable, Effective Websites Part 2

This is a response to Ariel Hyatt’s recent post ‘The Musician’s Guide To Affordable, Effective Websites’. In this article, Ariel outlines the fact that all musicians should have a website, and goes on to detail how you can set one up on a tight budget. In this article however, I want to elaborate on some of the points she makes, and give you an alternative method to setting up a lot cost website. As I’m sure you know, there’s more then one way to skin a cat, and today I’m going to show you a method that has worked well for me.

I’ve already outlined step by step how to build a music website, but today I’m going to be looking at the reasoning behind each of these decisions, so you can yourself decide if they’re right for you. I will also be looking at the set up cost, so you will know how much something like this will set you back. Considering what it costs to get a ‘professional’ to set up a website for you, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised…

Essentials For Setting Up Your Own Music Website

Here are the essential items you need when setting up your own musician website:

Hosting

Hosting is essential when it comes to setting up your own website. While many people tend to go for the free options (E.G A Blogger blog), this is ultimately a bad move. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being the lack of control.

If your website is hosted on another site (Which is what happens when you go down the free road), you’re too dependant on someone else. What happens if that website goes out of business or stops being popular, then what? MySpace is a prime example of this. A few years ago, every musician had a MySpace page. People invested tons of time and sometimes money into their page, but soon the whole MySpace era began to die out. Many people came off MySpace when much of the internal traffic went, which is a shame when you consider how much time and effort people put into those pages.

If you have your own website however, due to the way search engines work, your site will only get stronger with time. This will mean, providing you share the right things on your website, more people will visit it naturally via search engines. And providing your music is good, more visits = more fans.

If you opt for free web hosting services, you also put yourself at the mercy of the site’s true owners. If they for what ever reason decide you site doesn’t match their terms of service, they can delete your site with no prior warning. Not something you want to be thinking about when trying to build up a strong brand for yourself.

So what hosting company would I recommend? Well, I’ve been using Just Host for over a year now, and have had nothing but good experiences. I was with another hosting company prior to this, but Just Host is a lot cheaper, easier to navigate, and faster with the customer support. I actually picked Just Host after a couple days of research, so am confident it’s the best choice for the kind of hosting we need.

The good thing about Just Host is you get unlimited web space and unlimited bandwidth. On top of this, you get a free domain name (E.G. yourband.com), free advertising credits, and space to host an unlimited amount of websites. In other words, you can have as many websites as you want for no extra cost (Bar the cost of each additional domain name, which is £7.95 each).

So how much does this cost? Well, that depends on how long you want the hosting for. Using the discount code ‘50off’ you get a big saving either way. You can always pay £35.76 for a year if you want to put down as little money as possible upfront, but I prefer to get 4 years worth of hosting for £69.60. Doing it that way you get more then a 50% savings, and since we’re in it for the long run, why not?

Hosting, Total Price: £35.76

A HTML Editor / Content Management System

This is just a fancy word for a website editor. This is how you’ll be making your website, as well as editing it and adding new content. It is important here that you get a content management system that is not only easy to use, but is also easy to access and doesn’t require any extra software to make it work.

When I started out making websites, I used to use Dreamweaver. While this was valuable as it helped me learn HTML, putting in this amount of work into your website won’t be for everyone. Because of this, I suggest using Wordpress.

The type of Wordpress I’m suggesting to use is the self hosted Wordpress, and can be found at Wordpress.org. This is not be be confused with the free Wordpress.com, as this website will be hosted with someone else. Once again you will have the issue of the site not being your own, and risk having it banned without warning.

Please Note: If you sign up to Just Host you will be able to easily set up a Wordpress website in about 1 minuet, so hold off from downloading all the files from Wordpress.org for now.

Wordpress is basically blogging software that allows you to make a professional looking website with little to no programming knowledge. If you could set up and operate a MySpace page, then using Wordpress shouldn’t be a problem. Even if you have never made a MySpace page before, with the right guidance making a Wordpress site shouldn’t be a problem at all.

The great thing about Wordpress is the things it allows you to do. There are thousands of free add ons called ‘plugins’, each one offering a new function to your site. Some of these functions include allowing you to stream your own music, allowing you to capture email addresses for your mailing list, including a picture gallery for your gigs, and much more. In fact, if there’s a feature you want to add to your site, then most likely someone’s made a plugin for it.

These plugins are quick and easy to install, and part of what makes Wordpress the content management system of choice.

Content Management System, Total Price: Free

A Email Marketing Service

While it’s not something I’m going to go deep into today (I’m sure someone’s written about the importance of starting up your own mailing list on Music Think Tank already, but if not you can search my site for the full low down), setting up a mailing list for your website is essential.

Email marketing should go hand in hand with having a website, but can be costly if you go for the market leader Aweber. If you want a free option however, MailChimp is free to use while you have less then 2,000 subscribers. This is an unbelievable offer, as by the time you get past the 2,000 subscriber mark you should be making more then enough money from it to pay the monthly fees.

It is important that you monetize your list properly, and you do more then just stick up your opt in form and expect people to sign up. Put your form in a prominent position so people can see it. Give something away to entice people to join your list. Interact with your list so they stay responsive.

Email marketing should play a bit part in your music career, but doing it wrong will actually repel people from your music. No one wants to be messaged a few times a day about extremly minor ‘updates’ (Read “repeating the same thing over and over again”), so do this and people will unsubscribe from your list as qucik as they signed up.

If you don’t know much about building a list yet, you should check out Ultimate Mailing List. This site has a lot of good tips on how to build up your list, as well as how to interact with your subscribers properly.

Building A Mailing List, Total Price: Free

Total Price To Have Your Website Set Up For One Year: £35.76 (That yearly price goes down if you buy a longer hosting plan). Not bad right?

Optional Tools For Setting Up Your Musician Website

While the above tools are all you need to get a good website up and running, there are a few other optional extras that you may want to consider. Both of these are paid for options, but have a look as you may find they’re worth it.

A Premium Wordpress Theme

A Wordpress theme is the actual design of your website. If you change your theme, the way your website looks will also change. While there are a lot of free pre-designed themes available for you to use (You can find many via your Wordpress, as well as all over the internet) many of them are ugly and and already used by numerous other people. Because of this, it could be a good idea to get a premium Wordpress theme.

Places such as Woo Themes and the Genesis Theme provide you with high quality themes that you won’t see plastered all over the net. While there will of course be a few other people with the same design as you, most likely you or your visitors won’t ever run into them. Besides, you’ll see a LOT more people with the same site design as you if you use a free theme.

A premium theme can really make your website stand out for the crowd (They look a lot nicer and are often SEO’d), so could be worth considering.

Premium Theme, Price: From Woo Theme from $70, Genesis Theme from $59.95.

E-Junkie

Now we’re coming to one of my favourite tools, E-Junkie. E-Junkie is a website that allows you to create shopping carts and ‘buy now’ buttons for your website. What sets this apart from other such buttons however, is the ability for it to sell your digital downloads hands off. Ideal for the music scene, right?

So let’s say you’ve got a new CD you’re about to release. You will of course want to sell it online, and may even go down the route of selling your music on iTunes etc. But why not set up a ‘early bird’ price for your mailing list’s subscribers as a reward for them? They can get it a day earlier then everyone else, and for cheaper. And the only place they can get it from at this stage is your website.

Once you’ve uploaded songs to e-junkie, you don’t have to worry about it any more. Their system handles taking payments, making sure payments are authorized, and product delivery. They also have a lot of other features which make your life a lot easier, but it’d probably be best to check their website for all the details.

Selling Your Music With E-Junkie, Total Price: From $5 a month.

Conclusion

So there you have it, another look at how to set up your own website on a budget. Your website should be the home base for all your musical activity online, and getting people back to your website to hear / buy your music (As well as sign up to your mailing list) should be your number one priority. Remember to check my site if you want a specific step by step guide to setting up a website. It doesn’t take long to do, but will benefit your music career for years to come. Good luck.

This article was written by Shaun of Independent Music Advice, a website dedicated to increasing the business knowledge of independent musicians.

Reader Comments (11)

This is thoughtful post, thank you. I am trying to decide the best route to building / maintaining my band website. I'd love to see a discussion of all-in-one sites like bandzoogle vs. the multi-moded approach you've outlined above. Advantanges, disadvantages to either?

Cheers!

- nate

March 25 | Registered CommenterNate Greenslit

I 100% concur. I actually use the wordpress.org/Just Host combo and have had a really pleasant time for the last 2 years I have been using it. The support is really wonderful too. I definitely recommend it as an artist - it is really important to have a strong hub and the ease with which you can craft wordpress to do what you need is just fantastic.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Hi Nate. In all honesty, I haven't used any of the website making services such as Bandzoogle, but have looked into them quite a bit just now and in the past. There's one thing I'm still not sure about however, and that's this: If you decide to leave their service at any point, would you be able to keep your website intact and transfer it to a different host? If not, then I would strongly recommend about using such a service. I know Bandzoogle would let you keep your domain name (Your web address eg yourband.com), but it doesn't say anything about the website design and content...

Something I'm not too keen on with Bandzoogle is that there is limits to it. For example, you can only have a certain amount of mailing list subscribers, and you only get a certain amount of web space. But what if you want to up-scale? There's a limit to your growth, while with the method I suggested there is none.

Also, these services seem to be quite pricey. With Bandzoogle for example, you'll need to get at least their 'standard' package to get things moving. This is $14.95 a month, so $179.40 a year (Around £107). The method I described above costs £35.76 a year, so saves you around £72 per year (Around $120). What's more, if you buy more hosting upfront it costs less then half that per year, so you'll save even more.

On the plus side however, getting a all in one service such as HostBaby or Bandzoogle does seem to be quite convenient. Everything is in one place, so easily accessible whenever you want. Having said that, it is quite easy to set up the method I mentioned as well, only you have separate account for separate things. This doesn't bother me at all though, and in fact I prefer my accounts being separate from each other. If something happens to one, at least I still have everything else intact.

I'd personally go for the option I outlined as it's a lot cheaper, there's no limits to what you can do, and you have full control over any new features you want to add in future. Go for a pre-made website if you'd prefer to have everything in one place and don't mind paying the extra. If you decide to go for a pre-made site, first ask their customer support what would happen if you ever decided to move your website away from them. If they they allow you a full site transfer that will work with a content management system such as Wordpress, then fair enough. If it isn't possible to do this however, I'd strongly recommend against using them. You wouldn't want to start again from scratch would you?

Good luck with making your site.

March 26 | Registered CommenterShaun Letang

Thanks again, Shaun. This is really helpful advice. I especially appreciate your concern over the transferability of site content / design. And I do want to avoid email list limitations. So I am becoming more convinced that the approach you've outlined might be the best way for me to go ...

All best,
nate

March 26 | Registered CommenterNate Greenslit

Hi Shaun,

Chris, founder of Bandzoogle here. I think you gloss over three important points in your article, and they are the things that most musicians also don't realize when comparing tools:

1) The time and technical skills required
2) Hidden costs
3) Benefits of an integrated service

On Bandzoogle, you can have a great looking site done in around 5 minutes; no additional design skills needed. You can definitely get fantastic results in Wordpress, if you have photoshop skills and the hours to spend tweaking the template code.

With an integrated tool like ours though, you never have to play around with code, or even leave your web browser to make any design changes. If you want to add a digital download store to your site, you can do so in one click. We have dozens of features that can be added in a similar way (blog, podcast, music player, forum etc.). Getting this done in Wordpress would take considerable time to tweak.

Then there are the hidden costs. In your post, you list "e-junkie". But, to sell just a single album on e-junkie, you'd need to sign up to their $10/month plan! So if you have just a single album on your site, Bandzoogle is already less expensive than doing all the work to set up a Wordpress site as you mention. There are other store options that don't charge up front, but they then take a large percentage of each sale.

Then there is integration. By having a mailing list the ties into all your other website features (like your store or blog) you can do things like send out an email to everyone that bought a t-shirt recently. Or give mailing list members access to a hidden page for pre-sale event tickets. That just isn't possible if your store is one place, your mailing list is another.

In terms of storage, our limits are actually quite large. The standard plan at $14.95/month gives you 50 tracks, +10GB of file storage. There is a 1,000 mailing list member limit in that plan, but you can send out as many emails as you like each month. Mailchimp's free plan limits you to 12k mails per month. Their 1000 email "unlimited" plan costs $15/month, the same as our standard plan!

Regarding transferring sites away, it is true that you can't easily export a Bandzoogle site and host it elsewhere (you can export the contents, just not the whole site). But the same can be said for Wordpress sites... you can't take a Wordpress blog and turn it into a standalone website, or into say a Tumblr site. When you are dealing with a CMS, each one has a proprietary system for making designs that isn't "copy/paste" compatible with others.

The difference with Bandzoogle though, is that getting your design set up takes minutes, not days. So the argument that you don't want to start "from scratch" is moot.

So as you can see, the "affordable" site ends up costing more than our standard plan, with a lot less features!

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Hi Chris, thanks for getting involved in the discussion. Can I just point out from now that I am not discrediting your service in anyway, Ariel suggested yours and two other 'all in one' music site builders in her last post, and I have simply described an alternative method to making a music website on a budget.

In regards to your three points:

1) The time and technical skills required
If you follow a guide such as the one on my website (I won't put it again here, it is at the beginning and end of this article for anyone that wants to see it) it won't take you long at all. It doesn't require any more technical skill then say running a MySpace page, which in my opinion is even more complex as you have to work with more code. The only code you have to deal with when using the method described above is when you input your opt in form for your mailing list, but even then that's not that hard and only has to be done once.
I have had a lot of people use the method I've outlined in the past, and all of them have managed to get their sites up and running. It is not as hard as people make out.

2) Hidden costs
There is no hidden costs, from someone that has used this method I have covered all the cost that I have incurred. There is nothing more that is needed, if £36 is all you have for the year you can build a legit music website. Furthermore, as JustHost offer an unlimited plan you can add as many other websites as you want for £7.95 each extra a year (The price of the domain name, even cheaper if you go through a specialist domain name service).
As I mentioned, E-Junkie is an optional option. There are other ways to sell your music via free Wordpress plugins and other services, such as http://getshopped.org/. They are a plugin that is free to use, and you can sell your digital downloads via them without them taking a cut. I just personally like using E-Junkie as I have used them for quite a while now.

3) Benefits of an integrated service
I do agree with you on this point, having everything in one place does seem to be very convenient. If you're not someone who wants to spend any amount of time with the set up or logging into different accounts, then this would be a big plus point for you.
Using different accounts and doing a one time set up doesn't really bother me personally though, and if it means I would save money then it definitely wouldn't be an issue. Having said that I know a lot of people would feel otherwise, so I guess it's just down to your personal preference.

While I personally use Photoshop for designing my website's artwork, I know people that don't and do all their graphic work in Wordpress. They have features that allow you to upload and edit your images. I don't know how good these editing tools are as I have never used them myself, but I do know people that use them and nothing else. I have never used your picture editing tools either, so I can't make a comment on which are better for the job.

With regards to your storage space, you do offer a decent amount. Having said that, with JustHost you get an unlimited amount of space so could upload more then 50 tracks if was needed (I know artists with hundreds of tracks in their back catalogue).

While MailChimp do limit you to 12,000 emails a month while you're using their free plan, if you're talking about having 1000 subscribers that's three emails a week you can send them. Sending them any more then that would most likely annoy your subscribers anyway, I have never been on any big musician's mailing list that has sent me anywhere near that amount in a week. And once again, you get that amount of emails from MailChimp for free. Plus you can up-scale a lot more if you want.

You bring a valid point about not being able to transfer your site away from Wordpress as well, I never thought about it like that. However, I personally would still prefer to have my site in the Wordpress boat simply due to the fact that it is a stand alone CMS. This means that once you have it installed it's yours for life, even if the company goes down. Even if Wordpress.org was to shut down, you'd still have your website and be able to change things in the same way as normal.
On top of that you can upgrade it at will with new plugins and add any feature you see fit. There's also no monthly fees.

The points about not being about to set up those mailing list features as they're not in the same place as your website isn't totally true, although I'm guessing with your site it would be easier to achieve. It is quite easy to give mailing list members access to a hidden page for pre-sale event tickets, although I'm not sure about sending out an email to everyone that bought a t-shirt recently. While it is possible, it does require some technical knowledge involving their API key (I think it's called) and you have to have a plugin that's compatible to be able to do that. And from my experience, dealing with the API key isn't one of the easiest things in the world. It is possible, just probably not the easiest thing to achieve. So your solution would probably be easier for that second situation.

I admit using a site like yours would save time in setting up, but I still stand by it being cheaper using the method outlined in the above guide. For under £36 you can have your website up and running for a year, and wouldn't need to fork out any additional expenses if you didn't want to. On top of that, the abundance of free Wordpress plugins give a huge amount of features to your website, all of which will make the running and functionality of your site a lot easier. A lot would also help with fan interaction.

Once again I'm not putting your service down in any way, what you offer would be attractive to many musicians. Taking that bit longer to set up your own site isn't for everyone, I've been in situations where I've wanted a quick all in one solution and wouldn't mind paying the extra myself. All this article was intended for is to offer an alternative for musicians wanting to create a website on a budget. This is a method I have and still do use, and one I know that can help others too. I wish you continued success with your site.

March 28 | Registered CommenterShaun Letang

thanks for this, had no idea about mailchimp. I cant recommend enough squarespace.com as a platform for websites loads of great options and really easy to design your own site just by dragging and dropping etc.

thanks

John

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Alexander

No problem John, I'm glad you found it useful.
And Andy, good to see someone else is having success with the Wordpress / JustHost combo ;)

March 29 | Registered CommenterShaun Letang

"You should be making more then enough money from it..." should be: more THAN enough...

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterSmartass

My favorite place to get any kind of theme for a website is http://themeforest.net alot of very good themes there for Wordpress, joomla, Magneto and Drupal and much much more and extremely affordable...

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterTM101 RADIO

Thanks for the informative information, ideas and suggestions. Very much appreciated!

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