It used to be that either a musician or a band that had a Web site was considered “hip” or “techie.” No more. If you're serious about your music career, a Web site is an integral part of your self-promotion. But for many musicians, putting together a site can be a complicated and daunting task. There are so many possible ways to go about it that it's easy to get confused or to end up settling on the path of least resistance.
Although your site will likely be a continuously evolving entity, the initial choices that you make have a big impact on its long-term success. With that in mind, the advice offered here is aimed to help you successfully begin to establish your site.
Domain of the Name
First, you need to find a domain name for your band or project. Your domain name is a unique identifier for your Web site. Just like a telephone number, a domain name has to be one-of-a-kind so that information can be delivered to and picked up from the correct location.
The right to use a domain name is secured by registering the name with ICANN, a private, not-for-profit entity that maintains the Internet infrastructure. Individuals don't typically register directly with ICANN. Instead, they let their Web-hosting company or a firm specializing in domain registration handle it for them. A well-known example of the latter is Register.com (www.register.com). Its home page has an easy interface where you can determine whether the domain name you want is available in .com, .org, .net, or another top-level domain.
FIG. 1: Hosting companies often provide Web site templates to make site designing easier. This one, from AllWebCo Design and Hosting (www.AllWebCo.com), is one of that firm''s many music-specific templates.
Thanks to my relatively rare first name and my decision to register early, I was able to secure thadbrown.com. Searching my name on Register.com shows that thadbrown.net and thadbrown.org were registered by someone else. Thadbrown.biz and thadbrown.info are still available.
What do you do if somebody else has already registered the .com domain that you want? One work-around is to use .biz or .us instead. Another strategy is to add to the end of the name to make it unique. If it's a band name, putting “theband” at the end often does the trick.
Host with the Most
After you find the right domain name, your next task is to choose where the site will reside. Almost everyone uses a commercial hosting company. Hosting companies vary from mom-and-pop outfits running off of a cable modem in a house or a small office to multimillion-dollar corporations managing multiple fault-tolerant data centers.
Many people make the mistake of choosing a hosting company based only on the amount of server space allotted and the price per month. Price is certainly important, but many bargain hosting companies severely limit what customers can do with their sites. They might also sneak their pop-up windows, other advertising content, or worse into customer Web pages. Higher-quality hosting companies usually cost only a few dollars more per month, and they include Web-based site administration (very useful if adding new users or accounts to a site), multiple email accounts, blogging and message-board tools, and more.
Finally, the better hosting companies allow a site to grow easily over time. A musician might want to build a customized Web database in the future to generate an email list of fans with mailing addresses near upcoming gigs. Or, a band might want to add an e-commerce feature so that it is able to sell CDs, T-shirts, and tickets over the Web. It's easy for a quality hosting company to move a customer from a personal site to a small-business plan that supports secure credit-card transactions and other business-related features.
My own experience has shown me the benefits of choosing a quality outfit. When I first created my site, I did research and asked friends and colleagues for advice, eventually settling on Hostway (www.hostway.com). It has plans starting at $8.95 per month (only a few dollars over the cheapest, shadiest Web hosting on the Internet), will register a domain name for its customers, includes multiple email accounts with each site, and provides secure Web mail and remote administration for all of its customers.
In the years that I have used Hostway, downtime has been only hours per year, the site-management tools have improved consistently, and support emails have generally been answered in minutes. I bring up Hostway not for endorsement purposes, but to point out that when choosing a host, musicians should look for a well-established outfit that offers a similar level of service.
Design and Maintain
The final step before you go live is to create the actual Web pages for your site. Often the initial decision is whether to develop the site alone or to hire the work out to an expert. Musicians often know other creative types such as Web and graphic designers, and they can beg or barter with them for help.
Talented Web designers are an incredible resource. But if a designer cannot be found or the cost is prohibitive, you still have other options. Many hosting companies offer decent templates for starting up a site (see Fig. 1), and many also employ in-house designers who will create your site for a reasonable rate.
Finally, there is the pure do-it-yourself method of building a site from scratch. Web pages are written in HTML, which is not terribly hard to learn. Underneath it all, Web pages are nothing more than text files that tell a Web browser what to display.
Commercial HTML editors such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver are superb Web-creation programs, but they are expensive. You can get the job done with far cheaper tools. For instance, Windows users can download a full-featured free software editor called Nvu (http://nvu.com), while OS X fans can get Taco HTML Edit (http://tacosw.com/index.php). Other low-cost or free applications are also available.
Even if your band has a professionally designed site, it's advisable that someone in the group acquire basic HTML skills to update the site and troubleshoot problems. No designer wants to be emailed every time one word on a page needs to be changed.
Keep It Fresh
Once your site is up, a major challenge is to keep exciting, fresh content on it. For a musical act, a big part of doing so involves posting of music files. Good hosting companies will have media-streaming server software of some kind already installed. Its format (for example, RealAudio or Windows Media) will likely dictate the format in which your files will be posted. If all else fails, all sites should be able to link to MP3 files, which almost every computer in the world can play back in one way or another.
Some bands have tracks uploaded on popular indie-promotion sites such as CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com), GarageBand (garageband.com), or even Myspace (myspace.com). If you have such a page, be sure to link it from your main site and vice versa.
Finally, nothing will keep people coming back to the site more than regular updates. Even if those updates are just blog entries and information about works in progress and dates for shows, updates will attract more regular visitors.
The Right Start
Although there is much more to a great Web site than what I've described here, the first steps are almost always the most important. Registering a catchy name, choosing a good hosting company, and getting a solid handle on HTML will give you the best chance for long-term success promoting your music on the Web.
Thad Brown is a musician, writer, and computer geek based in New Haven, Connecticut. One of his musical endeavors lives atwww.moldmonkies.com.
HOSTING FOR MUSICIANS
If you're okay with a site designed from a preexisting template, consider one of the hosting services aimed specifically at musicians. Such outfits make it easy for you to get a site up and running and offer musician-friendly features — like audio streaming and CD sales — that even an above-average commercial-hosting company might not have.
Services such as Broadjam (www.broadjam.com;), Hostbaby (www.hostbaby.com), and GarageBand are examples of musician hosting sites. They give you good-looking, music-specific site templates with at least some tools for modifying the look and feel. You also typically get ready-to-use tools for Web streaming, journaling and blogging, guestbooks, mailing lists, and listener feedback. One key feature that distinguishes Hostbaby and Broadjam from GarageBand is that they let clients use their own domain name (Hostbaby will even do the registration), so that URLs, email accounts, and mailing lists will look as professional as possible.