Thoughts on musicians’ websites

March 7, 2016

I first set up a personal website in about 2000 or 2001. There wasn’t much reason for me to do so—I was a college undergraduate, with virtually no worthwhile content to share. But it was a start, and fifteen or sixteen years later I have a few hundred blog posts and some other resources, plus a few college degrees and a university teaching position to perhaps bolster my reputation, and I enjoy a modest flow of web traffic. For what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts on websites for individual working (or aspiring) musicians, particularly those in non-“pop” genres and whose reputations exist primarily regionally or within specialized circles (such as academia).

photo, Markus Tacker
photo, Markus Tacker

“Home” page: Put some content here. Why have a “landing” page that is nothing but a menu/obstacle to the meat of your site? Put your professional biography here, or maybe a recent blog post (the actual text, I mean, not just links to blog posts).

Biography: Ask yourself, are your site visitors really interested in your life story? (“Bret Pimentel started playing the saxophone at the tender age of ten…”) Keep it simple, professional, and brief. Let people know what you do.

For “who I have played with” lists, I suggest keeping it to 10 or 12 entries, tops. When you play with someone famous/interesting enough to add to your list, drop someone else.

Résumé/vita: Potential employers (for gigs, teaching positions, etc.) aren’t harvesting résumés from websites. Your short bio is probably enough. If you insist on posting your résumé or curriculum vita, strongly consider posting it as a web page, not as a PDF or word processing document. (As a general rule, use a word processing document—preferably an “open” format—if people will want to download and edit it, a PDF if they will want to save or print it without editing, and a web page if they will just want to read it online.) And I suggest removing your address and phone number for safety and privacy.

Blog entries: Not everybody needs or wants a blog, and that’s okay. But if you are hoping to use your website to build an online audience, it helps to have an avenue for publishing new stuff. (Nobody is coming back to read and re-read your bio.) I strongly suggest real blog software (such as WordPress, or a link to a WordPress.com or Blogger.com hosted blog), rather than just typing new entries into a plain web page. That way you can benefit from built-in syndication feeds and other technologies that make it easy for people to find and follow your content in their favorite apps, leave comments, etc.

It’s okay to post only occasionally. Many, many of the musicians’ blogs I follow consist of annual apologies for not posting lately and promises of great stuff coming soon, and nothing more. Just post if you have something to post.

Even if you are planning mostly to use social media sites to connect professionally, bear in mind that those can come and go quickly, and it’s nice to have a home base for your content where it will remain under your control. By all means, post your new web content to the social networks you use yourself, as those connections are the ones most likely to reshare and amplify your content.

Articles/resources: For content that you intend to update or improve over time, it probably makes sense to publish it as a “static” page rather than a blog post. If you are old enough to remember these things, you might consider a blog post to be like a newspaper article, which you probably read once and then look for fresh content the next day, while “resources” are more like phone books, which you refer to on an ongoing basis and which get replaced by newer editions.

Audio/video: I think it makes sense to host these elsewhere (YouTube, SoundCloud, etc.) and link or embed them on your site, since putting them in places where people are already looking for music and video gets them to a larger audience and boosts their search engine juice. They should never play automatically—only when your site visitor intentionally starts them.

Photos: I used to have a photo gallery on my site, but I have removed it. Ask yourself: are you famous or interesting enough (yet) that people are going to have an interest in seeing your career’s visual history? Are you hoping they will be impressed by something related to your physical appearance? Consider using one or two photos on your bio page, and put the rest on Facebook for your friends and relatives to enjoy.

Equipment: I am on record as believing that listing what brands and models you play is useless at best.

(Also, if you have endorsement deals you want to brag about, remember that the correct wording is that you endorse the brand, not that the brand endorses you.)

Contact info: Contact forms are kind of a pain. I suggest providing a real email address so that people can communicate with you using the software or webmail of their choice. Worried about spam? Use a free webmail account with powerful spam filtering.

Social links: You don’t have to link to all the social media sites, just the ones you use and see as good places to connect with internet strangers.

Instructions on how to use a website: If your website includes instructions on how to use your website, either your website is poorly designed or you are talking down to your visitors.

In general, look at each page of your website and ask, is this here because it is potentially of use or interest to my site visitors, or is it only interesting to me? Would I read this content on someone else’s site?

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