header.gif 300x30
line.gif 700x2
line.gif 700x2

Selling your music on the W.W.W.


The digital age has presented a revolution in the way we play, listen, produce and sell music. With the advent of personnel computing, we are liberated from old, restrictive and expensive technologies. In the days of vinyl and analogue, making a well produced and presented album was within the grasp of those precious few artists who had funding from a large corporate record company. The cost of everything like studio time, storage medium (tape), and the time of skilled engineers was prohibitive and certainly did not allow for experimentation. Today, software packages and cheap powerful computers make music production almost too easy. (It is an interesting if partially irrelevant fact, that during the Apollo space missions, the onboard computer in the Lunar Module was less powerful than the computer in you average car today!) Producing finished product onto CDR is cheap and easy. Professional CD manufacturing has, and continues in fall in price. Though this doesn't necessarily make us better musicians, it does give us the potential to reproduce those crazy musical ideas we have floating round in our heads with relative ease. My own choice of recording gear in the excellent Roland VS2480cd. You plug a mike in one end and get a red book compatible mastered CD out of the other. The fidelity for something at that price is outstanding. It won't write better music for me but it makes the process of recreating my ideas relatively painless and fast. What the Beatles or Pink Floyd would have made of all this would make interesting reading.
Once we have made our fantastic new recordings we have to sell that product and are confronted by the same obstacles that we ever did. We do however have a very powerful ally in the World Wide Web. The Internet allows us all to become independent traders. As an artist we can set up websites and bring our music to the population at large who can then purchase that music on-line if they have a mind to. We can all now produce and sell music without having to resort to a third party record company. This is very liberating for the average musician, who as a whole seem to regard the pursuit of a recording contract as the search for their holy grail.
The Internet is a powerful tool for musicians and bands. It is without doubt the way forward and the future for the music industry. So how do you take advantage of what is has to offer. What follows is a series of tips that may help you set up your site and then promote it. If you think I have omitted any important aspects, please get in touch and I will credit you for your input.

Web Design

  1. The quality of your web site will reflect on your project and ultimately your sales. A badly designed site gives a bad reflection on your project. Do it well or don't do it at all!
  2. People regard their time on line as being at a premium. Give them what they want as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Keep graphics as small as possible (in bytes not dimension. Try reducing the colour palette or using different types of compressed picture formats such as jpeg, gif, or ping) and avoid Flash. Flash is a poor way of displaying information. People don't go on line to watch movies. Even if it is very impressive, repeat visitors will quickly tire of downloading graphics that they've already seen when all they want is a specific piece of information.
  3. Most people visit web sites to aquire information. You need to present that information well. The more information you have on your site, the more interesting it will be and the longer you will keep your visitors.
  4. Keep your site up to date. Obviously outdated websites imply that your project is not active.
  5. Learn to write html. Do not use wizywig programs. Take control. Some third party tools such as that provided by geocities embed advertising in your code and pop up windows will appear whenever a user activates your page. There any vast numbers of books to help you design and write code.
  6. Visit lots of sites and copy design ideas. Sometimes the simpler the idea the better. The Google site is one of the most used sites ever!
  7. Watch your spelling. Spelling mistakes will make you site look amateurish. (I should take my own advice!).
  8. Good site navigation is essential. Users should be able to make their way around your site with easy. They should be able to get back to where they started intuitively. Use menu systems and don't rely on the browser back button.
  9. Provide compressed clips of your music (mp3). Always stipulate the size of the files in bytes.
  10. Provide a way for visitors to get involved. Put a feedback form on you site. This also allows you to collect peoples e-mail addresses for promoting your events and products.
  11. Plan your site before you start programming. First decide what content your site is to display. Organize the content in a logical manner. Create a prototype using pieces of paper to represent each page. This will give you a feel for how the user can move around the site and test that the navigation supports the layout of the information.
  12. Make sure all the pages in you site have a similar feel or theme throughout.
  13. Offer options. Some users have broadband and some don't. If you insist on using flash or other graphic heavy presentations, offer an alternative to users with low bandwidth connections.

Site Construction

  1. Before you publish your site, test it thoroughly. Proof reading in the publishing industry is essential. It is no different on the Internet. Get you friends to test drive your site and try to accept criticism graciously.
  2. Avoid using frames. They confuse your browser when setting a page as a "favourite". Also some search engines ignore frames and will not follow links that are inside frames. This means that if your opening page is created using frames, the search engine will find nothing else on your site. Use tables instead.
  3. Lay out your code so it's easily maintainable. Put in an excessive amount of comments and leave plenty of spaces. You will be amazed how some weeks later when you return to edit or amend a page, how confusing it may look. If you are using a third party to design your site, insist most strongly that the coding is formatted in a sensible way. That in the event of a change of developer, no time consuming reformatting is required.
  4. Test that you code will work in different browsers and on different platforms. The obvious two are Internet Explorer and Netscape but there are others like Opera. It is inevitable that some of your clients may be daft enough to use AOL. AOL provide their own browser that comes in many different wonderful versions all with varying degrees of ineptitude. The Microsoft browser is by far and away the best browser available. Some things that work in IE, will not work in Netscape. This is because html is only a "sort of" standard. There is an organization that tries to suggest new innovations, but not all adhere to these principles. Be careful. You need to test rigorously otherwise all you hard work might be in vein. Microsofts monoploy in the web browser market is a good thing. If only everybody used I.E. Firefox is a good alternate browser that is immune from some of the virus attacks aimed at Microsoft IE.
  5. Chose your fonts carefully. If a specified font does not exist on a clients system, then it will show up as a default font and not the one you intended. Safe fonts to use are listed below and are shipped with Microsoft and Apple operating systems.

    Times New Roman
    Georgia
    Arial
    Verdana
    Trebuchet

  6. Make sure that your links work. There are free online tools that can help you with this.
  7. Do not place adverts or graphics that look like adverts on your page. They are a turn-off to visitors.
  8. Do not use pop-up windows that open when you close another page. Users hate this and will avoid your site.
  9. If you use javascript, put the code on an external file. Spiders and search engines find scripts misleading and will on occasion bomb out if too much script is used. To use an external file use the following code and place your javascript code in a "*.js" file.

Promoting your website.

There are many ways to promote your site and attract visitors. The most important is registering your site with the larger search engines like google and yahoo. I have also come across some additional creative ideas, which I hope to share. I invite anyone with other ingenious ideas to contribute to this column.

Search engines and keywords

  1. Optimise the layout of your code to be search engine friendly.
  2. A search engine is a database of website pages that have been submitted. They use automated systems that to search that information. The search engine visits the web sites submitted and reads information relevant to its database. Some use the written content, some use the META tags. Many engines will visit other pages that are linked and catalogue them also. This is known as "spidering" or "crawling".
  3. Understand how search engines work. Some engines allow you to submit every page (Lycos, Alta Vista, Infoseek), and some limit the number of pages (Excite).
  4. Use appropriate key words in your META tags at the top of your page.
  5. The "Title" tag is very important. Most engines use this predominantly to select a page.
  6. The "Description" tag is what the engine will display when your website is found. The description should be such that it entices people to click on the link.
  7. The "Keywords" tag should be optimised for the various search engines. Most engines look at the first 200 characters of your keywords. Take advantage of this and do not skimp on your keywords. Use words that you think browsers might type for a search, for example "jazz guitar".
  8. There are many programs that you can use to submit to the major engines, but to the larger sites like Yahoo, it is well worth submitting properly as errors here could be fatal.
  9. Google uses the words within any given page in a search. It ranks its importants by according to how many pages in the database link to it. Google is a crawler and can store the entire text of a web page submitted to it. Sites with a lot of information can therefore be very effective.
  10. Infoseek uses META tags almost exclusively. This can means that details of a site are limited to 200 characters.
  11. Lycos not only looks at metatags, but also at the full text of any listed documents. It pays to repeat keywords in opening text.
  12. WebCrawler ignores the header information and just crawls the page and looks for relevant words and frequency of words. Most useful for large sites with many pages.
  13. Use a good domain name. Though this is not essential it does give consumers confidence. Search engines can also use the domain name in its search.
  14. Register your site with www.dmoz.com. This is an open directory project administered by Netscape. All major search engines use it. Visit the site and investigate.
  15. The most successful way of creating a popular web presence is to provide compelling, relevant content that is useful to your visitors.

Links

  1. Find sites that are similar to your own or have a similar interest and offer reciprocal links.
  2. Search engines use links as a gauge of popularity. The more links you have to your page from other sites, the higher your page will be ranked by the search engines.
  3. Networking on the Internet can be as useful as networking in real life. Offering links can make you very popular as well as being one of the best ways of increasing site traffic.
  4. Offering or paying for banners can be useful but can be perceived as advertising which can be a negative. Text links can be a better option.
  5. If a shop is selling your product, offer to put a link to their site and get them to reciprocate.
  6. 6. Explore web rings. A web ring is a series of websites that are linked with a common interest. This is to allow visitors to reach member sites with ease. There is however an issue with perception of quality with web rings. Decide for yourself whether they are appropriate for your project.

Receiving payments and taking orders.

  1. Companies like Paypal and Worldpay offer a very easy to set up service for receiving credit card payments. You do not need a special ISP or a cgi bin. For each transaction they offer to handle the payment and place the cash in an online account from which you can transfer funds to your normal bank account. They do this for a small fee per transaction.
  2. A few people who have their browsers set up incorrectly (cookies turned off!) will have problems with Paypal so offer alternative methods of payment.
  3. Have a printable form so that customers can use an old fashioned cheque and the post. Some people are still uncomfortable with putting their credit card numbers onto a web page. My experience is that well over half use the form rather that pay with credit card.
  4. Make your despatches quickly. Any delay will make customers uncomfortable and even after a couple of days you might receive enquiries regarding their order.
  5. Acknowledge ever order with an e-mail to say that the order has been gratefully received and will be despatched within a few days.
  6. Use proper CD packaging and not padded enveloped which can crack the CD case if not packed properly.
It is best to use the web as a way of backing up conventional means of promotion like touring or gigging. Selling at gigs is without doubt the best way to shift CD's but also think of handing out postcards with mail-order details on the back and have the web address plastered all over the front. If you encourage your fans/followers to regularly visit your website, this will be an important and useful way of keeping in touch with your customer base. This means that you must keep your website up to date. Collecting e-mail addresses can be a useful way of helping you promote gigs and new releases.
I would be very pleased to hear from anyone with a success story or additional ideas to add to the list. So, good luck and stay in touch.

Links

www.W3.org : W3 set the guidelines for the html standard. Check out their html guide.
Brighton University : Excellent html guide.
www.netscape.com : Netscape invented javascript. Take a look at their handbook.
www.useit.com: Regarded as the top usability site.
www.usableweb.com: Another top usability site.
www.paypal.com : Get your website to accept credit card payments.


All rights are reserved. Unauthorised duplication, copying or lending is a violation of copyright.
All notices and queries to caesar@zama.co.uk.
www.zama.co.uk 2003