Most artists and labels have a website, but too few are proactive in making it work hard for them.
A good website works for you 24/7, doing whatever you ask it to. When set up well, there’s no limit to how hard a website can work, or how many opportunities it can attract.
Over the years, I’ve seen some incredibly creative ways that artists have used their websites, from rapidly iterating through different t-shirt designs to find the best sellers to take on tour, to using Google Analytics to understand which cities to tour in.
In this post I’ll touch on a few ideas for making your band website work harder. While not all of the tips will be appropriate for everyone, hopefully it’ll be good food for thought.
However, before we jump into how to make your website work harder, let’s talk about laying the foundations for a powerful band website. Without a good host, content management system (CMS), and design, the tips in the post will be a struggle to implement effectively.
Laying the foundations for a good band website
There are some decent website builders out there, even several dedicated specifically to building band websites. Generally though, I’d avoid them.
Band website builders share the same pro’s and con’s as music talent shows a la Pop Idol or X Factor. On the plus side, they’re a quick way to get what you want. In this case, a decent looking website for a low price.
But as with many quick fixes, the long-term disadvantage is a lack of control and becoming homogenous with everyone else who’s taken the quick fix. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but if you’re serious about making your website work hard, there’s a much better approach.
A better approach to building a band website
I wholeheartedly recommend that bands use WordPress as the backbone for their website. It’s completely free, and is used by over 20 million websites. It does have a slight learning curve, but it’s worth the effort.
When using WordPress, there are only two things you need to pay for; your web hosting, and your website’s theme.
The best affordable web hosting provider I’ve come across is BlueHost, who offer a free domain name and are the only hosting company recommended by WordPress. They also have a one-click WordPress install button, so you can get your basic site up and running in a matter of minutes.
Once your web hosting is set up, you’ll need to find a good WordPress theme for your site. For this, you should definitely choose a responsive WordPress theme. A responsive theme means that your website willl adjust to and look good on any screen size, which is massively important considering how many fans will access your site from a mobile device. There’s a huge list of responsive themes here (with a few band-specific ones towards the end of the post).
Once your theme is installed, all that’s left to do is add your content. Once that’s done, you’ll be ready to start making your site work hard for you.
Here are a handful of ideas to make your band website drive more income, opportunities, and increase the size and loyalty of your fanbase.
1. Iterate your merch concepts to identify best sellers
I recently came across a band that were creating around 5-7 different t-shirt designs every month. Why? They were testing different t-shirt designs on their website to see which ones were being purchased the most, and were therefore likely to sell the most at shows.
Let’s say that 3/100 people purchased t-shirt design A, and only 2/100 people purchased t-shirt design B. The band then knows that they can make 33% more revenue by focusing on selling t-shirts with design A on. Over time, the band learns more about what works, and what doesn’t.
Using a tool like TopSpin, or even a free WordPress shop plugin like WooCommerce, you can collect merch purchasing data and use that to make smarter decisions around what inventory to take on tour, or what products are likely to help you increase your revenue.
2. Passively grow your mailing list
As an artist, your mailing list is one of your most valuable marketing assets. As we’re seeing with the declining effectiveness of organic Facebook marketing, you are not in control of your audience on social media platforms. You do not own your Facebook fans or Twitter followers – Facebook and Twitter do. If they want to charge you to reach them, they can.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t be using social media, we should. However, I think it’s somewhat foolish to rely on them without a backup plan.
Email, on the other hand, has changed very little since it was first introduced in 1993. If you capture someone’s email address, that data is all yours, and it’s likely that email will still be in use in ten years time.
If you’re not already building a mailing list, start now. I’ve written quite a lot about choosing email marketing software, and how bands can use email marketing in other places, so I won’t go into much depth here about how to get started. However, in combination with point #3, your website offers a great opportunity for you to build your mailing list passively while you sleep and write music.
By setting up triggers and giving away content in exchange for an email address on your website, you can increase the size of your contactable audience while you focus on other things.
3. Make it interactive, but benefit from every interaction
Your band’s website should be filled with as much exclusive and interactive content as you can get away with giving out for free. But it shouldn’t be entirely free.
To build a site that promotes your music while you’re working on your next song, set up ‘triggers’ that exchange exclusive content in return for social shares, fan data, experiences, and even revenue.
Using tools like Pay With a Tweet, Social Locker, and simple email auto responders, you can create a series of triggers that ‘unlock’ your exclusive content only when a fan provides you with their email address, or shares your music with their friends.
4. Use analytics to understand fan trends
Data enables you to make smarter decisions around how you allocate two finite resources; time and money.
Using Google Analytics (a free tool that analyses your website’s raw visitor data), you can gather huge amounts of valuable data on where your fans are coming from, what they’re interested in on your site, and what actions they take.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can setup tracking to identify how many fans from specific shows go on to buy items from your merch store, download your music, or join your mailing list.
5. Use it to be a community among fans
Instead of using your site as a vehicle for directly marketing to your fans, you can use it as a platform for them to connect with one another, amplifying you indirectly. Many artists have had huge success over the years with building forums and private areas for fans.
To be honest, much of this activity now happens on Facebook, which isn’t the most ideal platform for connecting fans with each other. While it might seem dated, I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of using a private area on your site to build more of a community among your fans.
6. Sell your products, merch, and test hypothetical products
The obvious way to monetise your website is to turn it into your 24/7 sales person with an online merch store. However, you can go one step beyond this if you want to get creative.
Why not test hypothetical products to see what fans respond to? Thanks to the power of photoshop, and quick landing page generation, you could easily add products to your merch store that are yet to exist (with a disclaimer that it will be created if there is enough demand).
Similarly to the first point about iterating through merch designs, this would enable you to learn what products your fans are willing to pay for, better preparing you for filling your merch stand with products your fans actually want.
You could get really creative with this and even get fans to suggest what price they’d be willing to pay for different experiences with the band. This is just one of example of how you can use your website to collect insights that you can later turn into hard cash, while better serving your fans.
7. Use a blog to attract the right attention
Building a blog is seriously hard work and takes time and a lot of effort. However, if you want to know the fastest way to start getting results from blogging early on, I’d recommend using it to attract the attention of specific people and companies.
When I started The Musician’s Guide back in 2008, I wrote a review of EMI’s social media strategy, which caught the attention of their marketing department. A few weeks later I wrote a review of Ditto Music, which led to me meeting the co-founders at their office in Birmingham.
Or, as Jonathan Winters put it, “if your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.”
What’s the next step for your band? Who could help you get there? How can you get their attention and make it worth their while to help you?
Blogging may or may not be the answer, but it’s one hell of a powerful vehicle for getting the right attention, when you’ve defined what the right attention is.
We’ve only really scratched the surface on how you use your band website here. There are hundreds of other possibilities for how you can punch above your weight and make your website work harder.
Remember, quite often the best results come from creating systems that run themselves for years to come. That’s why I’ve prioritised mentioning tactics like using pay with a tweet, email autoresponders, and running experiments. They will work for you while you sleep for years to come, and the insights will make you so much more effective in how you market your music.
Marcus Taylor is the founder of Venture Harbour, a digital marketing agency that specialises in working with companies in the entertainment industries. In 2013 Marcus was the winner of the “Speak at Midem” contest; more info here.