Manage for Success: Compelling Websites, Newsletter #105, February 2010
"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully. It's published by Keith Holzman of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant, troubleshooter, and trusted advisor, and is based on his many years as a senior executive in the music industry.
Copyright 2010 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.
I haven't addressed the subject of effective websites for recording artists and record labels in almost four years, and having been to a number of such sites in the last weeks, it’s clearly a subject that we need to look at once again.
But first, a few important news items you should be aware of.
Now that the U.S. Government has O.K.'d the merger of Live Nation with Ticketmaster, there's considerable cause for concern by labels, their artists, and artist managers. It's considered by many of us that this merger is anticompetitive, and my antennae started vibrating madly the other day when I read in Billboard that Live Nation "has entered into an agreement to partner with Wal-Mart to offer tickets at Wal-Mart stores in select markets across the U.S." It looks like trouble ahead for artists, agents, bookers, and venue owners who are not participants in the mega monster.
All Things Digital, an adjunct of The Wall Street Journal, reported on February 9th that since "music labels got what they wanted from Apple -- the ability to raise prices on their songs," the result has been a slowing of music sales at Apple's iTunes site. "Year-over-year 'digital track equivalent album unit growth' was at five percent in the December quarter, down sequentially from 10 percent in the September quarter and 11 percent in the June quarter."
I expect that labels will counter this fall-off with an eventual reduction of prices to encourage fans to buy more tracks. All this as iTunes is expected to reach 10 billion song-downloads in the very near future.
Now to the subject at hand.
All websites have a very basic task -- to educate the public on just what it is a company or a record label is all about, and probably more important, it may also be a way to sell them something. And if you're selling, you must be clear just what it is you have for sale -- whether it's music, a service, or something else.
For example, the purpose of my site is to let potential clients become aware of my company and me. It includes an explanation of how I might work with them, and how I might help them. Most of all, its purpose is to encourage worried or anxious label executives to contact me to see if I can solve their problems. Yes, it's an online brochure, but it's really much more than that.
I've included lots of "value added" material -- including articles (all previous newsletters), a recommended reading list, links to industry resources, etc.
Too many of the music sites that I've been to recently have very cluttered and busy home pages. There's too much going on -- often with a few "Flash" elements stealing the eye's attention.
Designing a successful music website is a task that takes lots of time and thought in order to come up with the optimum text, architecture, and look. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to convince a visitor to buy the music offered.
Let's start with certain basic things that I believe should appear on all record label and artist websites.
You might start with who you are and what kind of music you record and sell. You should include new release information on the home page, or have a readily apparent link that points to it. Regular customers and frequent visitors to your site should be able to find out quickly what you've just put out, or are about to issue.
For a label, there should be a complete artist roster with separate pages for each artist and possibly a separate page for each title.
Each album page should include a cover mini and a paragraph or two of information about the music, a track list, and the capability to stream 30 to 60 seconds of the best part of each song.
Include an artist bio or a bit of label history if the label's been around for a while and has a story to tell.
The page should have up-to-date tour information for the artist, or for a label with just a few artists, a tour schedule page for the entire roster.
In addition, make it very easy for visitors to buy CDs, individual tracks, T-shirts, caps and other merchandise you care to sell. Shopping cart software is readily available, and administering it has been made less complicated.
You might even entice potential fans with a free download of a track that's not otherwise available for sale.
Please pardon a brief interruption:
Label executives and managers often deal with a great many crises. Contact me if you're having difficulty coping with running your company. I've had many years of record industry experience at labels large and small, and have solved many problems. Let me help you as I've helped so many other labels "manage for success." Email me at <mailto:email@example.com> so we can discuss how I can improve your business.
The website should also list contact information including address or P.O. Box, telephone number -- preferably an 800 number -- and an email address.
A label might also explain its policy about A&R submissions -- if they're allowed -- and to whom they should be sent.
Include a place where visitors can sign up for a newsletter or bulletin you might send out from time to time, advising what's happening with artists and their new releases. If you've got a fan club, enable sign up for that as well.
Have lots of artist photos on your site, preferably close-ups with uncluttered background. By the way, your designer should optimize all graphics for the web, compressing them as much as possible. Pretty photos and artwork make a page look good, but too many can slow the download to fans' computers.
Include performance and music videos when available.
Keep your site up to date. Old tour itineraries or news releases should be removed before they go stale. On the other hand, information of forthcoming events should definitely be posted in a timely fashion.
Very good looking home pages for some labels take just a few seconds to appear on a screen; others take a minute or more, often looking no better, and frequently worse. Moreover, a slow-loading page may just make a prospective customer give up and go elsewhere.
Here are a few additional things that you need to be certain your web designer takes care of. Check all links to ensure they work properly. Broken links are a major user annoyance, and may keep your customers away from pages they might want to look at.
Be sure that all text and information is thoroughly proofread by at least two people who can spell.
It's a good idea to put a short description, appropriate to the page being viewed, in the window title of each page. It might mention the artist's name, or the title of the release.
Include a "hidden" media page or section that can be accessed by publications, distributors, and others with "a need to know." It should contain high-resolution photos of all your artists, and might also have advertising materials, logos, etc. It's not linked from the site, and can only be reached by those who've been given the URL. Some labels password-protect the pages, but this is cumbersome for someone that needs a photo right away.
Many labels and web designers make the same common mistakes. The biggest and probably most frequent error is that their sites are too complicated. Don't make a visitor sit through a long flash animation and then force him to press an "enter" button if he wants to get into the site proper. If he didn't want to visit, he wouldn't have typed the URL or clicked on the link that brought him to the site in the first place.
Be sure that all navigation links are clearly marked. Don't make a visitor need to spend time figuring out where to go to next on your site, or how to get there.
Avoid the use of blinking words or graphics, jumping characters, or other devices that take a visitor's eyes off what they're viewing. That's considered to be one of the major annoyances on web pages. The second greatest annoyance is "pop-up" pages. I have set my software to block them.
If you're thinking of starting your own label, consider my book "The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company" which can be ordered as an eBook in PDF form, or as a printed, spiral-bound volume. Read the complete Table of Contents and download the Introduction at <http://www.recordcompanystartup.com/>.
Be sure to make maximum use of a typical screen size. It seems that the most common web browser window is set to 1024 x 768 pixels, followed next most often by 800 x 600, and then 1280 x 1024. The first size is equivalent to a 14-inch flat panel display. Many older CRT (tube) displays use an 800 x 600 resolution screen, so you need to take that into consideration in setting up your pages.
Test the site on all of the common browsers -- Firefox, Internet Explorer, Netscape and Safari -- checking them at common screen resolutions for both Macintoshes and PCs.
Make full use of the width (the higher number of pixels) so that the browser window stretches to an easily viewable screen. Most important -- don't make a user have to scroll from left to right and back to read the entire width of a web page! The screen layout should be "liquid" so that a visitor can adjust the window to his preference.
Color on the web is great, but avoid clashing hues, unless you're doing it on purpose. No matter what type color you choose, make it easy to read against the background. I think red type on a black background is not only difficult to read, but causes eyestrain. Also be sure to use color to delineate visited and unvisited links. This helps users know where they've been.
You might have your designer look into use of HTML5, a major revision to the language used in recent years. It should work in most current web browsers, while older browsers will safely ignore newer constructs. Apple's forthcoming iPad will make use of this web language since it has opted not to make the device Flash-capable.
I recommend you obtain the vital web statistics of site visitors. Many web hosts maintain such data and make it available to you for free. If they don't, sign up with one of the many companies that exist to provide you with this information. Just type "web site statistics" into your search engine and see listings for the many firms that can help you. And it can be surprisingly inexpensive. I'm amazed at the amount of information I get for my site for less than ten dollars a month.
Dr. Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group has published excellent advise regarding usability and common mistakes in website design. His information at the following URLs is invaluable.
Finally, make sure that your website is as user-friendly as possible. You want to encourage customers to visit and buy from you. You don't want to send them away in frustration.
Until next month,
Keith Holzman -- Solutions Unlimited
Helping Record Labels Manage for Success.
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Copyright 2010 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.