Manage for Success: Effective Web Sites, Newsletter #39, July 2004

 

"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully, and who have indicated their desire to receive it. 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 2004 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.

 

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It's become extremely clear to me that many of us make a lot of the same errors on our web sites by not ensuring they're made as effective as possible. This subject is in the front of my mind because I'm currently deep into the process of a major revamp of my site, and I also have a few record label clients who are revising, or starting to build, theirs.

 

Let's start with certain basic things that I believe should appear on all record label web sites.

 

New Release Information. Regular customers and frequent visitors to your site should be able to find out quickly what you've just released, or are about to issue.

 

Artist lists. I recommend that each artist have his own page on your site, with minis of all the CD covers if the artist has more than one release on the label, and a separate page for each of the artist's titles. Each album page should have a paragraph or two of information about the music, a complete track list, and the capability to stream 30 to 45 seconds of the best part of each song. Common streams utilize RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, QuickTime, or an MP3 file.

 

The artist 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 easy for visitors to buy your CDs, individual tracks, or even T-shirts, caps or other merchandise you care to sell to your fans. Shopping cart software is readily available these days, and administering it has been made less complicated.

 

You should also have information about your label, with complete contact information including address (or P.O. Box), telephone number -- preferably an 800 number -- and an email address. Include a bit of label history if you've been around for a while and have a "story" to tell. You might also include your policy about A&R submissions -- if you allow them -- and to whom they should be sent.

 

You might want to include the email addresses as a part of a graphic -- or leading to a page where visitors can fill out their message and send it to you from your site. The purpose is to defeat web crawlers that try to get legitimate email addresses and then inundate you with countless s--m messages. (S--m is the name of a popular lunch meat.)

 

Include a place where visitors can sign up for a newsletter or news bulletin that you should send out from time to time advising what's happening with your artists and their new releases.

 

Keep your web sites up to date. I'm frequently amazed at how out of date many record label web sites are. Old tour information or news releases should be removed before they go stale. On the other hand, news of forthcoming events that may interest a prospective customer should definitely be posted in a timely fashion.

 

Here are a few additional things that you need to be certain your web designer takes care of. He (and you) should carefully check all links to ensure that they work properly. Broken links are a major user annoyance, and may keep your customers away from pages they might really want to look at.

 

Your designer MUST optimize graphics. Pretty graphics make a page look good, but too many of them slow the download to your screen. And all of them must be compressed as much as possible. Very good looking home pages for some labels take just a few moments to appear on your screen; others may take a minute or more, and frequently look no better, and may even look worse. And a slow-loading page may just make a prospective customer give up and go elsewhere.

 

You should certainly have artist photos on your site, but make them small and highly compressed, providing the capability to click on the photos, linking them so they can appear in a new window in a larger size with much more detail for those who want to view them. Generally use close-ups with uncluttered backgrounds.

 

It's considered a good idea to put a short description, appropriate to the page being viewed, in the window title of each page. This is what you see at the top of the window. It might mention the artist's name, or the title of the release.

 

Include a "hidden" media page, which can only be accessed by those who've been given the URL. It should include high-resolution photos of all your artists, and might also have advertising materials, logos, etc. It's not linked from the site, but is a part of it and is used by publications, distributors, and others with "a need to know" and who require access to what's there. Some labels password-protect the pages, but this makes it more cumbersome for a publication about to print an article that needs a photo right away.

 

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I am happy to offer management and business solutions to label executives who know they've got problems, but don't know how to solve them.

 

Call me if you'd like guidance in solving your label's difficulties. We can discuss your unique circumstances and shape your label to be a potential powerhouse of music. Join other like-minded professionals ranging from small one or two man labels, to medium size companies, to large multi-national conglomerates, who've already called on me for assistance.

 

I also recommend my new book, "The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company."

 

Here's what people are writing about it.

 

Carl Caprioglio, President of Oglio Entertainment: "The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company" is absolutely the best place to start when considering the plunge into the music business. Keith's style is fun, friendly and informative making the book an easy read. I only wish Keith had published this book 10 years ago when I started my label!"

 

Clay Pasternack, Consultant and former Co-Executive Director, AFIM: This book is essential for anyone starting a new record company, and is a very well-worded refresher course for the experienced industry person. I highly recommend it!

 

John Michel, American Composers Forum Sounding Board: Holzman's book offers some of the best and most detailed explications of the "conventional wisdom" of planning, financing, recording, producing, marketing and distributing your own discs. His Guide is more thorough than many similar publications on the market at this moment.

 

"The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company" can be ordered as a downloadable eBook (in Adobe AcrobatÆ PDF form) at $29.95, or as a printed, spiral-bound book at $44.95. You can read the complete Table of Contents and download the Introduction for free at               <http://www.recordcompanystartup.com/>.

 

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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 to your site 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.

 

Avoid unnecessary flash animation elsewhere on the site. Although most recently purchased computers come preloaded with flash software and other plug-ins, many older machines don't have them, or their owners don't want to bother to download and install them. The same things holds true for excess use of Java software.

 

Be sure that all navigation buttons are clearly marked, and make the navigation as easy as possible. Don't make your visitor have to spend any 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 may be trying to look at. That's considered to be one of the major annoyances on web pages. The second greatest annoyance is "pop-up" pages. I have my own software set to block them.

 

Be sure to make maximum use of a typical screen size. It appears 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. These numbers were derived from web statistics for visitors to my own site during the first half of this year. The first numbers is equivalent to a 14-inch flat panel display. (Some 12-inch laptops that use smaller pixels have the same screen resolution, as do many 15-inch displays.) 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.

 

In fact your site should be tested on all of the common browsers (Internet Explorer and Netscape on PCs and Macs, Safari on newer Macs, and others as well) testing them at different screen resolutions.

 

Make full use of the width (the larger 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!

 

Do make full use of the vertical dimension. I know one web site that confines the entire page to the upper left portion of the screen, forgetting that we all have vertical scroll capability, either through "mousing" up and down, using the scroll arrows or page-up and page-down keys on our keyboards, or scroll wheels on our mice (a great feature for those who've got them.) It's an incredible waste of space. Other -- frequently important material -- is placed in a small window allowing perhaps only 100 to 150 words to be seen at a time, and requiring the use of a small, within-the-screen scroll bar -- rendering the keyboard useless.

 

In short, make your screen layout "liquid" so that a visitor can adjust the homepage size to his preferred usage.

 

Color on the web is great, but avoid clashing colors, unless you're doing it on purpose. But no matter what color of type you choose, make it easy to read against the background. I find that red type on a black background in 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.

 

Another suggestion: never include a link that points to the current page. In other words, the home page should not have a link pointing to itself, although all other pages should have "home" on them.

 

I also recommend that you get the vital web statistics of your 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 who can help you set it up. And it can be surprisingly inexpensive. I'm amazed at the amount of information I get for my site at less than ten dollars a month.

 

Finally, make sure that your web sites are 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 2004 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.