Preface:Themed as a story, this growing list aims to give a very vague guide to getting your online presence together as a musician.
I'm sure that your scrollbar has shrunk down to about as small as it's going to go and that's one indication of what a long and arduous process this is. If the only reason you're doing this is to get your online presence together, I don't suggest doing it all yourself; you should only consider doing it all if you are also open to the idea of becoming interested and passionate about online presence management. If you're not, you could always find other ways of getting it done and focus instead on what you are passionate about. Spend a bit of money and get somebody else to do it for you; it will definitely be worth it if it gets you work and even one gig's wages could give you some serious headway. If you don't like that idea, how about offering trades? A few hours of singing lessons for a few hours of tech-support could be worth more than the 'cash value' to both parties.
For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of technology is that there are so many 'puzzles', of which you need every single piece in place to do what you want; every time you find the time and enthusiasm to start, you spend both researching all the separate tools you need and watching loading-bars as you download, install and configure them. This guide aims to at least let you know what you are in for! It lists the steps rather than explaining how to do each one so make sure you use Google to find some more specific tutorials along the way.
My methods suit me, my business and my goals immensely. Yours will be different in some areas. This is why I fully recommend making an action plan of your own as you read this and print it out so that it stares you in the face over the next few years. There is no way that you're going to get this all done in one go; even with a high level of focus, setting up all the tools you need will probably take around a few weeks. Learning the skills, keeping up to date with the tools, building momentum with your followers, developing your image and evaluating your progress are all lifelong tasks and that doesn't even take into account creating high quality music, for which this is all meant to support.
Good luck. Your only chance is to be patient.
Chapter I - A Blank Canvas:A fine artist and good friend of mine once told me her technique for sidestepping writers' block:
"Sometimes I just paint my canvas cream or an off-white; a big white canvas can be daunting."
If you're unsure of where to start, these infographics might give you some inspiration:
The Conversation Prism is a pin-wheel of social media websites organised into categories:
The Twitterverse gives a comprehensive list of websites and tools that can interact with Twitter:
It's easier to 'fix' something than to start it from scratch. A good place to start is by setting up the basics even if you're not going to 'decorate' them yet. At the very least, make accounts on the following sites:
http://www.plus.google.com (not publicly available until October 2011 but there are ways around this)
http://www.123-reg.co.uk (to buy a domain name e.g. http://www.vidwarren.com etc.) Buy a domain name today it's useful even without a website to put online. I'll get to that.
To make a 'Business Page' on Facebook, follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php
You'll need to spend more time deciding which sites suit you best for sharing audio and video. In short, I recommend:
http://www.soundcloud.com - For audio
http://www.youtube.com - For video that you want fans, followers and the public to find by searching and subscribing to your channel
http://www.vimeo.com - For video that you want to put in front of people, e.g. emailing video links to festivals etc.
Don't bother with Myspace; it is dead.
You can spend a long time staring at your screen not really doing anything. The trick is to catch yourself doing it and have a task to divert to whenever you feel you are wasting time. Perhaps a little 'screen time' is useful, even vital, to give your brain a break and keep efficiency up. When you want to avoid it, setting up these accounts is a good menial task to ensure you're not wasting time.
You can easily set these accounts up in a couple of hours and it really is worth doing it all in one go. Filling in the information and adding content can take substantially longer and it is OK to have a site online with nothing on it. Don't be so arrogant or idealistic as to say 'I do not want to launch it until it is ready'. You're just starting out and somebody that has seen you at a gig may then search for you on Facebook/Twitter/Youtube/Soundcloud etc. Even if you have nothing on any of them, simply having these sites online could mean gaining that extra follower and that could mean that extra gig, another CD sale etc. Take that will to be ready and use it as motivation to work on your sites. Otherwise, in three years you'll still be in the same position. A strong online presence doesn't just appear when you are ready (unless you pay a team of people to handle it). Personally, I'd advocate having the online presence already set up so that, when you 'suddenly become ready' you don't have to go through the awkward process of slowly piecing together each site, painfully using trial and error constantly changing from 'not quite right' brand-images whilst more and more followers see it all and think 'Oh, I guess he isn't ready'.
Yes, it's hard to publicly present the initially god-awful work in progress that is an image that is supposed to represent you. Your best option is to do it whilst very few people are watching! Don't let your ego prevent you from taking the leap. If you spent all your time worrying about what other people thought when you were learning music, you wouldn't have the need for an online presence now! It's hard to go through that again but, hopefully, looking back at the first time makes it clear how superficial it all really is.
Chapter II - Your Own Website:This is the most complicated part as well as the part that give you the most control, makes you look the most established, gives you the most clout in a Google search etc. Both of these reasons indicate that it is something that you should do early on. It's going to take time and is important, best get cracking ASAP.
Before I explain, I need to remind you to register a domain name. I use 123-reg and they've always done what I want. You can redirect the domain to your SoundCloud if your website isn't ready and simply buying the domain will give you a professional email address (under £10 a year for a .com and under £4 a year for a .co.uk). You can even set a catch all i.e. *@vidwarren.co.uk to forward to another email address. You could send an email to email@example.com and it would reach me.
Now, on to getting a website:
A brief explanation: A website is a folder on somebody's computer. Each page is a file in that folder. Your browser connects to that computer and asks for permission to access the folder and read the file. To have your own website, you need to buy webspace - space on a computer in which to put your website-folder.
There are countless hosts from whom you can buy webspace. The problem is, the computer on which your website is stored needs to be on and connected to the Internet 24/7. Any loss of connection and the website goes down. Some servers use enormous chains of computers so that, if one computer has a problem, the next one kicks in as a backup. You need to find a host with a balance of the price plan that suits you and the reliability that you need.
If you're looking to buy webspace, feel free to trawl through online reviews and ask around but, having done that myself, I can save you time by recommending my host:
For a starter website, I recommend their five quid per month package.
I've never had any downtime and they've always been prompt to respond to emails. They have deals from time to time so it's worth asking.
So, if you have bought a few years on a domain name from http://www.123-reg.co.uk and have just bought a few years of web-hosting, you shouldn't need to pay for anything else in order to get your own website online.
The web-hosting will also include mail-accounts so you will have an official business email address (without the faff of email forwarding). I recommend Thunderbird as a mail client. It's made by the same people that make Firefox, which I recommend as a browser:
Making the website
There are many different kinds of software you can use. Before deciding on how to make it, I recommend installing a free and open-source software-package called XAMPP:
XAMPP allows you to host your own website. You're probably not going to use it for this but it will let you test your website as if it were online before you actually put it up.
XAMPP stands for: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP and Perl. You'll especially need it to test PHP or if you are going to be using databases to create your site such as Wordpress.
So, that's the testing out of the way. Now you'll need to look at the other pieces of software you'll need to create the site and to get it online:
GIMP is a powerful image editor. It's free and open-source and, for what I do, I find it both more intuitive and more able than Adobe Photoshop. If you're savvy with code, you can write your own scripts and use it in batch mode to apply a process to a large number of images without even needing to open the software. Be sure to check for tutorials online.
Gedit is an excellent text editor. Again, it is free and open-source. Once you have saved your file with the relevant extension (.html .css .js .php etc.) Gedit will colour code your scripts as you're writing them! This makes it very easy to spot stupid mistakes such as missing a semi-colon at the end of a line etc. Even if you're not planning to use coding, it's still worth having as a text editor.
Filezilla is the best FTP client I've seen. Free and open-source (like everything that's good for online management) it is what you use to securely log in to your web-folder and upload, download and delete files.
By now, you're probably starting to see one of the 'puzzles' I mentioned in the preface. It's already a lot of software needed and we haven't even started designing yet! Downloading all of these looks like a slog but, when you compare this to the fact that I had to stumble upon these one by one through months of research, it really isn't that bad. Realistically, if you're starting from scratch, you're probably going to download one or two, then get stuck on something and leave it for a few weeks etc. or maybe download it all and then not look at any of it for a long time. If you're making notes or an action plan this might be a good time to schedule your tasks. Also, stumbling across software gradually is always going to yield a more organic and more effective process. Articles like this are often most useful when you're stuck on where to go next. It's much more likely that you'll look at my entire process and then see one step that suits you than for you to follow every single step. Perhaps that's something to remember next time you're stuck.
To design your site, I'm going to show separate two methods, one- From Scratch -is incredibly difficult and will give you complete control, a thorough understanding and a fully customized site. It is the method that I have used to create http://www.vidwarren.com. The other- Using a Content Management System (CMS) -is still difficult but you won't need to learn a new set of languages to get it up and running. You'll be confined to the parameters of another CMS but sometimes that's a lot more liberating than being confined to the parameters of your own scripting knowledge! Also, if you do know your way around a few scripting languages, you can still use them to get some of the best of both worlds. This is the method I used when helping to design http://www.tessential.com
This is a brave decision and is not to be taken lightly. I'm not going to give an entire instruction manual on how to do this but I can link to something that is fairly close:
I write using these languages in Gedit, and save them in my htdocs folder in XAMPP to test them. I create/edit the images using GIMP and I upload the files to my webserver using Filezilla. That is the entire process and it's a lot quicker once you know what you're doing.
If you're already doing all this, you may be ready to explore APIs. APIs are libraries of code with a 'shorthand' that you can use to write a few lines of code that are then translated into gigantic arrays and functions. A few examples:
http://jquery.com - For example, I use this so that my anchors scroll down the page smoothly rather than a sudden jerk to where they are. Check out http://www.vidwarren.com/human-beatbox and click on beatbox workshops to see it in action. There is a lot more that jquery can do, that is just an example.
http://code.google.com/apis/youtube/getting_started.html - This is Youtube's own API and gives you greater control over Youtube Videos embedded into your site.
So, is it worth it? It really depends on what you want to do and how much time you can and are willing to put in. The main benefits are that every pixel is going to end up exactly where you put it meaning that your site reflects your own brand and doesn't look like a common template. As well as this, you will learn much more about coding/scripting this way and then you can use the superpower that is computer programming to achieve something that man alone cannot do.
On my site, I have two very good examples of this:
Firstly, there is my booking form: http://www.vidwarren.com/bookingform_performance.php - This is an online form that takes each field and, using php, composes a contract, which it sends to me via email. I check through this and send it back to the promoter, who checks through it and can then agree by email. This means that I have a contract for every single gig and I never have to write it out. Pretty useful if somebody doesn't pay or decides to cancel out of the blue etc.
Forcing yourself through an understanding of how websites work is a good thing whether you want to design a site from scratch or not. It's just that designing a site from scratch is the best and most complete way of doing this.
Using a Content Management System (CMS)
This is a much quicker and simpler way. Once you've got the databases installed, managing your site will be just as easy as editing your Facebook profile etc. What's more, you can login to your site from anywhere with the Internet and manage it as 'admin'.
The best option, in my opinion is Wordpress (free and open-source). Download Wordpress from:
Make sure that it is .org and not .com as wordpress.com is a blogging site more like blogger/blogspot where you create a profile and wordpress.org is a set of web-developer tools used to create your own website.
To test Wordpress and see if it is right for you, you'll want to install it in XAMPP first using the phpMyAdmin application (included with XAMPP). If you're on Windows, there's a tutorial on how to do that here: http://helpdeskgeek.com/how-to/installing-wordpress-on-local-windows-using-xampp
If you've managed that, putting it on your webserver should largely be the same. This is especially the case if you have taken my advice and gone with https://www.5quidhost.co.uk as they have phpMyAdmin included as part of their cPanel.
Once you've got it online, configuring it should be fairly easy. Again, the quickest way is to find a template online that is close to what you want and then start modifying it. There is an 'Editor' in the Dashboard that will give you access to the Stylesheet, the Header, the Page Template etc. these are where you can insert snippets of code if you know how.
"There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts."
Keep that in mind. All shortcuts are trade-offs.
There are plenty of other CMS options such as Joomla. Past the 'framework' of the CMS, they are only as strong as their communities. One of the reasons I recommend Wordpress is the quality and amount of plug-ins that are available for free written by other members of the Wordpress community.
You only need one CMS for the main framework of your website but it's possible to include other databases for other tasks. For example, MediaWiki is a free open-source software package used by Wikipedia. You could create a user contributed encyclopaedia on your own site, if you had the need to do so:
Or, you could add an online shop to sell CDs and Merchandise. osCommerce is free and open-source:
Even with CMS based sites such as Wordpress sites, you will probably still need to use Filezilla to upload images, depending on where you want to put them. However, mostly you will be customising your site from the comfort of your admin login.
So, now you should have a website online. Don't forget to include Google Analytics to track your site statistics:
If you're on Wordpress, there's a plug-in to do that here:
And, for tracking your Facebook Page:
Also, to prevent yourself from getting spammed (and to help to digitise several books) get reCAPTCHA wherever you have a form:
If you get stuck, there are a ton of forums out there. Most of the time, your question has already been answered and you can find it by trawling Google. If not, you can always make an account and start a new thread. The web-developing community can be extremely helpful.
That's just the nuts and bolts. You'll need to decide what headings are important to you and which content to include and you'll most likely end up with a load of empty pages which make you think 'Man, I need to get some more photography' or 'Oh my days, all my songs need work'. Don't let this act as a reason to procrastinate; use it as a kick up the arse to get everything done.
Also bear in mind that your content and headings affect the search engine results in which you appear on the front page. If you want to be top in Google for a certain search phrase so that others stumble upon your site, you'll need to optimise your site with relevant headings, filenames etc. Look up SEO - Search Engine Optimisation to find articles on the subject.
Chapter III - Brand Identity:And you thought scripting was tricky; at least you know whether or not it works! Now you've got the 'how' but where does the 'what' and 'why' come in? If you need some inspiration, look up semiotics (the study of signs) to ensure you know what is the reasoning behind your logo. A few articles on the emotional impact of the use of colour may help you to find a colour scheme.
Aside from this, it takes a while to get your head around using angular perspective, transparency, lighting and gradients effectively in GIMP. Making a checklist of these may be a good start.
Find tutorials and, during your research, you really should find at least ten websites that you like the look of for inspiration. This becomes easier if you have a rough idea of what you want. For example, I knew early on that I wanted a dark colour-scheme for my website. It was easy enough to find a big group of dark colour-schemes:
One tip I can give you is not to fall into the common pattern of making something with a huge focus on being 'easy on the eye'. Lots of people go for pale, low-saturation 'pastel' colours and end up with a site that looks more like a wedding florist's site. Don't be afraid to give your site bollocks, especially if your music has them.
When it comes to branding, everything you can see is included. The fonts are all too often overlooked. Your photography needs to fit. All embedded widgets such as Youtube videos and ReverbNation Show widgets must be customised as much as possible to fit.
http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=4949752878 - You can add Static FBML to your Page here.
You can replicate your site or create something similar. I opted for creating something similar so that I can find a happy medium between my own branding and Facebook's styling. My tab is here:
There's a lot of fine detail but the most important aspect of branding is to keep it simple.
Chapter IV - Connectivity:You'll know by now from the hours of work you've put into setting up your account that updating every single one of these separately every time you post is going to be a nightmare. The solution is to use tools to connect them together. The don of all sites for this is Twitter and, really this is the main reason that I joined Twitter.
Now, when I post on my Facebook Page's Wall the Twitter application I use reads this and automatically posts to my Twitter. Anything I post to my Twitter (including this automatic posting from Facebook) will get automatically posted to my Facebook Profile and my LinkedIn profile. I also use a widget that embeds my Tweets on the front page of my website. So, from one posting, I can spread news, opinions links and media across the web.
Some websites just ask for your Twitter login and handle things from their end. Others use applications.
http://apps.facebook.com/twitter - This is where to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
http://twitter.com/about/resources/widgets - This is where to get a Twitter widget for your website.
Syncing your sites through Twitter not only saves you time; it will help to prevent you from neglecting your followers.
So, now you have your website and all your social networks connected to each other full of your amazing music/photos/videos/reviews, generating traffic to each other, all sharing your brand identity and, with a few keystrokes, you can update them all at once. You have Google Analytics on your website and Facebook. Things are really coming together now.
Chapter V - Tools:Social media tools allow you to specify beyond the ability of Facebook or Twitter. Necessity is the mother of invention and, when a social network site doesn't meet the needs of a computer programmer, sometimes they're stubborn enough to create their own solution and kind enough to share it with the world.
Here is a brief list of applications that you may find useful:
http://www.kurrently.com - Social Media Search Engine
http://www.socialmention.com - Social Awareness Alerts
http://klout.com - Social Awareness Alerts
https://analytics.postrank.com - Measures User Loyalty
http://blogsearch.google.com - Searches Google for blogs
http://www.twitterfall.com - Searches Twitter in real time
http://friendorfollow.com - Shows who is/isn't following you back etc. on Twitter
http://wetoku.com - Video 'side-by-side' interviews
http://socialcam.com - Smartphone video sharing
http://summify.com - Customizable Social Media News, compatible with http://google.com/reader
http://performable.com - Social Media Analytics
http://tap11.com - Social Media Analytics
http://hootsuite.com/p_1003?d=pro - Post to multiple social networks from one place
http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=223419&u=485556&m=25914&urllink=&afftrack= - Social Media SEO
http://tweetwally.com - Creates a mixture of content from your Tweets and your responses
http://twilert.com - Alerts you at set intervals regarding search results for Tweets
http://twitalyzer.com - Twitter Analytics, compare your Twitter's results with another page's
http://crowdbooster.com - Twitter Analytics
This gives an idea but there is much, much more out there.
Chapter VI - Communicating With Your Followers:
Don't you dare go through all this hard work just to create a big machine that does nothing but bug and spam people! Your time is worth more. The music should come first so do all you can to keep it relevant. Ask yourself questions like 'Is this news?' i.e. have I posted this upcoming gig already? Do I need to post it at all? Some gigs are worth mentioning but, if you've got something better and more interesting to say, that's always going to capture your followers attention and spark discussion more than a predictable announcement and evaluation of every single gig they're not at! If you don't have something more interesting going on, why? Maybe that's a good way of discovering that you should be trying something new and exciting. New collaborations and developments in your music will get a better response than same old gig listings and website maintenance reports (snore). If you have the floor, at least make people laugh or start a conversation about something other than yourself once in a while! If you really must avoid the controversy of political events happening around you, why not write a blog and post it to your wall?
There is a brilliant video here on 'How Great Leaders Inspire Action':
If you want to get people talking on your site, try not to post heavy, serious information too often. Your job is to take your music seriously enough to make it wonderful. That doesn't mean all communication needs to reflect this. Often, there is friction where people find it hard to switch between the two but at least you have all the time you need to realise this. Think before you post. Don't think too hard but think for long enough not to make a blunder.
EpilogueA few years after setting this up, you hopefully have a decent following and, if you're lucky, you have set a standard of conversation to you community making your sites an interesting and amusing platform for your followers to post their own thoughts. This is what pushes you towards the position of 'community leader' that gives you and your music the influence that so many are reaching for.
If you really work on this, you'll be in the top one percent of artists because most people don't get this sorted for one reason or another. There is no way that you can complain that 'it is too hard to make it as an artist without a record label' etc. before getting this sorted. If you're willing, patient and hard-working, it really is all there for the taking.
The methods I've used I have been discovering over a long time using trial and error and rejecting many pieces of software etc. because 'it did not suit me' or 'it did not suit my business' and probably sometimes down to luck. Take what you will from this guide but don't follow it too rigidly if you're going to do it all yourself. I wouldn't want to take the 'driving seat' away from anybody. Your online strategy has to be creative and, if you want to be passionate about it, it helps if you're the one that 'creates' it. Get out there and discover something that you'll actually bother using.
A strong online presence is fairly essential in making your passion into your full time job. It's hard to manage but much harder to set up. Get it done before it becomes overdue. You're only going to get busier!
- Oct 9th 2012 -
- Jan 9th 2012 -
"Websites, Tools, Apps and Software - Get Your Online Presence Together
- Aug 9th 2011 -
How to Deal with Bad Sound Levels
- Apr 9th 2011 -
Should the Artist Bring the Audience?
- March 25th 2011 -