This month I thought it would be useful to write an article on how to build a website for yourself if you are a composer. Whether you want to sell your music online, or simply create an online presence for yourself, you need to have a website. However, this is similar to a web designer creating an article on “How to Write Music for Film” – its not something that can be explained in one article (or in a short space of time) – so this is more of a guide as to what is available and where to start.
I’ve split this article into two sections – DIY and Non-DIY. Some of you might want to try building your own website from scratch, while others might be happy with hiring someone else to do it. Either way, you should know some basics of web design before you go down either route, in order to ensure you know exactly what you want.
Before we get started, lets explain a couple of terms that are going to come up:
Terms + Definitions
- HTML – Stands for some long group of words that don’t mean much unless you know a lot about web design. Basically HTML forms the building blocks of every single type of website in existence.
- CSS – Stands for “cascading style sheet”. Basically this is the instructions for a browser on how to show you a website – including where borders go, what colour backgrounds should be etc.
- Flash – Flash is a type of “plugin” (see below) which can make the content on your website more flexible than using just HTML. However, it has the downside of not being viewable on iOS (iPads etc.) and certain browsers.
- Browsers – Internet explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari – these are all “browsers” that allow you to view content online. Each have their merits and some websites can show up differently in each.
- CMS – CMS stands for “Content Management System”. Basically a CMS allows you to publish articles and organize your website easily – it also allows you to use themes (see below) to build your website from.
- Plugin – A “plugin” is an extra piece of code or software adds extra abilities to your website – be it the ability to sell things, allow users to sign up, to send newsletters etc. There are thousands of plugins out there ranging from free to very expensive, and they can do a massive amount of different things.
- Widget – A widget is different from a plugin in that it generally has less capabilities and is only displayed a small portion of your website (usually the right or left hand column). Widgets are generally available for CMS’ like WordPress and Joomla.
- Script – A script is a piece of code which can run on your website, making something like a poll, a contact form, a calendar etc.
- Hosting – Before you build your website, you’re going to have to host it online somewhere so that people can get to it. Hosting gives you space on a hard-drive somewhere in the world, where the actual files of your website exist. Some terms you’ll see discussed in any hosting package are:
– Traffic/file transfer/Bandwidth – This is the amount of traffic (ie. uploading/downloading) between your website and anyone viewing it – usually within a month. So if your website is 10mb in size, and you have an allowance of 10GB of traffic per month, that means people can view your website online 1,000 times in a month before you exceed your allowance. 10mb is quite big for a website though and most are way smaller than that.
– Space/Diskspace/Hosting Space – How much space you are allotted by your hosting company. Most have 10GB up to 100GB as an average nowadays, but you’ll barely ever need that much unless you’re running a store or huge website.
– Domain hosting – This means how many domains the hosting company will allow you to “host” on your account. On my current hosting account, I have hosted my personal website (www.Soundtrack.ie), VST Buzz (www.VSTBuzz.com) and Film and Game Composers. It means you don’t have to buy a hosting account for each website – just host them all on the same account.
- E-Commerce – E-Commerce means buying and selling online. If you run an e-commerce business, you sell products (physical or digital) online. There are a number of CMS
- CPanel – CPanel is a simple control panel for your hosting account that allows you to do a couple of handy things like backup your website, install a CMS, view how much space you’re using, how much traffic you’ve used etc. Here is an example of CPanel
- Domain Name – Domain name is your website address – for example www.FilmandGameComposers.com is this domain name.
- Downtime – When you host your website online, it is stored on an actual drive somewhere in the world. Hard drives are prone to failure (as is any hardware), so when the drive with your website files on it fails/overheats/crashes, your website will go down too – this is called “downtime”. When a drive fails, usually a backup will come online so your site won’t be offline long. Most hosting companies offer 99% up time (so 1% downtime) as standard nowadays.
- Theme – a theme, or “template” is a pre-built website design that you can edit (or not) and use for your own website using your own information.
The DIY Route
So if you want to be adventurous, or if you’re strapped for cash, you can build your own website. Attempting to build your own website can be pretty laborious the first time around, but I’d suggest that everyone at least gives it a go, as its interesting and gives you a good insight into a web designer’s job.
Luckily, building your own website has become more and more simple over the past few years due to the huge increase in demand for websites. There are literally thousands of websites and systems you can use that will actually build a website for you – each of these can range from good to awful. In this section, I’ll try to outline some of the best and most popular ones to go for in order to make life easier for you.
Please don’t forget, its impossible to create an article explaining exactly how to create a website – I can only go over the basics of what you need and the best tools to use. If you’re like to know more about any of these systems or how to use them, you can find hundreds of tutorials on Youtube.
WordPress is an open source content management system that was originally built for blogging, but now has so many plugins available for it (over 22,000) that it can be used for pretty much everything and anything you need – including e-commerce (ie. selling products online).
Its incredibly flexible and I’ve used it for a number of my own websites before – including this one! Its probably one of the most popular ways to build a website and one of the simplest ways to build your first website.
Wordpress has a huge range of free plugins, widgets and themes which you can use in your website. Here are a couple of great plugins I’d suggest using:
– DiggDigg – see this pretty hovering bar on the left of this article thats following you as you move up and down? Thats the diggdigg plugin.
– Yoast SEO – ensures all of your website pages have proper SEO for them meaning they will be more likely to show up well in Google search results.
– Askimet – stops any spam comments on your website or blog if you allow comments to be posted
– bbPress – allows you to setup a forum on your website pretty easily.
– W3 Total Cache – Improves how quickly your webpages load for visitors.
– Disqus – If you’d like to allow people to comment on your posts, Disqus is awesome for allowing comments from a multitude of social media platforms. You can see it in use at the bottom of this article or on Deane Ogden’s website on any of his posts.
– Google Analytics – An excellent way to track visitors coming to your website – where the came from, how long they spent on the site etc.
Here are a couple of themes built for bands/musicians specifically:
Personally, I don’t think these templates are very nice so you could instead choose a “normal” WordPress template and edit it to suit your needs. For example these ones are very nice and could be edited to suit your needs:
How to Setup WordPress
Below is a great video on how to setup WordPress if you’re using Bluehost as your hosting provider. There are loads of videos on Youtube showing you how to setup wordpress using other hosting providers also.
NB. WordPress is a little confusing in that there are two versions of it. WordPress.com is a blogging platform that just gives you a blog (www.example.wordpress.com) whereas WordPress.org is the actual system that you can download and install on your own website.
Building a website using just purely HTML has its benefits. Its more flexible so you can do pretty much what you want with it – you’re not relying purely on the limitations of WordPress or another CMS – but it means you can’t easily create new pages if you want to write up a blog post.
There are literally tens of thousands of HTML website templates out there which you can download and edit to suit your needs. Themeforest has loads to choose from – you should be able to find a few there which suit your needs.
Editing any HTML requires at least a basic knowledge of HTML – I’ve found W3Schools to be great for providing you with a basic understanding of it. Also, in order to edit any HTML web page, you’ll need to open the page in Notepad, Notepad ++ or a similar program, so you can see the code.
Sometimes if you’re hiring a freelance web designer (see below), you can choose a template you think would work well and ask them to edit it for you. This can reduce the overall cost of asking someone to design a website from scratch!
Suggested HTML plugins/scripts
The benefits of using a purely HTML website rather than a CMS is that you can use some pretty handy systems in conjunction with it. CodeCanyon has loads of useful scripts and plugins you can use – here are a couple of good ones to look at:
Don’t forget, you can embed anything from SoundCloud on your website too – just have a look at their widgets page for more info on how to embed your music.
In order to keep this article short enough, I can’t go into detail about every single CMS thats out there, but there are plenty! In my opinion WordPress is by far the best one as its most flexible with the most plugins and themes available for it. Other options include:
- Joomla – Probably the closest competitor to WordPress in terms of plugins/themes available, but still nowhere near as many. Joomla is great at what it does, but personally I find it clunky in comparison to WordPress.
- Concrete 5 – A newer option to the market, Concrete 5 makes setting up websites very easy. An example of a Concrete 5 website can be seen at www.RoyaltyFreeHorrorMusic.com.
- Drupal – Drupal is more similar to Joomla, than WordPress and deserves a mention here. Its very powerful and some large businesses use it for things like a troubleshooting database or as a an internal website (as it has commercial options also). Nowhere near as many themes/plugins as WordPress but could still be used.
- Shopify – If you plan on selling lots from your website (for example if you sell software), there are plenty of websites like Shopify that can be useful. Shopify provides you with an entire online store, all the templates you need, an easy way to update your products, all the bandwith you need etc. taking away the whole hassle of building an online store (and generally the need for a professional web designer). Other sites offering similar capabilities to Shopify include Big Cartel, Store Envy and Volusion.
- Wix – Personally, I think pretty much any website made with it turns out fairly naff, but Wix is an option if you have literally nothing to spend. Wix allows you to build a website in your browser and provides you with hosting for it – not very flexible, and like I said – you probably should only really look at this if you have no budget.
The Non-DIY Route
If you want to get a website built, but don’t want to do it yourself, there are plenty of other options out there. You can hire a web designer directly, a design agency (a lot more expensive) or post a job on a freelance website like oDesk.com or Freelancer.com. Alternatively, if you’re looking for some design work done – like a logo or branding – 99 designs is an option. I’ve used it before and results have varied – you really need to offer a decent amount of money to get any good results.
Here are a few web designers I can recommend:
– Robby Designs – Robby is a freelance web designer in the UK who offers an affordable and seriously professional service. I’ve got no hesitation in recommending him for any web design work you might be thinking of getting done. I’ve used him for bucketloads of work over the years and he has always been excellent.
– Niall Doherty – Niall is a freelance web designer who works with both WordPress and HTML. He is an absolute genius (and fellow Irishman) and has done anything I’ve thrown at him. He also runs $50 Blogs which is a great way to set yourself up with a cheap website to get started if you’re short on funds.
Alternatively, if you’d rather get some quotes from people on how much your web design work will cost, you can use an outsourcing marketplace to get quotes from web designers around the world. Again, I’ve done this before also, and results have varied – once you find a decent designer to work with, you tend to stick with them! Here are some outsourcing marketplaces you can look at:
– oDesk.com – I’ve posted a number of different jobs up on oDesk before and even hired a virtual assistant through there. Generally the quality of the applications for the job varies immensely as well as the quote.
– Freelancer.com – Same as oDesk, just another outsourcing marketplace.
So in conclusion, you can see that this is a massive topic which is fairly impossible to be covered in one article, but hopefully it will have given you a basis from where you can start to look into it further.
As a composer, your website is one of the most important parts of your “brand”. Its like your online CV and usually the first thing clients will see when they first search for your name. You should ensure your website maintains the image you want to convey – whether professional, laid back, expensive, affordable etc. – these are all considerations to take into account when deciding on your website. Questions/Feedback? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re looking into building a website, or upgrading your current one, here are a few books I’ve read that I can suggest:
HTML & CSS: Design and Build Web Sites
Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (& Other Social Networks)
The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution