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Web Design 101
for Record Labels
(and artist's too!)

Copyright 2006 by Keith Holzman,
Keith Holzman
Solutions Unlimited.
All rights reserved.

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A Purpose-Driven Web Site...
Websites have been very much on my mind lately because I've been updating and re-working my own. It's a task that takes lots of time and thought in order to come up with the optimum text, architecture, and look.

Websites have a very basic task -- to educate the public on just what it is your company or your record label is all about, and perhaps more important, it may also be a way of selling 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.

The purpose of my site is to let potential clients become aware of me and my company. It includes an explanation of how I might work with them, and how I might help them. Most of all, it's 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.

For example I've included lots of "value added" material -- including
articles (all previous newsletters), a recommended reading list, links to industry resources, etc.

As research into my revision I spent a lot of time at a great many sites -- those belonging to other firms that offer business services, graphic designers specializing in websites, editors who specialize in marketing, and of course, those of many record labels. I was amazed
at how really good a few sites were, but appalled at how poor others looked. Unfortunately, the latter was true of a great many, for labels large and small.

A Message-Driven Web Site...
When designing or re-working your existing site be sure you have a
thorough understanding of the message you want to convey. Text and
graphics should project the image or brand of your label appropriate
to, as well as evoking, the kind of music you release.

A few years ago I write a newsletter about this subject, and everything I said then still applies. What follows is a revision of that article.

Web Site Basics...
Let's start with certain basic things that I believe should appear on
all record label websites.

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.

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 complete track list, and the capability to stream 30 to 60 seconds of the best part of each song. Common streams utilize RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, or QuickTime.

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.

Your website should also include key details about the 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 explain your policy about A&R submissions -- if you allow them -- 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 your artists and their new releases.

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.

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.

Have lots of artist photos on your site, preferably close-ups with uncluttered backgrounds, but 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. Very good looking home pages for some labels take just a few moments 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.

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 used 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 accessed by those who've been given the URL. Some labels password-protect the pages, but this is cumbersome for a someone that needs a photo right away.

Common Mistakes...
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 my software set to block them.

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.

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.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Copyright 2006 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved. Adapted from "Manage for Success," Newsletter #60, April 2006. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keith Holzman is the principal of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant specializing in the recording industry. A trusted advisor and troubleshooter, he is a seasoned music business senior executive with extensive experience in all aspects of running a label. He was President of ROM Records, Managing Director of Discovery Records, Senior Vice President of Elektra, and Director of Nonesuch Records. He publishes "Manage for Success," a free monthly email newsletter devoted to solving problems of the record industry. You can subscribe at his website <
http://www.holzmansolutions.com>. Keith is a member of the Institute of Management Consultants and has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, and as a board member of many arts organizations. He can be reached at mailto:keith@holzmansolutions.com. Keith is also the author of the recently published "The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company" available both as a 235-page, printed spiral-bound book, as well as a downloadable E-Book.

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