Do you really need a website today?

A website?

Haven’t they gone the way of the fax machine, at least as far as bands, music labels and authors are concerned?

Yes, pretty much. Hardly any bands, musicians or record labels have their own website any more. They use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SoundCloud to announce their news and communicate with fans.

Is that a good idea? Do you really need a website today, after all?

It depends.

If you’re an online shop, or run some other kind business that doesn’t depend on customers living in your local area, then clearly yes, you really do need a website.

But having your own website really does have advantages for you bands, musicians, labels, authors and other creative people.

Below I give you some reasons why. (And in the interests of balance, I mention some of the disadvantages of having a website too.)

Do you really need a website today? – benefits

Despite some time outlay and financial expenditure, there’s a lot to be said for bands, DJs, producers, labels, authors and other creative people having their own website.

Web design by Paul Jackson – award-winning, best-selling author Berlie Doherty
Do you really need a website today? Award-winning, best-selling British author Berlie Doherty does!

You appear more professional

Anyone can set up profiles on Facebook, SoundCloud and all the rest, in order to present their music or other creative work, and communicate with fans free of charge.

So with your own website, you would already be standing out from the crowd.

You would be demonstrating that making music (or writing books, or painting pictures…) isn’t just your hobby, but that you take it seriously. And if you take yourself seriously, then you signal to others – such as promoters, journalists, labels or publishers – that they too should also take you and your music/writing/art seriously.

You don’t cede control to third parties

These days, if you want to become known and sell your music or play gigs and DJ sets, profiles on Facebook and SoundCloud and the rest are essential.

And it’s great that these platforms provide you with such a wide range of tools to use. These enable you to not only keep your fans informed, but also allow them to hear, and ideally buy, your music, and to get in touch with you.

But guess who has control of it all?

Precisely! Facebook controls your Facebook page. Twitter retains control over your Twitter feed. SoundCloud has the last word regarding your SoundCloud profile. And so on.

If you inadvertently fall foul of their terms and conditions – which can be opaque, or subject to interpretation by individual moderators (or algorithms!) – then you could be faced with a temporary ban, or even thrown off the platform. How are you supposed to communicate with your fans then?

Your website is not at the mercy of algorithms

On social media, you may have noticed that you follow certain pages or users, but don’t seem to see every message from these pages or profiles. The respective social media platform’s algorithms decide who gets to see each message.

For this reason, profile owners sometimes ask their fans/followers to dig deep into the platform’s settings to tick a box so that in theory, they will in future receive all posts from that profile in their timeline. And how many people actually do that? Exactly.

Even worse is when platforms change their algorithms. At a stroke, the importance of certain types of content can be downgraded, meaning that it is shown to fewer followers. If you earn money from such types of content, whether directly or indirectly, then you will suddenly earn less.

Your website is (mostly) governed by laws in your part of the world

Many of these large corporations are based in the USA: a country in which laws and cultural norms are sometimes different to those here in Europe. Sometimes these laws and norms are stricter (nakedness!), but when it comes to data protection, they’re as relaxed as a sloth in a massage chair.

Your website is a fixed point in an ever-changing online landscape

Even though today it seems barely imaginable that Facebook, for example, will permanently go offline at some point, online companies do not always exist for ever, or remain as popular as they once were. Sometimes, a new top dog establishes itself. If the bands and musicians who so carefully maintained their Myspace profiles in 2005–2008 hadn’t found new online homes, they would have gone bankrupt long ago.

And who searches Yahoo! these days when they want to find something out?

YOU control your own website

Your band website (or author or artist website) serves as your own content hub. It’s the central focal point for all your content: bio, news, photos, videos, music and everything else you want to publish.

And you alone are responsible for the design of your website! You’re no longer restricted by the design and functions provided by the respective social networks.

You’re also the person who decides what information you want to publish, how to structure it and what it should look like.

And if your album cover or book features a buttock or a female nipple, you’re allowed to show it without having your account blocked or deleted.

The law and your hosting company’s terms and conditions are pretty much the only limits – otherwise, you’re free to publish what you like.

Your band website grows with your fame

Your own website can easily be scaled up. If you’re only at the start of your musical or writing career, a small website is all you need. Even a one-page website, listing your social media profiles and with a newsletter signup form, could well be enough.

But after a while, you’ll hopefully become better known, and perhaps even famous.

If you’ve got your own website, you can easily add new functions and features later. Perhaps a shop, so you can sell your records, CDs, merchandise or books (although you will need to comply with laws governing tax and business in your country). Or maybe even a members’ area, where you offer your most loyal fans exclusive content. The only real limits are the capacity of your wallet or purse to pay for it all.

A single URL for everywhere

A smaller, but no less important reason for having your own band website is that you only ever have to state one single URL (website address) anywhere. Whether on your vinyl records, CDs, books, flyers, concert posters, business cards or anywhere else, you have just one short, memorable URL.

It takes up much less space than a row of long and often ugly social media links. And people visiting your website can see for themselves which platforms you have profiles on, because they’re all clearly linked. So if you ever decide to no longer maintain a profile on a particular social platform, the information printed on your record sleeve remains up to date.

(The reverse of this is that by publishing only your website address on your music releases or books, these aren’t dated unnecessarily. Think of the timeless music and writing pinned down to the mid-noughties by Myspace addresses on the back cover!)

Keep your fans closer with your own mailing list

Email was declared dead a long time ago, and as a means of personal communication, that’s true. Who apart from great-aunt Gertrude in Grimsby sends personal emails these days?

But email newsletters remain the most effective marketing channel of all when it comes to communicating with your fans and encouraging them to buy things. (Although the outcome obviously depends on the emails themselves and your own particular audience.)

As with your own website, you retain control over your mailing list. There are no algorithms deciding in whose inboxes the newsletter mails will ultimately land in and in whose they won’t. (OK, maybe the spam detection algorithms, but if you configure and use the mailing list system properly, you can keep such problems to a minimum.) This is in contrast to for example Facebook, where only a proportion of your followers will actually be shown and read your posts.

Do you really need a website today? – potential drawbacks

Those are some of the benefits of having your own website, but of course there are also some downsides.

Your website costs money

Today it’s easier than ever to set up a website – even for people with only average computer/technical skills. And you don’t necessarily have to dig deep into your pockets, either – you only need a few euros/pounds/dollars or equivalent per month for hosting, and maybe a modest annual sum for any add-on features you may require.

(Yes, there are services that enable you to set up a website completely free of charge. But what’s free isn’t necessarily good. And such platforms bring restrictions with them. You therefore don’t gain much control over your online presence, which defeats the object a bit.)

Your website requires regular maintenance

Even though websites today are easier than ever to set up, they’ve become more complicated to maintain. 20 years ago, many websites simply comprised a pile of static HTML files, but websites today typically use a CMS (content management system). Today’s websites are ‘living organisms’, in which lots of factors interact with each other: the CMS itself, the database and things such as the PHP software version running on the server, CMS updates, plugins and plugin updates. The website layout also adapts according to the size of the screen it is being viewed on.

Added to this, the website’s content needs to be regularly updated. Neither search engines nor visitors like it if a website hasn’t been updated for a long time. (But hackers do, as it makes it easier for them to find ways in.)

Your website brings legal obligations with it

Although websites are now easier for laypeople to set up, in some jurisdictions, the legal situation governing them has become more strict in recent years.

For example, the GDPR in Europe and equivalent laws in other territories. As a result, you need to ensure you know whether cookies are being set, and if so, which ones and for what purpose, so that you can annoy – and repel – potential visitors by shoving one of those cookie permissions boxes under their noses.

You also need to know whether information is transferred to third parties in for example the USA, and again, obtain visitors’ permission to do so, as well as knowing what to do if someone gets in touch to ask what personal data of theirs you are storing and processing.

Then on the basis of all this information, you need to create a data protection policy page. And in Germany and some other countries, there is also a legal requirement for a site legal notice page. Even with the help of online legal text generators, this can all easily take a few days to get in place. (And the only really certain way to make sure these are legally watertight is to consult a lawyer who specialises in this area.)

So basically, a layperson setting up a website with a default installation and default settings will almost certainly be breaking the law. Even for people who are experienced in creating websites, and who are knowledgeable and well-informed, this can all be a minefield.

Your website’s security aspects

This perhaps sounds offputting, as even large corporations don’t always succeed in 100% protecting themselves against hackers. But even as someone running your own website, there are measures that can prevent a lot of attacks. One of these is also really easy – keeping your CMS and its plugins up to date. By doing this, you can quickly close any security vulnerabilities before some pasty-faced herbert in his (yes, it’s usually a ‘he’) dank, dark, foetid bedroom can exploit them. So with a bit of common sense and the right procedures in place (including regular backups!), you can keep risks to a minimum.

“Facebook and the others provide everything I need!”

At first glance, this may seem true, but as I’ve already explained, social media brings with it various disadvantages in respect of the level of control you have over it. (Notwithstanding how they like collecting users’ personal data and monetising it.)

Do you really need a website today? – summary and recommendations

It’s true that your own website is bound up with some time expenditure, and perhaps some financial expenditure too.

Only you will know if you really need a website.

If your aim is to become as well known for your music (or writing, or art…) as possible, and especially if it has broad appeal, then it’s definitely worth considering, for all the positive reasons I’ve given above.

But if you make music as part of a small, select, long-established scene, where the crossover chances are minimal to non-existent, and where even the best-selling artists only shift a few hundred records, then the expense and hassle may not be worth it, after all. (Which doesn’t negate the disadvantages of relying on social media, which I’ve detailed above.)

And if you do decide you need a website for your musical or creative project, all it really needs to have is:

  • A short bio
  • A contact form and/or a clickable email address
  • A newsletter sign-up form
  • A blog function for your news
  • Some professional photos
  • An events calendar (but only if you regularly play live, as an empty calendar doesn’t convey a good impression)

Tip

It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between having ‘a website’ and a well-thought-out, search engine-optimised website. If you’re a layperson, putting your own website online will only get you so far. It can sometimes be worth getting someone in to help. See my web design page for more information.

What do you think? Do you really need a website today? Do you still have a dusty website you’ve not updated since 2010? Or perhaps you’ve always relied on Facebook and the rest, and think that websites have gone the way of the dodo? Let me know in the comments below!

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