A Little Advice to Indie Artists About Their Websites

Once again, no one’s asking me for this advice, but like I care. Fact is, I go out of my way on a regular basis to go out there and find music I’ve never heard before and bring it to the attention of other people, so I feel I’ve got some experience and cred here. So here goes:

Dear Indie Musician:

You are a musician who wants people to hear your music. I am a music listener who wants to hear new music. We go together like eggs and bacon, toast and jam, peanuts and Cracker Jack. But like many of your potential fans I almost certainly live far, far away from you, in a place where I can’t see your gigs at the local bar, or tune you in on the nearby college radio station and/or weekly “local band” show your mega-corporation-owned “alt rock” station sets aside at 10pm on Sunday night as a cynical sop to show it’s keepin’ it real with the local scene. So if you want me to hear your music (and maybe even buy your CD), you need to help me. And here’s how you can do it.

1. Get Yourself a Friggin’ Website, Already. Essential first step. Simply put: If you don’t get yourself a Web site, no one outside the outskirts of your town has a chance of knowing who you are. Creating a Web site for yourself of course does not guarantee anyone will find you, but not having one guarantees they won’t. So grab a domain name, get some cheap hosting and pay your bassist’s geeky younger brother $20 and a case of Mountain Dew to create a few pages for you. Related to this:

2. Don’t Get Too Fancy. I see all these indie artist sites that are swimming in Flash or other multimedia crap, and you know what? I hate those sites. They’re slow to load (and I’m on broadband), and while they’re loading they hijack my browser so I can’t do anything else. All those cool features often equate to horrible navigation through the site. Finally, if I don’t have the version of flash (or whatever) your site was created with, I have to download it from somewhere else. Question: To you really want a potential fan’s first point of contact with your site to be one that effectively says “Unless you have x version of shockwave/flash/whatever, you’re too much of a loser to visit my site?”

Unless you are yourself a tech geek (possible but not entirely likely), there’s a good chance that someone conned you out of money you can’t afford to create a site that is too cool to be accessible to potential fans. Save your money: Stick with HTML that works for everyone and a site that’s easy to walk through. Sites with basic HTML can still look cool enough. And people are there to listen to your music, not ooooh and aaaah over your Web design.

3. Show Me The Music. I’ll make this simple: I’m at your site to hear your music. Give it to me, and give it to me like this: Downloadable MP3s of 128kps quality or better (but not too much better, that’s a big download). I don’t want your whole discography, but three of your very best tracks will do nicely.

But– but– that’s giving away my music for free! You say. Well, yeah, it is. But here’s the deal: Show me you can make good music, and I’m likely to buy the rest from you, in the form of a CD. Because I like supporting indie artists, that’s why. You’ll find a surprising number of people do: People who aren’t broke and/or aren’t total dicks will pay for things they enjoy. I know of what I speak: I put up an entire science fiction novel on my site as “shareware” and encouraged people to read it and then send me a buck if they liked it. I’ve collected thousands of dollars. It’ll work. But the point is, I have to hear your music first. This is not the same as saying your music is worth nothing — it is saying that music being what it is, I want to hear it so I can judge what it’s worth to me.

4. Don’t give me “clips” or “samples.” In the entire history of the world, there is not a single person who enjoyed listening to a clip of a song. You can’t tell if a song is good unless you hear the whole song. Besides, clips are stingy. Clips say “30 seconds of my music is all you get for free, you cheap, lousy bastard.” Offering up music isn’t like offering up a wedge of oven-baked pizza in your grocer’s freezer aisle.

5. Don’t hide your music behind a proprietary format, like a flash player or real media or Windows media. MP3s are universal; all the rest require a lame-ass download. If you’re absolutely hung up on not letting people have a free taste, fine, go ahead and stream. But you better hope whoever is trying to listen has a broadband connection and there’s not a lot of traffic on the Net that day. Trying to listen to a song that’s constantly rebuffering sucks.

5. Don’t store your MP3s on a site that makes me register to download. Do you really think I want to invite more spam into my e-mail box? Sites like Garageband.com have their uses and all (though I’m not exactly sure what they offer that you can’t do yourself), but I don’t want to go through the 3rd degree just to listen to your tune. I mean, I’ve got 20,000 tunes on my iTunes already, and I don’t have to jump through any hoops to get to that.

Fundamentally, all this advice boils down to just this:

Make It Easy For Me to Listen to Your Music.

Because, honestly. No one else will. Radio is not making it easy to listen to your music because it won’t play it. Music companies aren’t making it easy to listen to your music because they’re not going to sign most of you and put your music in the stores and bankroll a video. Print and other media aren’t going to make it easy because mostly they don’t want to know about you until you hit it big, and even then they can’t actually play your music, they can just use pretentious words to tell me what it’s supposed to sound like (Conversation topic: correlation between adjectives used to describe music and adjectives used to describe wine. Discuss).

I repeat: No one else is going to make it easy to let me listen to you. So if you don’t make it easy for me to listen to you, I have to assume that you don’t actually want me to listen to you at all. Which is an odd position for an indie musician to take.

Well, you say, give me an example of an indie artist who makes it easy to listen to him/her/them. Okay, here’s one: Reid Jamieson. As his site proudly notes:

Welcome to
This site requires NO
fancy plug-ins to view it.

The font sizes used
are suitable for the

or just click on the record
and come on in…

See, now, isn’t that inviting? So you click through, and on that very next page are two links to recent tracks, including this one, “The Last Day of the Year,” which is mellow and sweet and reminds me of Brian Kennedy (big points for you if you can place that reference). Jamieson makes it easy to find his stuff, and by extension makes it easy for me to share it with you (here’s a link to the full album, by the way. See how it works?).

If every indie artist had a site like Mr. Jamieson’s I’d be as giddy as a schoolboy. I’d also probably buy even more indie music than I already do. And I’d definitely share my discoveries. That’s a hint.

1 Comments on “A Little Advice to Indie Artists About Their Websites”

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