Web Design Tips For Music Sites Revisited

Last week I mentioned the article Five mistakes Band & label Sites Make and the related thread at MetaFilter. The five mistakes the article refers to are:

  1. Too much Flash
  2. Crappy or non existent mp3 metadata
  3. Too artsy, too fartsy
  4. No search
  5. One-way communication (served one way)

Here are some additional thoughts on the subject.

Common Complaints

By far the most common complaint amongst users is the inability to find, access and retrieve the type of information they are looking for easily. In other words, lack of information.

Two of the main reasons for this are:

1) Poor navigation and usability design: these include things like useless splash screen pages, advertising layers, lengthy Flash intros with no skip function, unexpected pop-ups or downloads, links that open new windows and break the back button, "hidden links" where access to the URL is obscured or information withheld from the status bar, and generally things that block the user from desirable information with a type of "pseudo" information.

2) Complete absence of the data: i.e. meta tags in song files, tour dates, points of purchase, documented archives, appropriate press/business materials, names, titles, dates, contacts, profiles, categories, catalogues, previews instead of full downloads, etc. For example, what happens if a record company executive or a journalist has your mp3 file, really likes it, but doesn’t know anything about it? Clearly you need more than just a file name. To be competitive bands need to be informative, and valuable information needs to be in the right places.

The need for information

"The fundamental organizing principle in Web site design is meeting users’ needs. Ask yourself what your audience wants, and center your site design on their needs." from the Web Style Guide.

In most cases our need for information outweighs the artistic and technical capability/incapability displayed by the web designer. What I mean by this is that both technically poor design and competent design can hinder the user from interacting with the site in fundamental ways. The discussions show this to often be the experience. This is understandable because the majority of us are not Web designers or marketers interested in the use of the latest Flash gizmo. Most of us aren’t prepared to sit through pointless splash screens, long intros, and flashy graphics especially if we’re not expecting it in the first place.

Web designers are briefed by the companies employing them to build such sites, regardless of the designer’s professional opinions. Perhaps in the belief that a site must have all the unnecessary bells and whistles in order to "look good". They’re happy if it "looks good" because it’s safer for them, "it must be good because we spent a lot of money briefing the best designers to make it". The thing is it’s all about communicating with your audience, so it’s vitally important that the audience can find what you have to say.

Search Engines

This brings me to an important point. Most search engines are blind to the content of animations, audio, pictures and JavaScript. They use procedures for text (keywords, frequency, position and HTML tags), incoming links and outgoing link leakage to determine the most suitable result for a search. So those types of things can break the navigational links to a document or detract from the process.

On the subject of finding things, the title/label of an item is one of the most important, unique and descriptive parts of anything you do. This includes titles for Web pages, headings, blog entries, songs, tours, podcasts, everything. Not just for humans but for the web bots that use this information to list and rank your site. At the top of the list are page titles and headings. These are seen by the bots as the most important indication to the relevancy of the page’s contents. Text on the page is food for the search bots. There’s not much point in naming the title of your forthcoming gigs page "Tour Dates". What tour? Whose tour? When? Where? The more unique and relevant information you can get into your page the better chance users will have of finding it. Venues, times, dates, age restrictions, transport, it all helps. Useful information is what makes your site sticky. If you want to keep people coming back for more add a blog, forums, RSS feeds, all of which can provide timely information in formats people can use.

Trade names

Another point worth bearing in mind, and something that should be done before embarking on a business venture is to check the legality of the band or even site name. You can’t copyright a band name but what’s known as the "service mark" can affect the territories you trade in.

Terms Of Service

One further point for low budget operations, especially where free web hosts are concerned, is to be clear about who owns the published copyright. Some of the more contentious hosts may be trying to claim too much. See the Terms Of Service or get advice if you’re confused. See the links below.

Cool

Of course there are many accomplished and cool Flash based sites that are perfectly functional to use and also deliver an enjoyable user experience. Many recommended music sites can be found in the comments on both links. It’s just useful to know what turns people on or off and use that knowledge to make improvements. That’s what’s so good about these kinds of debates.

Web Design and Usability Resources

A List Apart Explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on techniques and benefits of designing with web standards.

Flazoom.com Developing User-Friendly Flash Content.

Usable Web 970 links about web usability.

Web Style Guide A map to good design principles.

xBlog: The visual thinking weblog Design articles in a huge categorized archive.

Legal Resources

Electronic Frontier Foundation EFF is a nonprofit group of passionate people — lawyers, technologists, volunteers, and visionaries — working to protect your digital rights.

How To Trademark Your Band Name Some answers to people’s questions.

Music Law Offices Information on all the main legal areas affecting bands including Protecting The Name Of Your Band.

The Band Register Find out if your band name is in use, and if not, register it to help protect from other bands using it.

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2 responses to “Web Design Tips For Music Sites Revisited

  1. dude, could u pass over my 2nd has at a local band’s website, i’m 15 so expect it to be crap. http://www.hypomusic.com. Um more or less all by me (including the photos (but they are a bit artistic)). Um its still kind of in developement and so on. Lack of content from the band ain’t helping tho. anyway pleace give me some advice (only if u have time)

  2. Hello sunset-is-coming, well done your site’s looking good. Thanks for dropping by, I’m glad you’re finding the site useful. I’ve sent you an email with some advice, hope this helps. Good luck with the site.

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