Can I use a band website builder or do I really need to build a bespoke artist website that’s truly unique to me and my music?
This is a very big question for most indie or DIY musicians – can they use one of the musician specific website building platforms that are on offer these days or do they need to go to either the time of learning how to build something bespoke themselves, or the expense of hiring someone to do it for them.
Our view is that learning a little bit about how to use WordPress to build your artist website is the best option which will pay huge dividends for your career in the long run, and it can be done very cheaply. Cheaper, in fact, than many of the platform solutions.
But, before we get to that conclusion, let’s look at the options that are available and the respective pros and cons.
Band Website Platforms
There are many companies that offer a solution to musicians looking to get some kind of website online with the features that most musicians would like to see on their website. There are also many companies not dedicated to musicians but that offer very sophisticated tools to anyone looking to build a website for any purpose and that can be used to build a website specifically to promote and market music.
We’re going to look at the key players from each area. But, before we get into those specifics, let’s make this clear – it’s perfectly acceptable to use one of these systems to build a website for your music and most of them can grow with you as your career develops. There are limitations and reasons to choose the bespoke route, BUT, it’s much more important to have some kind of website (rather than none) than it is to debate which system is best!
Bandzoogle is probably the best known music website platform. It’s been around since 2003 and the honest truth is that it does a very good job of allowing anyone to build a website for their music with zero design and programming skills required. It has all the features that you’d expect, such as mailing list integration, a download store and even the ability to add forums.
The main gripes that I hear from musicians who use Bandzoogle come down to two things.
Firstly, the price.
It’s free to set up a website using Bandzoogle, but this only lasts for a month. After that, the site you built using their platform disappears from the web and will only reappear when you sign up to one of their membership plans. Although these start at $9.95 per month, any band with a following of over 100 fans is going to need to spend at least $14.95 per month to have the larger mailing list option (1,000 fans). The gripe often comes from musicians who have built a site using Bandzoogle thinking that there was a free option and who become disgruntled when their site disappears. I have to admit that the fact that the free option only lasts a month isn’t that clear on their home page, but a little rooting around would make this clear to most.
And, although you actually can expect to run a website as the online hub for your band for no cost, you shouldn’t!
Some of the options we cover in this article are free, but that comes with restrictions. Spending as little as $10 per month on your site should not be the reason you decide to look for a different solution. If you can’t afford that to build your DIY career, you need a rethink.
Secondly, I do hear people bemoan the designs that they end up with when using Bandzoogle. This is a little unfair to the platform in my mind. Although there are a large number of pre-built designs in the platform, there’s a also a tool that allows you to do a great deal of finessing using your own images and fonts – even as far as meddling with the CSS (that’s the styling to you and me!) if you’re capable or so inclined.
Nonetheless, you aren’t going to get the total design and layout freedom that building a bespoke site would give you.
Bandzoogle is a great solution for getting a site up in a hurry and one that will do most of what you’ll need, at least in the early days of your music career. Oh, and I’m told that their support desk is very good, helpful and quick. Not to be overlooked!
Watch their (slightly out of date – MySpace!) video below.
BandVista is very similar to Bandzoogle but is essentially the new kid on the block – keen to go one step further and offer slightly better value for money.
For me, it’s a choice between apples and oranges – in essence, they’re that similar.
A 30 day free trial gives way to similar pricing. Although BandVista only starts at $14.95 per month it allows for an integrated mailing list of 10,000 fans at that price, which is clearly very competitive with Bandzoogle.
The choice here is whether you feel that BandVista is offering anything better than Bandzoogle – the jury’s out on that, but it clearly does the job.
HostBaby is the other big player in this field.
Obviously associated with the DIY musician friendly CD and Download distributor CDBaby, this later addition to their offering allows for musician focused web hosting plus a website self-build platform. And it’s a good system.
Like the first two we looked at, HostBaby will give you a 30 day free trial and then simply moves to a $20 per month subscription. It offers all the design elements that you can get from it’s competitors and has a lot of features that make it stand out – including unlimited email newsletter members using their own very slick ‘ListBaby’ system, full Google Analytics integration, social media integration for both posting and sharing and lots more.
In many ways the HostBaby platform offers you almost all the functionality that you’d get from a site built in WordPress on your own hosting – even the backend where you make the changes and updates feels familiar to WordPress designers and users! This is coupled with incredible ease of use and their legendary support and helpfulness.
However, the real USP with HostBaby is that you get 5 free CDBaby sign-ups per year – meaning that you can use all the power of selling on CDBaby (including getting your music on digital retailers such as iTunes and Amazon) for free, included in your HostBaby subscription.
I’m pretty sure that no-one else can offer a deal to compete on those terms so HostBaby becomes a front runner for a website build for any artist that has music ready to sell.
BandPage are new to the game of offering a website solution for musicians, although they are pretty much top of the tree for their Facebook Page tools.
With the introduction of ‘BandPage Everywhere‘ they have tackled one of the bugbears of many musicians – the drudgery of updating the same information on multiple platforms. BandPage Everywhere offers a solution so that updating music, tour dates, photos and more in the BandPage interface enables them to be automatically posted to everywhere else that you’re using the BandPage Extensions.
As an additional benefit, they also introduced a one-click website builder.
It obviously has limitations and can only use the information that you need to use in BandPage, so it’s essentially non-customisable, but it is a way of getting a website launched, and it can be hosted on your own URL.
Plus, it’s free, and does make your presence on a basic website match with that on your Facebook page, making you look professional! There is, additionally, a basic email sign-up system and a click through to buy (although this is currently in a state of flux due to changes in the provider that they use). It’s not like the email systems you get from the first three platforms and it’s not like having your own store on site, but it’s a start!
I’d go as far as to say that every musician should consider using BandPage as a tab on their Facebook page, so clicking to build a BandPage powered additional web presence is a sensible option. Leave this with the BandPage.com URL and you’ve instantly built another little web outpost where potential fans might discover you and your music and, given that it’s updated when you update your BandPage Facebook tab, you need never think about it again.
But, it’s not doing enough to be your main artist website.
If you really don’t want to spend any money at all and want to have a simple website up and running very easily, then BandPage is a sensible way to start – but, don’t go thinking this is a long-term solution. For the serious DIY musician, it isn’t!
[Update 24th February 2013 : BandPage have added additional functionality to their website builder offering more more customisation and deeper pages - worth another look perhaps.]
Bandcamp is a red herring in this post, but I have to cover it or people will pick me up on my ommission! To my knowledge, you can’t really build a whole artist or band website using Bandcamp – let me know if you think differently!
That said, Bandcamp is a truly brilliant platform and I think most artists ought to be using it as one of the outlets for their music. There are music fans who buy almost all their music on Bandcamp and who go trawling through it for music discovery, so you’d benefit from using it just on that basis.
But, can you use it as your only website? Well, yes, but with limitations and reservations. If you’re an artist looking for a simple site to get you up and running and have music to sell, and want to keep costs down, then Bandcamp is an option.
Clearly, Bandcamp is designed to provide a platform for musicians to sell their music and merchandise direct to fans, which it does brilliantly. It doesn’t claim to be a website building platform, although by creating a shop window/streaming/download area and by offering custom URL’s (in the pro paid version), it does build a basic website.
Although your Bandcamp site will have a store, music players and an email sign-up (all for free at the point of building and 10-15% taken from sales made through Bandcamp) what it’s lacking is all the other areas that you’d expect to see on an artist website – photos, videos, discography, blog etc, and, of course, truly customisable design.
That said, some clever folk have used image mapping of the headers that Bandcamp allows you to upload, to create what looks very much like a custom site. You’d need somewhere to send people for those other functions (from the clickable links in the image map), but, at a push, you could do that direct to social media profiles – Soundcloud for music, Instagram for photos etc. If you have no idea what image maps are, read this.
There is an upgrade available to Bandcamp Pro, which costs $10 per month. This adds several functions, the main ones of interest in this area being full Google Analytics and the ability to use your own URL.
So, not truly a website building platform, but an option to consider in the early stages of your career and a platform we’d encourage you to maintain a profile on in any event.
Deciding to use Nimbit will, in fact, come down to a wider decision than just because it offers a very smart way of building a fully integrated website. Nimbit offers a suite of tools and services that enable DIY musicians to seamlessly promote, market and distribute their music across Facebook, their own site (whether using Nimbit’s Instant Band Site, or not) and digital retailers such as iTunes, all run from a central dashboard.
It really does do everything you could possibly need including a full fan email database and even physical distribution of CD’s and merchandise. It’s a very smart way for the DIY or indie musician to tie all their activity together.
In order to use the Nimbit website builder the process is a little different to those we’ve looked at so far. In essence, you’ll need to set up a full Nimbit artist account, which involves uploading information and music for players and to put on sale. You’ll have made the decision to use Nimbit as the engine of all your music promotion and marketing activity – and it’ll be up to the task. There is a free option to get you started with Nimbit, but, in reality, you’ll need to upgrade to their Plus or Premium levels ($9.95 and $19.95 per month respectively) in order to get the full power of what it can do. Nimbit also offers very smart Facebook Integration, automatically building tabs on Facebook full of the content that you’ve added to Nimbit including a store within the tab. Clever stuff.
Once you’re committed to Nimbit, you can then very easily build an artist website using all that data and info that you’ve already entered into Nimbit. The process is different to the other band website builders we’ve looked at so far since you actually have to go halfway to building your own WordPress site and have your own hosting (we, as ever, recommend Hostgator for that – the best, hands down!).
Don’t panic though. It’s actually very simple and since you’re using the WordPress platform you’ve partially future proofed your website. Once you’ve bought your own hosting (around $5 per month) and installed WordPress (easier than it sounds with help from the hosting provider’s helpdesk, if necessary) all you do is install the Nimbit Instant Band Site plugin – and then the build of your website is controlled from that plug-in. There is no further cost from Nimbit – the plug-in is free.
Watch this video to see how simple it is:
Don’t be daunted by the fact that you have to buy your own hosting and install WordPress to use this Nimbit solution. It’s not as difficult as it perhaps looks at first.
The key thing is that by going this route you’ll make two very important choices – firstly, to use an integrated marketing platform with all the bells and whistles (and this will serve you well) and secondly, you’ve gone more than half the way to building a bespoke artist website using WordPress. If you feel at a later date that you’ve outgrown the restrictions of using the Nimbit plugin, all the content that you’ve already added to your site can be reworked much more easily than if you had to move from one platform to a WordPress site.
Since you’ve built a basic WordPress site, you have access to all the themes (that being the design) that are available, both free and paid, on the open market, and you have total control over SEO (search engine optimisation). So, going this route opens up the possibility of getting exactly the look you want.
Using Nimbit’s Instant Band Site is obviously an approach to getting your band website launched that requires more thought and a little more tinkering under the hood, but, of all the solutions in this article it is one of my favourites. Largely, as I’ve said, because it centralises your efforts to market your music around one system and that requires commitment to make the most of it. And, you’ll only succeed in your music career if you show that kind of commitment.
Another option that offers a total promotion and marketing solution comes from ReverbNation.
Many musicians know and love ReverbNation, especially those that took to it during the demise of MySpace. Originally centred around a quasi-social site full of ReverbNation profiles for artists, this still survives, but ReverbNation is now really about the integrated platform and suite of tools that enable a DIY musician to promote and market their music from a central dashboard – much like Nimbit.
So, as with Nimbit, the commitment to using their website builder option is really secondary to the decision to use their platform as the email, Facebook, distribution engine of all your promotion efforts. As with Nimbit, it’s a solid choice. (Of course, you might choose to use ReverbNation, Nimbit or another similar system to power your marketing efforts and not use their site builder options).
The free option will allow you to create your artist ReverbNation profile and run a small fan email list. However, any serious musician is going to need either the Pro or Max version at $19.95 and $41.67 per month respectively. These offer the full range of ReverbNation tools, from a larger capacity email system (10,000 or 100,000 fans), through ‘Pro’ widgets (which allow you to spread your content easily over the web), to their Press Kit function, but crucially including their digital distribution to more than 40 digital retailers. The Max version adds a custom iPhone app.
However, in order to use their ‘SiteBuilder‘, it’s going to cost you another $17.95 per month. That makes ReverbNation a more expensive solution than many of the others at a likely $37.90 per month if you’re a ‘Pro’ user of all the other tools. Now, personally, I’m happy to pay that per month for a suite of software and services that builds me a website, a Facebook page, distributes my music to iTunes and builds my email list – and controls and updates it all in one place. In truth, it’s still good value.
What about the sites that ReverbNation’s SiteBuilder can create using your ReverbNation profile data? Well, as you’d expect they are highly customisable, can use your own URL and have all of the key features that you’d need.
(A little note about Topspin. We love Topspin as the music marketing engine with email systems storefronts and widgets galore, but it doesn’t have a website building function. If you choose the Topspin route, you’ll need to incorporate its tools in a bespoke website build – which is what we usually do! There’s a similar system in the UK provided by Music Glue)
Band Website Platform RoundUp
We’ve looked at the key players who have created systems for building websites specifically for musicians, and we’ve seen that in several cases these are add-ons to much wider ranging service and tool offerings.
But, there’s a few more you should check out:
Get-ctrl – similar to Nimbit and ReverbNation, this smaller UK company offers a very compelling offer. Bespoke integrated system that includes a website builder, Facebook tab, an iPhone app, email system and loads more. You get to use your own URL and can sell music on your own site, which is the only thing you pay for (a 12% commission) – the rest is free. Although this is a smaller operator in the ‘do it all’ field, and it’s still in ‘beta’, it looks very promising indeed.
Onesheet – a simple and very clean single page website that’s free to use. Not a complete website solution but something to check out and probably worth using as a place of music discovery for your potential fans.
Four Four – another newer player in the pure band website builder fraternity and although I haven’t used it, I am impressed by their pitch. There’s a completely free option that has limited email database capacity and ads running on your site, but other than that it’s fully featured. Premium pricing increases your options – check out the features here.
Noteway – a lesser known total website building provider dedicated to musicians. I have no direct experience of their system, but it seems to stack up against the better known competition at a competitive $15 per month.
General Website Builder Platforms
As well as all these companies looking to sell their specialist website services to musicians, there are a vast number of companies that offer one-box solutions to any kind of business in need of a website.
Knowing that musicians are prime candidates for their service, several of them make a specific effort to appeal to musicians. A clear advantage that these companies have over the music focused competition is their sheer scale. Often they have millions of clients, meaning higher development budgets, super slick interfaces, great design and support. On the downside, perhaps their understanding of the needs of musicians isn’t going to be as good.
We’ll take a look at the front runners.
For me, Wix is unquestionably the leader in this field for any kind of business needing a website. But, how do they measure up for musicians?
The answer is, very well indeed.
I think the musician or band who chooses to go with Wix will be seduced by the enormous range and high quality of their HTML5 design templates which look, to my eyes, a lot more professional and stylish than what most of us who aren’t designers would achieve using some of the other platforms we’ve looked at!
Wix offers a very simple drag and drop design interface that lets you customise any of 100′s of their very fresh designs. Anything that you could want your site to do is almost certainly covered with elements such as shop modules including Paypal payments, ways to add music and galleries, social media integration and lots more. If there’s anything that isn’t covered already, you can add widgets (such as those from Nimbit or ReverbNation) very easily using the dashboard.
There’s also their own email marketing tool called TargetHero which is simple to add to your site.
But, here’s the thing that might clinch this for many – especially when they are first starting out – of all the systems that we’ve looked at, Wix does the most for free.
Have a look at their ‘Welcome video here:
Pretty much everything you might need your site to do comes in the free basic package (excluding the ecommerce store). When you add in the email system and their very cool Facebook page templates, this is a very good option at no cost!
Pricing for full functionality is generally at $19.95 per month (there are several options) and there’s an upgrade at $4.95 per month on the TargetHero system that removes all Wix branding.
How does Wix rate against the music specific platforms – the truth is it’s a very good alternative. If you’re sold on their slick designs, massive user base, respected support and overall ease of use (oh, and that you can realistically use it free), then Wix is a good choice.
The other big contender in the general business sector is Moonfruit.
My issue with Moonfruit is that it generates a website built in flash, which is now much maligned and looks to be heading the way of the Dodo. Plus, if you’re looking for a music website from this general website part of the market I don’t see what Moonfruit does better than Wix – nothing as far as I can see.
To give it its due, Moonfruit has been around a long time and people do build lovely looking websites using it. There’s a basic free version but, as with all these offerings, in the end you’re going to upgrade to a paid version.
General Website Builder Platforms RoundUp
There are so many companies that offer a website builder platform or solution for the general business that it’s impossible to delve into them any deeper in this already long article!
We’d be incomplete however if we didn’t mention that pretty much every sizable web hosting company offers some kind of tools or drag and drop system that will build a website of some kind without you needing to know any code whatsoever. Despite the fact that these exist, in almost every circumstance for musicians, one of the options we’ve covered in detail here is going to work better and more easily. So, for the sake of completeness, if this route interests you, Google your preferred web hosting company (you know we recommend HostGator!) plus’ website builder’ and see what they offer.
Of those others, there are a few that deserve honorable mentions:
One and One – are a very large web hosting company in the UK but they also have a global presence. They offer a product called ‘My Website Builder‘ which is much more comprehensive than the basic site building tools that every web host offers. They do target musicians a little with this direct offer and there’s no doubt that you can build a good functioning website with their tools. It’s free for a month and then $9.99 per month thereafter. It’s an option, but I simply don’t see it stacking up against the competition we’ve covered in depth.
XSitePro – is a very long established piece of software that puts the website build on your computer rather than on the web. It feels a little old and isn’t as slick as most of the methods we’ve covered but it has undeniably helped thousands of people get an online presence built – and a good number of those are musicians.
Intuit – an established player in the US for online drag and drop website building.
Tumblr / Blogger / WordPress.com - But, what about the free blogging platforms (that’s WordPress online, by the way, NOT the WordPress software we’re about to talk about!) I hear you cry? They’re completely free and you can probably build something that will do the job using them. Well, that’s almost true, but they have limitations. They aren’t very customisable, so it’s hard to add email forms, stores and the like. A big problem is that they are hosted on the provider’s network so you could get shut down and thrown out and lose your site entirely. In short, they are great for small scale non-commercial blogging but they aren’t the right place to build your central web presence. That said, I do love Tumblr as a photo-driven social space and many musicians would benefit from using it as that!
Don’t Use a Website Builder!
That’s a pretty comprehensive overview of all the options open to every musician wishing to build a website but who thinks that they would prefer to use a website builder of some description rather than get involved in building or paying for a bespoke website.
In the hope that I won’t directly contradict anything in this article, I’ll state that I really hope you won’t, in the end, use any of these options to build your band website.
Sure, use one at the very outset of your career. I’ll narrow it down for you to my preferences of Bandzoogle or HostBaby on the one hand, Nimbit or ReverbNation on the other with Wix as the wild card.
I’d go for Bandzoogle for the simple musician focused website, but for HostBaby if the CDBaby extras in their offering were really important to my specific circumstances. I’d pick either Nimbit or ReverbNation if I knew I wanted to use their tools to drive all my promotion and marketing activities (and I’d lean slightly to Nimbit since that’s a halfway house to a WordPress bespoke site) Or, I’d choose Wix for the great looking sites, all for free and I’d upgrade if I needed.
But then, in the end, I’d either not bother and build a website using WordPress on my own hosting, or I’d make that choice in the knowledge that if my career started to show any signs of success, I’d move on later and build that bespoke site using WordPress.
In short, any of these solutions is acceptable, but not the best you can do for you, your music and your career.
The first reason comes down to the fact that any of these businesses could fail, close or be bought and change their terms or offers. I know it seems unlikely, but it does happen, and then where would you and your website be? Building something of your own that you can backup and re-upload avoids this key issue. We could be talking about years of work.
Secondly, it’s all about using the right tools for the job and making a site that does exactly what you want it to do and look exactly how you want it to look. That’s only possible when you take the plunge and build a website to your exact design (and we’d always use WordPress) – either by learning yourself or by hiring someone to do it for you. These website builders might turn out a great looking site but they simply cannot compete with the option to do anything you can think of – and the easiest way to do that is in WordPress.
These days, WordPress is so flexible with so many free (or cheap) themes and plugins that can make both the building and functionality of the site easy and sophisticated at the same time. In fact, you need a very good reason not to use it!
Add in the fact that sites built using any of these band website builders will likely be very hard to optimise for SEO, have lots of bulky code loaded whether you’re using all of their options or not (making them likely to be very slow), will force you to use their integrated tools whether they are the best for the job or not, and simply won’t be able to do everything you might ask them to do – and then see why building a bespoke site is a better option.
And, as we’ve tried to point out, with a little learning curve, you can actually build a better bespoke site on your own hosting and URL for less than any of the paid solutions we’ve looked at in this article.
Of course, you might still end up using ReverbNation or Nimbit (or Topspin) widgets to power your bespoke site, thereby getting the best of both worlds. Or you might choose to use the best available email marketing software (Aweber, by the way!) and the best ecommerce store - whatever that may be for you.
It ends up being about using the right tools for the job. We work on websites for major artists and ALL of them end up being built using WordPress and we generally end up tackling that annoyance of posting the same information to loads of other web properties by doing it manually – so that we get the best Facebook post, using the best image, linked to a great piece of content posted on the bespoke website, with a matching YouTube background image updated at the same time – all by hand. It all has to be done, so it all has to be done right!
In the next post we’ll look at exactly how you can build a bespoke band website using WordPress rather than a band website builder, getting started in less than 5 minutes and for less then $10.
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