Classical Musicians & the Web

bach-in-shades

If you're a classical musician seeking to get your name and music on the internet, this article provides some pointers on how to do it.

There are two ways to construct an internet profile: use existing structure or build your own. The best strategy does both.

If you're a…

  • soloist
  • composer
  • teacher
  • string quartet
  • amateur choir
  • new recording label
  • small music publisher
  • instrument maker
  • academic
  • music writer

… the web's there for you to use. It's your concert hall, advertising slot and shop window.

Existing structure includes: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and forums such as Brightcecilia. Self-build means buying a domain name and server space, and then constructing, or having someone construct for you, a website.

The site must then be driven up Google. It's no good owning the most beautiful website in the world, or running a red hot Myspace, if no one visits it.

This article considers those areas and gives advice on how to proceed.

Top Down versus Bottom Up

Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are social media or 'web 2.0 user generated content.' The term 'Web 2.0' was coined by Darcy DiNucci in 1999, who wrote:

The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens. Source

The traditional web was a top-down structure. Webmasters served up material for users to consume. Web 2.0 inverted that. 

Webmasters still control Web 2.0 content, but users have grown more influencial. They contribute to it, manipulate it, interact with it, change it. Webmasters are relegated to providers of structure within which users operate. He's still a powerful figure but must now treat users as semi-partners.

IMSLP is a good example of Web 2.0 in action.

Stealth Marketing

Such is the power of user generated content that new laws have been made to protect consumers, with 'stealth marketing' now criminalised in Europe. 

Research shows that people trust their peers on the internet over and above an advertiser. So if someone seeking to sell a product engages with social media and pretends to be an ordinary consumer, the effect on sales can be marked. It's deceitful and manipulative behaviour, now illegal in many nations.

When you build your Myspace page or engage on Twitter keep the following in mind:

Be honest

If you're trying to sell something don't say 'Hey, I've found this amazing string quartet. Check it out!' when you're the viola player! It's dishonest and if you're caught people will laugh at you. Social media organisations may ban and blacklist you and may even report you to the authorities.

Add content

When you engage with social media look at the objectives of the site you're on. Then try to hit them. 

So on Twitter, say what you've been doing. If you've just returned from an orchestra rehearsal, say so. If you've been up all night writing a symphony, talk about it. 

The same applies to forums. People want to engage with real people doing interesting, ethical and (ideally) witty things – just like real life. Be yourself.

Be original and respectful

Look at a few Myspace pages. Some are dreadful, others are works of art. Some scream 'SPAM!' Others say: 'This site is a labour of love.'

When people read a web page they respond best if treated with respect. It's not respectful to deluge them with spam or bad design. If you're trying to sell something or make a good impression, it's fatal.

Don't spam

Apart from it now being illegal in many places, spam is commercial suicide, especially when dealing with classical musicians who are often savvy and spam-aware. An experienced social media user will spot spam at a hundred paces.

Building a website

Some of the best classical music websites are tiny: less than ten pages, half a dozen images, a couple of music files, a few links to interesting sites, and an email address. So if you decide to build a site it doesn't have to be huge.

Dead or in jail?

Blogs are more difficult. They must be updated regularly or make the author look bad. If the last entry's six months old it's reasonable for a reader to ask: 'Is this person ill, dead or in jail…?' 

A blog represents a commitment, unlike a well-designed static site which, if properly structured, just sits there and gains value. 

Other factors to consider when building a site:

Domain name

These cost c. $10 a year. Choose with care. When seeking a high search engine placement your domain name is key. Decide how you expect people to reach your site – the search engine terms they're likely to enter into Google – then pick a name which includes those terms. So if you're a theorbo maker choose something like 'www.theorbomaker.com' (it's available!).

Hosting

A small site should cost c. $120 a year to host. Pay less and you risk the site being unreliable. Google robots don't like unreachable domains and may demote you on the listings if your server is frequently down. Users like them even less and may not return, link to you, or say nice things about you.

So it pays to use a respectable ISP. Search '[name of ISP] sucks' to see how they treat their customers.

Construction

If you're building your own site you'll need web editing and uploading software. Free, open-source options are available, so you don't need to spend a fortune. Ask on Brightcecilia for detailed advice.

If you're selling something online your internet presence must be secure and professional. People won't get out their credit cards and buy online from a shoddy site. Internet fraud is rife so they're right to be cautious.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

SEO experts typically charge megabucks to drive a website up Google. Some SEOs are charlatans, some are not. So unless you're wealthy you'll need to do it yourself. Some key points:

  • domain name choice – mentioned earlier
  • content is king. If you upload quality content and obey Google's rules your site should get listed by the search engines and command a good ranking. People will naturally want to link to it, talk about it, say nice things about it
  • use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools
  • upload a sitemap and a robots.txt file
  • deal with duplicate content and other HTML issues as they arise. Google may mark you down if you don't
  • build links in reputable neighbourhoods, following the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Don't buy or sell links or engage in 'black hat' SEO. Unless you're a super-nerd you'll get caught and possibly banned from Google
  • use keyword-rich signature links on forums (if their rules allow it)
  • be patient

Worrying about your robots.txt file…

Using existing web structure to establish an internet presence is easier and cheaper than building your own site. Many people choose the former and it does the job fine.

But if you opt for the latter the golden rule is: keep it simple and legal. You're a musician who should be practising, composing, or building instruments, not crunching code or worrying about your robots.txt file. Make the web serve you, not the reverse.

This article first appeared in a revised form on Brightcecilia.com