If you're a classical musician who has a website, or has been thinking of making one, this post is for you. I hope this post will provide you tremendous value and also save you time in your creation process.
A quick bit about me: My name is Joshua Vonderheide. I'm a classical percussionist and budding developer and in the past few years, I've built and maintained 11 different websites. Clients have included a used car Guru, a social media agency, a band in London, a corporate coach, a fine artist, a couple of classical musicians and more. My major focus has been on my own platform, The Percussion Conservatory, but I've learned that there are some common threads throughout all websites that can be especially helpful if you're makin one for the first time. Note: I have no sponsors, so everything you read will be authentic and my own opinion.
Here's a brief list of some of the most important tips I can offer.
1.) Your Website Should Tell A Story
The biggest mistake that many first-timers make is not fully understanding why they want to have a website in the first place. They see other folks with a website, and assume they should have one too. If this is you, that's great! You're on the right path. When done well, websites can be powerful tools that help you define your niche, expose your mission to your target audience, and even offer a vehicle to generate income!
It's important that your website has a clear purpose. It shouldn't just be a collection of images and dates that you're playing shows. If that's what you want, you'll likely find success using social media platforms that offer far more organic reach than a website ever could.
In order to find that purpose, try to ask yourself this question: what is the story I'm trying to tell? If you can tell your story in one sentence, and that sentence includes 3-4 keywords that you'll use as a theme throughout the site, you'll do well! Here's an example (that could probably use some fine tuning):
"[Your city]-based violinist and breakdancer [your name] combines music with movement to bring awareness to social issues and shine a light on injustice in our city."
A breakdancing violinist on a mission in Chicago?? I want to learn more about THAT artist.
To further detail this, let's take a look at a website like Samantha Hankey's. It takes just a moment to understand her story. I would describe it like this: "A rising star on the international opera scene invites you into her world. Get to know her now so you can say you knew her when." It's glamorous, powerful, and sleek. The homepage loads fast which means she cares about the user experience and is probably empathetic as a person. The site is polished and well organised which is what you can expect when you hire her for that leading role you're looking to fill.
2.) Quality Over Quantity
Too often, I see websites with hundreds of photos and videos that probably should have been kept on a phone, or perhaps (read: definitely) deleted entirely.
A website is public. This is your brand, your resume, and possibly your first impression. Make it a good one! It's much more powerful to put up 6-7 ultra-high quality pieces of content than to have a slew of mediocre.
If you happen to have both quality AND quantity, you might turn out like Ray Chen.
One thing to note: it's VERY helpful to generate media for a website AFTER you've decided on your story. Every piece of content on your website should somehow tie back into this theme. Think Beethoven 5. The quickest way to confuse your audience is to say you're on mission to do X, and then immediately post a picture from 3 years ago of you doing Y. Keep it simple; don't have too many things going on. A tip within a tip: Videos are great, but do not embed or host a video on your homepage unless you have a fantastic reason to do so. This drastically slows down your site which will hurt your Google ranking. You want a lightning fast homepage, which means you should save your photos as .jpgs, keep your file sizes low, and don't add anything superfluous. You can use this tool to check your page speed.
3.) Google Your Name
That's the entire tip. Go type your full name into Google. If you have a very common name, type your full name and then your instrument. It might feel strange, but this is what people will know about you when they hear your name in social circles and curiously go search for you. If you've never done this little experiment before, it might be an illuminating experience, especially when the only thing that exists about you is a YouTube video from a high school science project some years ago where you rapped noble gases while wearing a Mr. Freeze costume. On that day, you were certainly cooler than absolute 0...
Also be sure to check Google Images as well! If you see something that shouldn't be there, ask the site owner to remove it. One way to quickly have your name jump to the top of this list is to make a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn tends to dominate the "search by name" category of web results, and often will include a nice headshot as well in the images section. Making a YouTube video and having a Twitter post or two will also bump you up. You can link your website in all of them.
Another way to make it to the top? Use your full name as your domain name (URL). I'll take the plunge: always a bit terrifying. Here's what currently displays when I search for "Joshua Vonderheide percussion"
4.) You can almost FOR SURE build this site by yourself
It may seem like a daunting mountain to climb, but do-it-yourself web builders can create incredible websites these days. Wix and Squarespace are the easiest to use and come with additional features, including support staff. WordPress is cheaper and has the biggest online community for open source plug-ins.
The take-away: All three of them are easy to use and unless you need advanced functionality, you can figure this out solo. Type "how to build a website on [the platform you choose]" into YouTube and invest an hour or two of your time into the basics. Then jump into the web builder and go! Most web builders allow you to create a free version of the site first, so you can take as long as you need to build it before paying for a web-hosting plan and launching your site.
Many web builders also come with thousands of free templates to give you a headstart and design ideas.
If you decide need some professional help, or are just short on time, I'm happy to connect you with some incredible web designers here in Malaysia who focus on site just for classical musicians and artists. They'll quote you for about half the going rate in USA. I personally offer more advanced consultations on website architecture, Google Ads, SEO, and branding. For either one, you can shoot me an email here. You can also check out sites like Fiverr that will help connect you with a freelancer that suits your budget. Besides web design you can also find logo designers, video editors, and much, much more.
5.) Canva is your best friend
An important aspect of building a great website is doing some basic graphic design work. You'll want to choose your theme colors and fonts (stick to just two or three for both), possibly make a logo, and have some other design elements incorporated into your site. Canva is a freemium service that currently blows all the other competition out of the water. If you're an educator, it's 100% free, even as a premium user. It's VERY user friendly, and you can use it for so much more than just web design. Social media posts, recital posters, program notes, birthday cards, wedding invites... you name it! They also have tools to help you choose color palletes and font groups that work well together.
I could make a whole blog on how amazing Canva is, and many people have. If you want some great tips on designing with Canva, check out this YouTube channel.
6.) Feature your contact info and socials on your homepage
One of the main reasons someone might be looking for your website is to find your email, phone number, or address. By featuring your contact info right on your homepage, you greatly increase your likelyhood that Google will deliver them the correct information on a search. A great place for your contact info is your footer, or a section/strip just before your footer. You can keep this really simple. You want to reduce friction for your user and give them a direct pathway to get in touch with you, or learn more about you.
7.) Most people will view your site on a phone
This is an annoying reality for most beginning web designers, but anywhere from 50%-80% of your website traffic will be on a mobile device. More likely than not... you're reading this blog on a phone! That means it's absolutely essential during your design process that you consider what type of experience your site visitor is having on their mobile device.
Here's a quick list of things to consider
Is my text at a font size that is easily legible?
Do I need a "back to the top" button?
Does my site "feel" good on a mobile device?
Is my formatting displaying as desired on different screen sizes?
Are different mobile browsers affecting my site performance?
Is my menu easy to use?
Are my images sizes making my site load too slowly?
When people share my website, what image shows up on social media?
Do my design elements still achieve the desired effect on a mobile device?
In this industry, there's a saying called ABT: Always Be Testing. Send your site around to a some honest friends with different devices and tell them to spend a few minutes on your site. They'll tell you what's working and what's not!
8.) Selling something? Double-check your checkout
Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than comitting to a purchase, only to be denied at checkout. You've wasted their time, and the chances that they now contact you, wait for you to sort it out, then re-commit to the purchase are astronomically low.
Most checkout processes these days on your e-commerce plan are going to be fully integrated, and there won't be much to worry about. However, I ALWAYS create a sample product for $1.00 and spend real money on it to completely bullet-proof my checkout process. Seeing $0.61 drop into my account brings me peace of mind and makes that $0.39 transaction fee is more than worth it.
Oh yeah... you're 100% sure your checkout works?
You'll want to carefully check other parts of your process too, like shipping, taxes, and product options if you're planning to incorporate those elements into your online store.
9.) Automate emails to your visitors
Someone has decided to spend a portion of their journey on this planet on your website. Take a step back and realise how insane that is. They could have been playing with their kids. They could have been eating cheese. They could have been doing ANYTHING and they are here marveling (hopefully) at your creation. Expressing gratitude for their time is a good move. You can easily integrate an email service like Mailchimp to send automated thank you or welcome emails to people who join your mailing list, or perform a certain action on your website.
10.) Be Yourself
A website is an opportunity to show the world who you are, and what's important to you. It's your corner of the internet, and it's a place you should feel completely at home. If you hate the color green, don't use green on your website because you read somewhere that it calms people down and makes them stay on your site longer.
Be authentic, and let people into your world. Show them some quirks. Write a blog post that's a hyper-niche. Don't be afraid to do something a little different. The beauty of digital is that you can always edit stuff later if you feel it's not getting the reception you anticipated.
If you can find ways to let your true colors show while still connecting back to your story and mission, you're website will have visitors smiling on every visit.
A final bonus tip: have at least a couple pages that frequently update on your site so that return visitors have something to look forward to! Start a blog, connect an active Instagram account, update pictures often, etc.
Thanks for sharing your time with me today! I hope you this blog motivates you to take action on your website, or build a new one!
If you're a percussionist, and you'd like to learn more about what we're doing at The Percussion Conservatory, please consider joining our free trial for The PC Studio. We host world-class masterclasses almost every week, archive every class recording for on-demand viewing, and create perfectly synced practice tracks for you to improve your audition playing. It's a groundbreaking program that is designed to help you sharpen your skillset and land your dream job.