Do you cringe in fear at the mere mention of the phrase “make your own web site?” Have you avoided joining the digital age because you think you have to be a technical web whiz to make one? Assuming you have some basic computer experience, it’s not that difficult to create a respectable presence on the internet.
Like most home computer users, I learned how to make my web site the same way I learned how to use my computer and software: I just started pushing buttons to see what would happen, and when I couldn’t figure something out I went to the instruction book or help file for the solution.
When I got started I knew nothing about making a web site and didn’t have a web authoring program. Using my ClarisWorks graphics program, it took me one complete summer’s work, about 500 hours, to make my first version. I didn’t know anything about using HTML coding – and, for that matter, I still don’t. True, the more you know the more sophisticated your site will look, but my goal was to make a simple, user-friendly site with as few bells and whistles as possible.
Luckily, in the beginning, I found a local 16-year-old high school computer whiz whose hourly fees I could afford. He converted my work to a web site format and did all the uploading to my server. I planned the site and he did all the tech work: scanning pictures, linking pages, etc. It wasn’t until I started using a simple, user-friendly web authoring program that didn’t require any knowledge of HTML – Adobe PageMill – that I began to learn how to make my own site.
Creating your own web site takes more than a little time and some small initial start-up expenses. Your technical chops will grow as you go. A site’s start-up costs will depend on how much you know about the process, the software you purchase to make it, and how you envision your site.
Before you start making your site you have to create a plan and decide what you want your site to do. This will be decided by what you have to offer site visitors that will keep them interested in returning. It can be a simple promotional site or a complex e-commerce site that offers MP3 downloads of your recordings for on-line credit card purchase. Keep in mind the three principles of web site creation: content, content and content! Look for a balance between what you want your site to contain and keeping it user friendly. Minimize download times and ensure that navigating your site’s interior pages is efficient.
There are plenty of easily understandable books on the subject available on line at www.amazon.com. However, you can get a good idea of how creative a web site can be by checking out other musicians’ self-made sites. I recommend saxophonist Mel Martin’s (www.melmartin.com), pianist Jessica Williams’s (www.jessicawilliams.com) vocalist Madeline Eastman’s (www.madelineeastman.com) or mine (www.halgalper.com).
Do you have a friend with some web authoring experience you can bother from time to time in those moments when things aren’t going right? Web folks love to talk web-speak and are usually glad to help out.
THE BASIC SOFTWARE
Here’s a list of some basic software you’ll need. Most of these programs for Macs and PCs can be purchased on line at www.warehouse.com.
- Both Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers to check how your work looks on-line (free);
- A web authoring program that doesn’t require a knowledge of HTML, such as: Adobe Golive at www.adobe.com or FileMaker Home Page at Micro Warehouse www2.warehouse.com. Both programs have up and download capabilities.
- You’ll need a program to manipulate images and graphics. I recommend Graphic Converter (Shareware, $35), at www.lemkesoft.com.
- Scanners for copying printed matter or photos into web images are cheaper than ever. You can buy a decent scanner for about $100.
- Planning to publish music on the Internet? Nightingale at www.musicwareinc.com/prod02.htm ($199.95) is one of the least expensive and most user friendly music notation programs you can find. To convert music notation to web images you’ll need an inexpensive ($10) little shareware utility called print2pict. Download it at info.apnpc.com.au.
Assuming that you’re already paying an ISP (Internet Service Provider) the average monthly rate of $20 for Internet access (avoid those free or cheap ISP’s as you have to let them put advertising on your site. A turn off to most), you’ll need an Internet Server Company to host your site. Shop around. For a non-e-commerce site, you should be able to find one for another $20 a month. Inquire if they offer reasonable hourly fees for extra tech help with your site.
When deciding on a name for your site, you can use a dot-com URL supplied by your web server service, but their URL’s are longer and more difficult to remember. You can buy your own simple and personalized dot-com name for $35 a year from www.namesecure.com. But in order for visitors to find you, you’ll have to submit your URL to the search engines. Submit-It (www.submit-it.com) will submit your URL to 400 search engines and directories for $59 per year.
At this point, not including fee-based technical assistance, your initial investment for the first year will be approximately $1,154. If you decide to go beyond a basic non-commercial site into more complex e-commerce sites with online secure credit card services and MP3 capability, your expenses can increase dramatically. Estimate your potential sales to be sure they will justify these added expenses.
AN INVESTMENT OF TIME
Your biggest investment will be time.
Time to get far enough past your software’s initial learning curves to start building your site. I’ve recommended software packages that have the shortest possible learning curves. Once you’ve gained some basic experience, you’ll find that you’ll learn more as your needs expand.
People have to find your site. To accomplish this you’ll need to spend time searching for and arranging links with other web sites. Some sites expect the courtesy of a reciprocal link on your site and some don’t. It took me a good two months to accomplish this task and it’s an ongoing process.
Do you want an active or static site? A static site rarely changes and is used mostly for promotional purposes. It’s basically an online press kit with bio’s, photos, reviews, interviews, announcements of new record releases and more. A web site press kit is inexpensive to update and can save hundreds of dollars a year that you’d ordinarily spend for the design, photos, printing and postage of a printed press kit.
An active site changes and adds new and interesting material that keeps visitors coming back, but this takes up additional time. Upload your tour itineraries, newsletters, articles (bassist Todd Coolman adds a new article to his site every month), pictures of your cat, etc.
Pay attention to site maintenance. There’s nothing more frustrating than visiting a good web site to find broken links, URLs that have changed and go nowhere, images that don’t load. Be prepared to keep up your commitment to joining the digital age. It’s an investment in money, time and energy – but also a very creative and fun medium where almost anything goes.