Behind the New Website…

So I’m done taking my hiatus, and am ready to get back to work.  For those just tuning in, my fam and I just moved into a new home that we had purchased several months ago and then flipped it.  LOTS of hard work, stress, and more. But totally worth it now that we are all moved in.  I’m loving it.

It’s nice to be back in the swing of things, and now that I’m back to working on my music, I’m back to blogging about it as well.

I have a lot of exciting things happening for me this year.  Or at least, I hope they turn out to be exciting.  Releasing my brand new website was just one of the things that needed to happen along with my upcoming cd release, and other things…Here is a behind-the-scenes look at my thoughts behind my new site and why I chose the design that I did.

New Website

So new website. Same URL, just new design.

My old site was something I created on my own in 2006, and have been updating it as needed over the past 6 years.  Not being a web designer, I’d say I did the best I could, but let’s face it. It’s 2012 and websites now are much more sophisticated than 2006 and I was feeling a little amateur.

So I hired a designer.

Creating a new website design took a lot of work! I spent an enormous amount of time looking at hundreds of other musician websites, writing down things I liked and disliked about them, getting ideas, etc. until I finally came up with the whole concept for my own site.

One thing I disliked about my old site was that it was too cluttered. That is solved in the new design with a very minimalist approach.  Instead of having like 20 menu buttons all on the homepage, I now have 5 main ones with drop-down menus underneath.

I also had all new photos taken specifically for the use on the website. I hadn’t had a formal photoshoot since my debut album, and frankly I was getting really tired of using the same photos year after year.  I had definitely changed and so had my music, and I was just wanting something very new and fresh.

Now I always love knowing the behind-the-scenes stuff about other peoples’ projects, so I’m going to share with you all that went into this photo shoot…

I knew that I wanted a 100% site (meaning the background takes up 100% of the monitor screen), and therefore needed a photo that would be simple enough to allow text overlaying. Since my upcoming album concept has so much to do with my dad’s beautiful landscape photography, I wanted him to take my website photos as well.

As I searched around for inspiration on how I wanted the photos taken, I found this really great photo of Stephan Moccio (who is a fabulous composer and pianist, by the way):

Let’s face it, when you are trying to be photographed next to a grand piano, there are only so many ways you can pose.  You can pose at the keys, standing next to the piano, through the lid (like the photo above), or if you’re brave enough you can lay on top of the piano (I’m certainly not that confident I wouldn’t break it LOL).  The photo of Stephan above was really great because it told the viewer “Yes, I play the piano”, and yet it gave enough space in the photo for text, or whatever else.

So we did our best to take this concept and expand on it in our own way. My dad came over to our home, and we set up a big backdrop in my living room behind my piano.  He brought his studio lighting, and other fun toys.  It took about 2 hours to get the room finally how we needed it for the shoot.  Here is my cute 3 year old posing for some test shots 🙂

We also used a fan blowing on my hair to get sort of a whimsical look.  This really didn’t make it easy on my dad.  We ended up having lower lighting in order to get the just-right shadowing in the photo, but because the lighting was low it was difficult to capture my fast-moving hair that was blowing in the breeze.

I know you will totally laugh,but the following picture is a pretty good representation of how 98% of the photo shoot turned out.  Pretty funny huh.

Also, you will notice the after-editing we had to do on the photos that did make the final cut.  The photo above is raw from the camera. You notice the lighting is off (too dark), the backdrop has crinkles in it, and also was not wide enough to make it reach clear across the keyboard (notice the black strip down the right hand side). Those were all things that were fixed in all of the final photos.

We did manage to get a couple of photos that were good, one in particular where my hair wasn’t doing crazy things, or in my eyes, or blowing straight up to the sky, and it was this one:

As you can see the color differences between the raw photo and the edited one, you can see what goes into the after editing.  My dad did all of the lighting editing, being that he was the photographer. He was very particular and even edited things I would not have noticed – like he removed some of the dust from under my piano strings!  Amazing right? (and I thought I had done a good enough job dusting my piano before the photo shoot – ha ha).

Also another funny thing I can tell you that you would probably never realize, is I had to spread my arms WAY out for the photo. When my dad took photos of me playing the piano normally, my arms were right at my side which made my mid-section appear very wide and it was not flattering.  Therefore, I ended up having to place my arms out (one hand at the bottom of the keyboard, the other at the top) in order to give me more waist definition and to create some space there.  Betcha didn’t catch on to that I wouldn’t actually look like that while playing the piano.

Even though that photo above turned out, unfortunately we couldn’t use it for the website.  It was taken in a portrait setting, and needed a landscape orientation.  This was such a bummer! None of the landscape photos turned out – too much hair in my face, blurred, etc.  Who knew it would take so much to get ONE perfect shot, right?

So a few days later, we did photo-shoot #2!

Again, we re-created the room and got it all set up.  Problem though – the sun was out that day.  Usually that would be a wonderful thing but it was casting some really bad lighting on the backdrop. We had to drape blankets over the window and stuff pillows in order to block out the sun.  In the end, the room turned out much darker than the other photoshoot.  So yet again, we were dealing with dark lighting, fast moving hair, and a shutter that wasn’t fast enough to operate in that low of lighting with the moving hair.

Again, we took numerous photos (I think around 200?).  In the end, we were lucky to get a few photos that would work for the website. It was very tricky for all the elements to come together – hair out of my face, me not doing a cheesy smile or laughing because I had hair in my face, also if I turned my head too far one way the studio lighting would pick up too much of the white of my eyes making me look totally drugged.

In the end, it came down to two photos:

There was a third, that I really liked because I was smiling in it, but the orientation of it didn’t allow for enough room for website text to overlay it and not be too busy. It was this one:

Out of the two above, I had actually originally chosen the 2nd one, but then decided against it because I felt it was a little too sultry 😉  “Sexy” was definitely not the message I was trying to send to my audience. I wanted to be taken as a serious musician.  My parents as well as many friends also really preferred the first photo.  So in the end, that is the one I ended up choosing for the website.

After debuting my website yesterday, I had many comments on the beautiful site. However, there were a few people who felt that the photo was “aggressive”, or “unfriendly”, or one person said I seemed to be “disinterested”.  Even though I received so many positive comments, of course I was still bothered by the few negative ones.

If it helps, you should know that my entire motive with my new website was the minimalist approach. You notice I don’t have any in-your-face ads on the homepage, or very much text at all.  All I really want is for the music to speak for itself without the sales pitch.  Most artist websites out there are very sales-driven.  You will find yourself being bombarded with sales pitches left and right.  Although from a marketing standpoint, any web designer will tell you that this is the correct way to build a retail site where you are selling goods.  In fact, that is originally how my own web designer suggested we build the site.  Nothing wrong with that in my opinion – all of us musicians want/need to sell our music in order to make a living. But I  wanted my website to be “artistic”, not “retail”.  I want people to come to the site and have an artistic experience, and enjoy their visit without the added pressure to buy.

When I also considered what my music most represented, what it sounded like – the best descriptions people often find are “emotional”, “cinematic”, “dramatic”.  It was my hope that the photo that I chose for my website best coincided with the feeling my music presented.  I wanted something that represented class and professionalism. And lastly, I feel that my music on my upcoming album is also very dramatic, which also coincides with the website’s feel.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new site.  I’ve added some new things (short fun bio, as well as new formal bio), new photo gallery, a “listen” page, and more.

I’ve got a lot of other exciting things in the works that I will go into further detail later, such as a prize drawing for all pre-orders on my new album. My amazing dad will actually be offering one of his beautiful photographs (valued around $400) to the winner.  We are going to put together a video for that for the official announcement.  And then speaking of videos….oh boy I have lots to share on that front as well.  But it would take an entirely new post.  All you need to know for now is MUSIC VIDEOS this year! LOTS of them.  The good kind too 🙂  You know – with awesome filmmaking and storylines.  But more on that later!

That’s all for now! Here’s a few more photos that didn’t make the final cut but were okay…

Website Redesign in Process

I’ve been wanting to re-do my website for over a year now, but have been putting it off until getting closer to the release of my album, “Portraits” at the end of this year.

However, lately, I’ve been feeling like my site is incredibly outdated.  Just a year ago, I did not feel this way. But now I do.  It’s amazing how fast technology advances within that time.  Social networking has come so far within a short amount of time too and it has completely changed the way that people design their websites as well.  You hardly ever visit someone’s site without seeing all of their networking site links on the home page (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). 

There are so many things that I want to do to improve my website, but it’s all very time consuming. 

I actually designed my current website myself. I certainly do not claim to be any expert on web design at all, but with some knowledge of html (thanks to a previous job I had working for eBay many years ago), a family member who is a web designer and who has given me many tips and tutorials…my website was created by my own hands.  Granted, it took me many countless hours in doing so. 

I also admit that my process of creating my website was not very, uh, efficient either.  All of the tricks that pro web builders know and do, well, I don’t know how to do and didn’t do them.  Things like making a general template so that each time you want to do any sort of change you can just make the change to the template and not have to go through every page of your site to do so.  Eh – hem. Guilty as charged on that one.  But I don’t know how to go back and fix it now – the damage is done. 🙂  What can I say? I’m a musician, not a web designer!

So now here I am, starting to toss ideas around about my website redesign.

My current website has basically had the same format for about 4 years.  I have tried my best to keep it looking fresh and updated over those years.  I have twice switched out my fonts and tags so that they looked cleaner and better.  I have changed my header several times.  I’ve changed my navigation tabs, and added some as well.  I’ve always strived to keep my homepage up to date so that when people visit my site, they are hopefully seeing something new at least once a month or so (however, I’m currently guilty of not posting anything new in a while).  I’ve tried to make sure that I’m up to date on my social networking links. I’ve also consolidated how many pages you have to click through in order to get to my store.  I’ve simplified my contact page, twice.  And I consolidated all of my myspace, and facebook posts into a blog, which is now my centralized location for news/updates.

Even with all of these changes that I’ve continually made to my site, I feel like I’m just not able to keep up.  And the more time that goes by, the more websites advance and the more my very limited knowledge of site-building decreases. 

So right now, I’m in the research phase.  What are my options?

1.  I can hire someone to build a site for me, and it would completely eliminate any time/effort that I would need to spend on building one myself.  It would most likely look incredible, and professional.  But it would also cost me several thousands of dollars, and after it’s finished what would be my level of ability to keep it updated myself without having to call someone each time I want to add something or make a change, I wonder?

2.  I can build an entirely new website, myself, from scratch.  But again, like I said earlier, my website building knowledge is limited and so what I would end up with would be a very similar site to what I already currently have.  And what would be the point of that?

3. Since I use Yahoo as my webhost/domain/small business, I could use one of their ready-made templates.  However…I’m just not really a template girl.  I tend to think most templates are cheesy and unoriginal.  I also tend to have a specific idea in my head of what I’m going for, and it’s rare that I find it just ready and waiting for me. 

4.  I can build a website on WordPress.com.  I already use WordPress for my blog, and I know that you add tabs and everything else to make it a website and not just a blog.  I have to say though, that it’s rare that I’ve come across a WordPress site that doesn’t look like it’s a blog.  What is the point of having a website if it’s going to look like a blog? That is what a blog is for.  A website tells the world that you are legit and that you are a professional.  Your blog is not your website.  There is a big difference.  With that being said though, I HAVE come across a few wordpress websites that have done an outstanding job of disguising the fact that it’s a WordPress site.  www.johnalbertthomas.com is one, for example.  I honestly had no idea he used WordPress and was pleasantly surprised.  His site looks amazing, in my opinion.  It’s professional, it’s user friendly, it’s clean, it’s minimal (I’m a website minimalist).  It looks fantastic.  So then I thought, well, maybe I can do a WordPress site.  But then upon further research though,  I found that converting a wordpress blog into a site is more steps than I was hoping it would be and one also needs to have a good knowledge of design in order to accomplish what John did with his site (he is a web designer, by the way).  Things like Javascript, and CSS.  Both of those are jibberish to me.  Otherwise, the inevitable happens and you get exactly what you don’t want – which is a website that looks just like a blog.

5.  I can use Wix.com, which is a website builder for Flash websites.  Secretly I’ve always envied Flash websites.  They look incredible, they do cool animated things, and look so professional.  However, typically Flash sites have a difficult time showing up on the Google radar because there isn’t a lot of text within these types of sites.  For example, if you try to right-click within a flash site, you can’t copy/paste.  But instead you get a little box that says something along the lines of “Learn more about Flash” or whatnot.  That is a good way for you to know you are dealing with Flash, not html/text.  However, Flash is coming along, and Wix has developed something that aimes specifically at Google crawlers, thus making their websites easily picked up by search engines.  Sounds good, yes?  Well the other big hangup with Flash websites though, are now that Smart phones are so widely popular, you want to have a website that works with these phones and guess what? Flash websites do not show up within mobile devices.  So all those people who are using their mobiles to view your website and going to be sorely disappointed.  BUT!  Again, Wix is going to be releasing a product in the 2nd quarter of 2011 that converts the Flash into HMTL 5 and therefore…makes your flash website (through Wix) accessible to smart phones.

So as of right now, I’m sort of leaning towards Option #5. Afterall the entire goal here is to spend LESS time on my website, and MORE time on my music.

I’m still running into the issue of not being able to find that perfect template that suits my needs, my taste, or my vision.  But I think I can manipulate the Wix templates enough to get something I will end up being happy with.

What do YOU look for in a music website?

So now you know that I’ve been looking into what my options are as far as BUILDING the site, I’m curious what your ideas and thoughts are as far as the CONTENT that goes on my new site.  This is a big deal as well – and the entire reason (aside from the design of the site) why I am overhauling my site.  My new objectives for my new website are as follows:

1.  Consolidate and clean house.  Right now I feel like I have so many navigation tabs on my homepage that I really could simplify those a lot.  For example, instead of having a tab for “Bio”, it would be a tab for “About”.  When you hover your mouse over the About tab, a drop-down menu appears and includes things like “Photos, Bio, Facts”, etc.  Whereas right now I have separate tabs for bio and photos. 

2.  Make it easier to get to my store.  This has been such a hard thing for me on my current website, because I use Yahoo small business for my store.  So right off the bat, once you click on “store” you are connecting to a URL outside my own website.  You leave the site.  And then once you are there, you have to click on which product you want, and then go through the entire shopping cart experience.  My sheet music is through a completely different site all together.  This is simply because my sheet music files are PDF downloads. They are not physical items for sale, but digital. Anyway – all in all – it can be confusing, and time consuming. I realize this.  A friend of mine, who is a business website analyst, told me that for each additional page that someone has to click through in order to complete the ordering process, I lose a lot of customers.  I’m an independent musician and I deeply depend on the sales from my website as they are the only source of income I make where I keep most of the profit for myself (aside from credit card merchant fees, shipping, etc.).  Thank goodness for sites like Amazon and iTunes that also sell my music (I truly mean that), but they do take upwards of 50-60% of my sales.  So getting the shopping experience consolidated and less confusing on my website is another goal.

3.  Minimize the photo gallery.  When I first created my website, I had just gotten all of my photos taken for my debut album and I had, oh, about 3,500 photos  total.  In my mind, putting about 50 of them up on my website gallery was nothing. However, now, 4 years later I look through my photo gallery and think WOW did I really need to post all these photos of myself?  That would be a big fat NOPE!  So on the new site, I will only post a few select photos that I feel are needed and let my fans know who I am as a musician and person through those photos.  This will be hard – I admit, because I do love to share photos.  But again, I’m trying to simplify.

4.  Add new features.  I want to utilize YouTube more. I’m thinking about creating some short videos to put on my site that will make for less reading, and more listening/watching (which I think a lot of people would love).  I want to tell stories about exeriences that I’ve had – whether they be random or professional.  So I’m thinking of adding a stories tab.  I want a licensing section, and a Press page for my EPK and Press pack.  I also want a section for free stuff, like free downloads and sheet music.  I’ve contemplated deleting my Education section entirely, but have decided to keep it but just redo it.

What sort of things would YOU like to see on my new website?  Please do tell. I’d love to hear the ideas.

Finally, I just want to quickly share what I’ve found makes a good or bad music website. I’ve cruised around the web quite a LOT these past few weeks as I’ve been checking out other musicians’ website and what they have to offer, to get ideas for my own, to see what is hip/new, etc.  This is what I’ve found:

Bad Ideas for Musician Websites:

1.  No Bio or About section.  I was surprised to visit some of the big name artist website and find that there was no bio or about section included.  Even though they might be famous, I still would like to know about them.  I think it’s a little prideful to just assume that everyone knows you, and therefore, you do not need to write an “about” section.

2.  No contact info.  Again, just because you are super famous, doesn’t mean you are above getting fanmail. And besides, who doesn’t love fanmail?  And even if you are too busy to answer emails, you could at least post some sort of contact info such as a business manager or something.

3.  Lots of clutter.  Run on sentences, too much text on the homepage, too many navigation tabs…all bad ideas.

4.  A bio without a hint of humility.  Yes, so you have won Grammy Awards, could you at least be a teeny bit humble and not have to give us your list of all the famous people you know but just concentrate on what YOU have accomplished?

5.  No Photos.  Even if it’s one photo, at least let us know who the person is behind the music. 🙂

Good Ideas for Musician Websites:

1.  Simple Navigational tabs with drop down menus.  This all equals a cleaner site with less clutter.

2.  A clean and organized store.  I’ve been to way too many musician websites where when you visit their store, all of the products are out of order and are a jumbled mess.  It would be nice to see all the CDs together, the sheet music together, and any other product together in a similar fashion.

3.  An upfront explanation of what you do.  Sure you’re name is John Smith, but what do you do John?  Are you a composer?  What type of music do you compose?  Are you a pianist?  Solo or orchestrated?  What genre?

4.  Links.  I don’t want to have to search the entire website to find your Facebook link, or your contact info link.  It’s great to have those on the homepage.

5.  Videos and Music.  It seems most musicians have at least one video on their site for their fans to view.  However, it’s not a good idea to post ALL of your youtube videos. Pick one or two and post it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What do you LIKE or DISLIKE about musician websites?