This post began purely as a showcase of well-designed band websites. Naturally, to begin my search I opened up my iTunes library and Safari and began checking out the sites of the bands in my collection. What I discovered shocked me; nearly every site I came across was profoundly lackluster or altogether horrid. I’m at a loss as to why record companies, who spend countless dollars promoting their big money makers, seem to be incapable of finding web designers that match the remarkable talent of their artists.
At this point the nature of the article changed entirely. Due to the wealth of ugly sites to choose from, today we’ll examine some of the reasons I think the band website industry really needs to step up and make some major changes. We’ll conclude by analyzing some examples to follow if you want to create a band site that doesn’t suck.
The first annoying trend I noticed is that the world of band sites is positively overrun with landing pages. Many designers don’t even seem to have an idea for what exactly a landing page is for beyond a place to type “enter site.” The site above absolutely blew me away by creating not just one, but two landing pages for double the fun. Granted, the first one is an admittedly great piece of art but I just don’t see the point behind it, especially when used with yet another landing page.
Many artists use the landing page as a tool to announce a new album. This makes sense when partnered with a “new site coming soon” headline. However, when I see one of these pages completely themed for the new album serving as a gateway for old artwork that doesn’t remotely match, the visual disconnect is unpleasant and confusing.
Many of the sites I came across suffered from severe MySpace syndrome. What I mean by this is that the designers have overloaded the pages with widgets and small bits of disparate information or resources. Rather than presenting a cohesive message with a clear hierarchy of information, your field of view is completely stuffed with individual elements competing for your attention. Youtube windows, social network links, fan club news and music players are crammed together to create a positively claustrophobic experience. Under these circumstances, your eyes can’t quite decide where to go next or what to focus on. Instead they bounce around from graphic to graphic searching for relevant information as to what it all means.
Good interface design makes it immediately evident what you’re looking at and how to get where you want to go. You shouldn’t have to consciously sift through clutter, instead you should read and comprehend the important information on the page almost by accident. As an example, the designers of the 3 Doors Down site above have merely created some quick columns to throw everything into. Very little thought was given towards how to actually design the space to accommodate all of the information while highlighting the most important elements.
Several band/solo artist sites seemed as if they were developed with time as a much higher priority than quality. Perhaps in the rush to just get something (anything) up, the developers were forced to take shortcuts and completely forgo browser testing.
Even if you can’t find developers with anything resembling a sense of good design, you should at the very least hire one who can actually write standards compliant, cross-browser code.
Complete Dependence on Flash
This one could go either way. On the one hand, you would expect a band website to be quite media heavy. This makes Flash a natural inclusion. Further, Flash can genuinely increase the richness of the experience in ways that aren’t commonly achieved through other means. However, many band websites seem to be so completely dependent on Flash that you can’t even enter the site without it. If band website developers are intent on creating Flash-based sites, I would recommend exploring some ways to provide at least a scaled back experience to those users without the proper plugin installed.
Auto-Play Music Players
Good Assumption: Chances are, if I’m visiting your site I either already like your music or am at least interested in hearing your music. Bad Assumption: I want you to blast your music through my speakers as soon as the page loads, thereby scaring me so badly that I spill my Mountain Dew all over my keyboard. Having a music player on your site is absolutely essential for bands. However, I strongly recommend giving your users more freedom over when they want to use the player. Consider coding the player’s default setting to “Off” and encouraging users to listen through a visual callout. This is much less forceful and unpleasantly surprising than the alternative.
Band/Artist Sites That Don’t Suck
Now that we’ve looked at a few complaints I have against band websites, let’s look at some sites that are actually pretty well done. Admittedly, even some of the sites below suffer from one or two of the complaints above, just not to the degree that it completely kills the usability or aesthetics of the entire site. Also, it seems to be a lot easier to find well-designed solo artist websites than band websites so forgive me if this section is slanted a bit in that direction.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I found John Mayer’s site. Not only does it rank very well using the criteria above, it’s simply a good looking site. The key here is organization of information. The homepage is made up of clearly defined, cohesively designed areas that contain a clear hierarchy of information and are completely void of clutter. The site is riddled with great photography, attractive rotating banner areas and readable typography. Hats off to Magnetic for breaking the ugly band site trend!
To continue with the soloist trend, Jamie Cullum is another artist with a really great website. First of all, there are photographs of exploding pianos all over the site. If you don’t think that’s amazing, you just don’t understand quality photography. Other than that, the site is remarkably clean compared to the typically overloaded artist site trend. Again we see information that is organized in an attractive and very visual visual fashion. You aren’t bombarded with music automatically but if you want it, you can’t miss the giant play button in the header. Finally, the white background contrasts beautifully with the black footer making for a clear separation of the main content from the supporting links. You can thank the designers at UC48 for being another strong force in the death of ugly band websites.
KT Tunstall’s site features some excellent custom comic book art from Robin Footitt. I absolutely love the half tone shading style of the artwork and the goofy overly dramatic characters. The primary navigation of the site is at the top to make the site easy to use, but each section of the comic book illustration also serves as a link to a specific area of the site. Completely unique and unmistakably not a MySpace page.
More Good Sites
Now that we’ve discussed what can be done to make a musical artist website that doesn’t suck, here’s a few more that more or less get the job done in a stylish and usable fashion.
Dave Matthews Band
Zac Brown Band
Third Eye Blind
Robbie Seay Band
Despite the handful of sites that break the mold, most band sites (signed or indie) simply aren’t as well-designed as they could be if they were put into the hands of the amazing artists and developers we feature on this site on a daily basis. I’ve said it a few times in this post already but I really think MySpace has ruined the image of what a band website should be. The cluttered module based layout is neither attractive or user-friendly and should be abandoned by the music world in favor of visual consistency and adherence to basic design principles.
Use the comments below to tell us who your favorite bands are and what you think of their websites. Also be sure to share any really great site design examples you find whether you like the band or not!