Why Won't They Stay? –The Artist Website Problem

I rarely go to artist websites. It turns out, that is not unusual.

In August Neilsen reported that over 40% of  U.S. internet time is spent on Social Networking, gaming, and email. So if you take Facebook, email pages, and gaming out of the equation, think about how few websites most Americans visit in a week. Sure, there is a cutting-edge group of folks who use RSS readers, Read It Later, Instapaper, Flipboard etc. — but these people are the exception. I’d guess the average person hits less than 20 sites a week. That’s stiff competition for any website, let alone a single band’s site.

As I said, I rarely visit artist sites. Except for Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Beck and The Grateful Dead.

This list strikes me as strange, as three of these four are not among my favorite all-time artists. In fact, I don’t really like Radiohead (sorry).

Even stranger, none of these acts are even in my favorite genre — Jazz.

Why do I return to Radiohead, Beck, Dylan and the Grateful Dead sites so often?

In an industry that is desperate to drive traffic direct to fans from the artist site, why is it so hard to retain traffic?  Why do artist sites struggle so much? What works for the handful of acts that  retain a direct audience?

After poking around with the data and doing some common sense thinking, I’ll offer these six tenets of what keeps an audience coming back to an artist site:

1. The site is fundamentally sound. News, concert dates, and new music need to be front and center. Navigation needs to be clean and simple. The site needs to load quickly. Too much flash, and (God forbid) auto-starting anything, is a bad idea. You can go simple like Arcade Fire — http://www.arcadefire.com/ — or you can offer more content like Phish —http://phish.com/ — but either way the site needs to load and deliver cleanly and quickly.

2. The site needs to be definitive and authoritative. Vital information such as concert dates, new artwork, lineup changes, new music, release dates, etc. need to be announced on the artist site first, in a way that communicates ownership of the information. Bob Dylan’s site communicates this kind of authority well – http://www.bobdylan.com/.

3. The site needs to give me things I can’t get elsewhere. In a world of Google search and YouTube, I need to get something on the site that I can’t find anywhere else. The site can present the artist as a curator who sifts and contextualizes a variety of content. Beck’s site is the best I”ve seen in taking the artists point of view and communicating it as curation — http://www.beck.com/. Or the site could offer something as simple as free songs, streams, or high-ticket releases like the Grateful Dead Live catalogue.

4. The site needs to have  a “voice” — it needs to feel like the artists world. There needs to be a POV. Lots of photos and a well executed blog go a long way here. Try — http://www.flaminglips.com — note how the Flaming Lips use their blog, as their homepage. Pretty nifty. You might also want to check out Jason Maraz’s site…I have a few issues with the site (unnecessary landing page and the auto-play voiceover), but this is a great example of Pop artist delivering a site that fixes every MySpace design mistake, and has a great, original voice : http://jasonmraz.com/index.php

5.The site needs to create community. It needs to foster three-way communication: 1-band-to-fans, 2-fans-to-band, and 3-fans-to-fans. Radiohead’s site —http://www.ateaseweb.com/ — is the ultimate example of community. The message boards here have transcended Radiohead, and instead, function as the discussion point for people interested in any kind of brainy Alternative Rock. The Grateful Dead and Dylan sites do community well too.

6. You understand marketing to the data: The data tells you that right now action is on Facebook and Twitter. Your audience lives on the Social Networking sites, and has to be reached there.  You’re probably employing widgets, news updates, and tweets that pull visitors towards your artist, in a way that blurs the line between a full visit to your site, and a simple marketing impression. One thing is certain, if you are among the very few who has been able retain an audience, there’s no doubt that you are executing a good Facebook and Twitter strategy already.

The Final Take: Building an artist site that retains traffic is difficult stuff. The competition is fierce, the audience is fickle, marketing is hard, and monetization — which we haven’t tackled in this post –is tricky. Still, there are clues out there about what works. I’d suggest that you start by looking at the sites you regularly visit,  and why, as clue #1.

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