WordPress for Musicians: How to Use WordPress to Promote Your Art
Fifteen years after its launch, you can confidently say that WordPress is the default CMS for bloggers and businesses alike.
But what if instead of selling products, you wanted to promote your art? Would WordPress still be your top pick? And if yes, how can you make the most of it?
In this guide, I’ll show you how to use WordPress for musicians and artists. I’ll share tips, plugins, and themes that help you turn WordPress into a marketing powerhouse. Along the way, I’ll also share some ideas to promote yourself better online.
Strap in and read on!
Why Build a Website (and Choose WordPress)?
As a musician, you might be tempted to think that your website isn’t important. After all, there is an army of rappers and producers who use nothing more than SoundCloud and Instagram to grow their audience.
While you certainly need a presence on these social media platforms, a website gives you something much more important: control.
When you own your website, you get to control how you interact with your fans. From the content to the promotions, you get to control every aspect of your online presence. Need to capture emails or send a website notification? SoundCloud won’t let you do that, but your own website will.
There are dozens of reasons to build a website, but the top ones are:
- Future-proof: Social media platforms come and go. But your own website will stay online as long as you pay the domain and hosting fees. This is as future-proof as you can get.
- Protection: We’ve all heard horror stories of social media platforms banning accounts for slight infractions. With your own website, you don’t have to worry about any bans or restrictions.
- Freedom: Social media platforms restrict how you interact with your audience. Your own website gives you complete freedom to choose how you promote yourself.
- Ownership: With social media, you’re essentially building your presence on somebody else’s platform. You don’t own your audience; the social media platform does. With a website, however, you own every aspect of the audience interaction.
- Branding: Anyone can create a social media presence in minutes; a website requires time and resources. It’s the clearest signal that you’re a serious musician.
Choosing WordPress Over Website Builders
There are more website builders out there than you can count on two fingers, including some designed specifically for musicians (HostBaby, BandZoggle, etc.). Plus, there are musician-focused platforms such as Bandcamp and ReverbNation which will give you an online presence.
HostBaby’s default service costs $20/month – a significant premium over WordPress
Why should you choose WordPress over them?
From cost to overall control, there are several reasons to choose WordPress over website builders:
- Price: Most website builders that let you use your own domain charge a small fee. For musician-focused builders, such as HostBaby, this fee can be as high as $20/month. WordPress, on the other hand, is free. You only have to pay for your domain (~$10/year) and hosting (as low as $5/month).
- Own domain: Any free platform, such as BandCamp, will limit you to a subdomain (i.e. [yourBand].BandCamp.com). This not only impacts how much control you have over your content, it also creates a poor brand perception.
- Promotion: With a website builder, you are limited to the music marketing tactics and tools supported by the builder. You can’t always bring in your own suite of marketing automation tools or your own email provider. Often, this means you end up using inferior, more expensive tools – a problem your own WordPress site solves easily.
- Data: If you’re building your presence on a free platform, you are essentially handing over your data to a third-party. With WordPress, on the other hand, you have complete ownership of your data. No third-party can access it without explicit permission.
- Analytics: Another problem with website builders is that they usually limit you to their in-built analytics software. Although useful, this software often doesn’t give you detailed audience insight. However, a WordPress website will let you use any analytics tool you want, including Google Analytics.
- Limits: Want to let your listeners download entire concert clips? Or have a sudden spike in traffic due to media coverage? Then be prepared to pay-up. Most website builders have limits on storage space or traffic. With WordPress, you are only limited by your hosting (which tends to have generous terms).
- No lock-in: Switching from one website builder to another can be a pain. You are often bound by yearly contracts without refunds, or you can’t migrate your content easily.
- Design and content: Website builders limit you to their built-in themes and content formats. You also don’t have permission to modify the code. With WordPress, on the other hand, you can use from a massive library of existing themes, use any content format, and even create custom content/themes.
Essentially, it all boils down to control and ownership. Website builders limit you to their own tools, content formats, and usage terms. WordPress gives you complete freedom to virtually anything you want on your site.
For musicians who care about owning their audience and creating custom experiences, it’s a no-brainer: WordPress is far superior to any website builder.
How to Use WordPress for Musicians
From the above, it would be clear that WordPress should be your platform of choice for establishing your online presence.
The question now is: how do you go about it? What themes and plugins should you use? Are there any musician-friendly tips you need to keep in mind?
Let’s look at some answers below.
Understand How WordPress Works
Note: This section is for complete beginners to WordPress. If you’ve already used WordPress before, feel free to skip to the next section.
WordPress essentially comes in two flavors:
- WordPress.com: This is WordPress’ self-hosted blogging tool, a la Blogger.com. You can create an account and WordPress will have a ready-to-use blog for you on a subdomain (such as yourblog.wordpress.com). You can pay extra to upgrade to your own domain, use custom themes, etc. This is quite like using a website builder.
- WordPress.org: This is WordPress’ CMS, i.e. content management system. You download the entire software as a zip file and upload it to your server. You can then use the software to run your blog, create a website, or even use it as an interactive app. Since the code is distributed a GNU Public license, you are free to modify it.
For our purpose, we’ll focus on the CMS, i.e. WordPress.org. This is what gives WordPress its power and freedom. Think of WordPress.com as just a company hosted version of the CMS.
31.9% of all websites use WordPress, giving it a whopping 59.4% of the CMS market (Source: W3Techs)
To use WordPress.org, you need three things:
- Web hosting: The WordPress CMS is self-hosted, i.e. you need a server to use it. You can use any cheap shared hosting you want. Use this guide to choose the right shared hosting for you.
- Domain: Since WordPress is self-hosted, you need a domain. This will be your website’s address. You can use any domain you want (preferably, your artist/band name), including the one you bought when you purchased web hosting.
- WordPress.org software: The final ingredient is the WordPress.org software itself, which you can download here. If your host has a cPanel (most modern hosts do), then you can even install WordPress directly from it without bothering to download the software.
Your next step should be to setup your webhost, add your domain, and install WordPress. This article has a step-by-step guide to setting up WordPress.
The next step is to customize WordPress and upload your content.
For musicians, the two biggest considerations for customizing WordPress are the theme and plugins. The former lets you change the look and feel of your site to match your creative vision. The latter build functional features into your site such as track uploads, ratings, email collection, and even payments.
I’ll look at essential WordPress themes and plugins in the section below.
Top WordPress Themes for Musicians
WordPress started out as a blogging platform. Thus, most WordPress themes still emphasize content.
As a musician, however, content is a secondary priority. Your top focus is to create a website that aligns with your creative vision. Showcasing visuals, videos, tracks, and sharing tour updates would be your first-priority.
So what should you look for in a WordPress theme for musicians? Here are some answers:
Visual-focused: The current trend in musician websites is to focus on visuals – the artist’s images, videos, etc. – instead of content or even audio. Pick a theme that includes a large hero image or video on the homepage.
For example, here is Kanye West’s website. It doesn’t even have any navigation; just a video.
Event listings: While not necessary (you can use plugins to do the same later), having an option to list ‘events’, i.e. tour dates, is a big plus.
For example, Taylor Swift’s website shows her latest tour dates right on the home page:
Easy video embeds: This is a big one – if you’re a musician, you’ll likely have videos, often on different platforms. The theme should allow you to easily embed videos from different platforms – YouTube, Vimeo, etc.
Social media-focused: The theme should place your social media profiles front and center. It should have easily accessible links to your main social profiles. Ideally, it should also allow you to embed social feeds into your blog/news page.
Diplo’s website shows his social presence clearly across several platforms.
There are some things you can skip, such as strong SEO, business friendly features (such as pricing tables), etc. As a musician, you’re not likely to get a ton of keyword-focused traffic, nor will you use many business features.
Keeping this in mind, let’s look at some of the top WordPress themes for musicians:
Although meant for writers, Sigurd’s full-width hero images and minimalist layout makes it a flexible choice for musicians and artists. The theme places your social media profiles in an easily accessible spot at the top of the page. You can also use the content showcase to share tour updates and news.
A creative-friendly WordPress theme that focuses on musicians and artists. One of its core demos, titled ‘Rock’, is designed specifically for musicians. You get a full-screen hero image, a list of tour dates, and a track listing all on the home page.
Another visual-focused theme, FWRD works great for showcasing your music. There are multiple built-in themes for different genres, such as a bold, colorful version for pop acts, and a minimalist, understated one for indie artists. Visuals take centerstage, though there is also a built-in tour page and a music showcase.
A colorful, busy homepage helps this stand out from the conventional WordPress music theme. The homepage lists a lot of information – tour dates, tracks, CDs, and even an embeddable Instagram feed. Although not as clean and sophisticated as the others, it’s a great choice for artists who have a lot to share.
Top WordPress Plugins for Musicians
Plugins are WordPress’ secret weapon. There are literally thousands of plugins in WordPress’ library (56,283 to be exact). From simple contact forms to complex e-commerce systems, these plugins can essentially make WordPress do virtually anything you can imagine.
Let’s look at some of the top plugins you should have as a musician:
An event management plugin is essential for any touring musician. You want your fans to know where and when you’ll be performing next.
GigPress is the plugin of choice for creating and managing show listings. You can organize shows by venue, dates, and even different tours. If you’re bringing in other artists, GigPress will help you manage multiple artist listings.
And best of all, it is entirely free.
2. SoundCloud Master and Spotify Master
If you’re like most musicians, you have your music on SoundCloud and Spotify.
But how exactly do you share your tracks on your website? The default embedded players are clunky and often break.
A must-have for any serious musician.
Spotify/SoundCloud playlists are nice, but what if you wanted to host music on your own site?
In that case, you might want to use Cue. Cue helps you create elegant playlists from your self-hosted audio files. The playlists are mobile-responsive and easy to customize. You can reorder tracks with simple drag-and-drop and embed the player virtually anywhere on your WordPress site.
Another must-have plugin that should be on every musician’s website.
4. Delightful Downloads
Sharing a file via WordPress is easy – just upload it to your media library and add a link to it on any page.
The trouble is, this method doesn’t help you track your downloads. You have no way to make downloads easy (via shortcodes), add password protection, or block bots from accessing your files.
Enter: DelightfulDownloads. This download manager makes it dead simple to offer files (such as an album) for download. You can create shortcodes, track downloads, protect files with passwords, and block people from downloading files multiple times.
A great tool for managing album/track downloads and tracking press kit shares.
Want a specific track to play on your album page? Or want to feature your latest single on your homepage?
FeaturedAudio is the plugin for the job. This plugin offers you a lightweight HTML5 media player to feature any audio track on any page. You can pick any file from the WordPress media library and have it play on a page. It works in nearly every browser and supports several file types.
In this guide, I showed you how (and why) you should use WordPress to promote your music. Besides the low cost, WordPress is extremely customizable and gives you complete control over your audience experience. With the themes and plugins I shared above, you can get started in no time.
Your next steps should be to chart a robust music marketing plan. Promote your music through social media as well as blog submissions. Get fans from social media to come to your site. Try to capture their interest by collecting email addresses. Building a list of engaged fans can do wonders for your music career.