Strategies: creating a website for your art, music or writing (part 1)

1. Start with a website

OK, here’s the easy-to-follow three-point guide:

  1. If you are a competent web developer then create your own site.
  2. If you have a friend who is a competent web developer then ask them to set you up free blog software (e.g. WordPress) on a web-host with your own domain name in return for a few free beers. Don’t ask them to set you up a non-blog site because otherwise you’ll have to keep harassing them to update it – a blog allows you to take control and regularly update your site without needing to be a web developer.
  3. If you don’t know any web developers who can help you, then sign up for a blog hosted on a free blogging service (e.g. Blogger or WordPress – personally I recommend WordPress).

The Artist’s Web Wiki gives a good overview of what content to create, but I think it makes a strategic error when it says “Resist the temptation to display every piece you’ve ever created. Show off your best!”. I think this is totally wrong – it’s viewing the web in the same way as the limited space on a gallery wall (which it certainly is not).

Only displaying a small selection of work presumes a scarcity of space – and space on the web is anything but scarce (digital storage and bandwidth are abundant and their cost is increasingly tending towards zero). The only scarcity is people’s attention.

I would suggest putting every single piece of artwork/music/writing you have on your website – every finished piece, work-in-progress and preliminary sketch/demo/note. This strategy is based on the economic model explained by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail:

The theory of the Long Tail can be boiled down to this: Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.

With the unlimited space available on the web, you don’t need to restrict yourself to a small edited selection of pieces which (you desperately hope) will accurately capture the entire range of your creative œuvre. You can put your entire œuvre on your website and let Google et al. bring in the niche customers who are interested in what—to you—is a half-forgotten piece of work, but to the searcher is the very thing they want to see – and, perhaps, to buy.

The important thing with this strategy, however, is to make sure that it’s all organised in an easily-findable way. Again, Anderson sums this up succinctly in his book:

  1. Make everything available.
  2. Help me find it.

When you move from displaying a carefully curated/edited selection to making available the entirety of your life’s work (so far) then you need to think about navigation, taxonomies, hierarchies, folksonomies, inter-linking, cross-references, personalisation, search, multiple-categorisation…

2. Set up outposts on Social Networking websites

Setting up shop on a variety of social networking sites enables you to take your work out to your potential audience.

MySpace, Facebook, DeviantArt (for visual artists, writers and film-makers), YouTube (for film-makers), Flickr (for photographers and visual artists)… I won’t list them all here because Mashable has a list of 350+ social networking sites with details of their niches and specialities.

You can’t just create an account and leave it, though—the very nature of social networking sites means that they work best if you work at them—you need to network with the communities that use them.

And by that I don’t mean send out thousands of spam “friend” requests – you need to actively engage with the community in the manner that the network in question encourages and respects.

This is a community you’re trying to be part of, not a crowd of passing anonymous shoppers to blindly hand-out flyers to.

3. Set up your communications

This means an email newsletter of some sort, an RSS feed (if you’ve gone for a blog then this will come as part of the blogging software), and an easy way for people to contact you (anything from your email address or a contact form to a discussion forum or the comments section under a blog post – the more ways the better).

In part two of this article I’ll be looking at how to use your website to help your art.