Some advice for artists with websites

In my last post I quoted some Doors lyrics. Uncharacteristically, I did not do any linking.

I didn’t link to The Doors’ site because it’s full of Flash and other crap that is not only at stylistic variance from the spare and artful nature of The Doors’ work, but likely to either annoy you or crash something. (My Linux box can’t see or hear the Flash stuff, my Windows box wants to download all kinds of stuff and then fails with it anyway, and my Mac just flat-out crashes on it. I don’t recall any other site recently that actually brings down a computer. But that’s what The Doors site did in this case.)

I didn’t link to any lyrics pages because all of them, far as I can tell, bury what the reader wants — just the lyrics, please — inside walls of advertising. Go do a phrase/keyword search for “When the music’s over” and “doors”, on Google. Click on the top results and you’ll find that every one has a pop-up window, plus lots of other advertising jive. Of course, you can block those in your browser; but still, pop-up windows suck. They break the Web’s social contract, which says (among other things) that the publisher should not abuse the reader’s intentions. Nobody goes to a page saying “I want a pop-up window”.

These lyrics pages exist for a good (though bad) reason: most artists don’t publish their own lyrics. People want to see lyrics, however, so the advertising baiters publish the lyrics anyway. Copyright be damned.

So my advice to artists such as The Doors is to publish their own lyrics, in ways that respect the music and their own artistry — as well as the readers’ good will and good intentions.

And while they’re at it, quit making the sites so damn fancy and complicated. Quit burying text inside graphics (where the type can’t scale up and down). Make the pages into blogs that are live and written, rather than static and built. It’s cheaper, too.

I say this, by the way, as a fan of the Doors since the band was new. At one time or another I’ve bought every album, both in vinyl and CD form. I’d love it if the band (or whoever constitutes them now) would just give us a nice simple site that’s easy on readers and their browsers.

15 comments

  1. Adam Fields’s avatar

    Coincidentally, boingboing featured a post today with a checklist of things not to do if you want to be blogged.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2008/03/12/howto-be-blogged.html

  2. The Dirty World of Song Lyrics Sites’s avatar

    [...] you’ve ever googled song lyrics, then you know what Doc Searls is talking about: Click on the top results and you’ll find that every one has a pop-up window, plus lots of other [...]

  3. johnny0’s avatar

    That’s why I always use the Google cached link instead of the live one…

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:livhhEBOqk0J:www.lyricsfreak.com/r/rolling%2Bstones/gimme%2Bshelter_20117862.html+lyrics+rolling+stones+gimme+shelter&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

    Better yet, you can get Google to only display text by adding

    &strip=1

    to the end of that URL:

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:livhhEBOqk0J:www.lyricsfreak.com/r/rolling%2Bstones/gimme%2Bshelter_20117862.html+lyrics+rolling+stones+gimme+shelter&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&strip=1

    No pop-ups, no banner ads, all is good in the world.

    Better yet if musicians XML’d their lyrics (imagine time codes, chorus, etc…) and if iTunes could grab them like it does album art…

  4. Don Marti’s avatar

    Simple answer…watch what Jonathan Coulton does and do that.

  5. Jeff M.’s avatar

    I get the point on posting/finding lyrics through a maze of advertising. I have to admit though, I’m a little dismayed about your “full of Flash and other crap” comment. Flash is becoming ubiquitous across well designed sites because of its ability to do more than show static text and images. To many, the idea of the “live web” isn’t just about daily “written” sites – it’s about exploring the limitless design possibilities of new technologies to deliver a deeper user experience. If I want to read someone’s opinion of The Doors I’ll visit a fan blog. But if I want to “experience” The Doors on the web I’ll go to their site and hope they’ve used all the tools at hand (as I’d like to think Jim would have) to communicate visually, aurally, and via the written word.

  6. Doug’s avatar

    Doc, I would love to hear your opinion of the tactics that Media Defender uses to “combat piracy”.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Doug, if what I read here is true, Media Defender is at the very least a creepy company. But, without knowing more, I’d rather not forward an opinion. I’ll look into it, though.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Jeff, I’m not sure Jim Morrison would have used Flash. In their day The Doors were a band that was very inventive with rather spare technology.

    My main problem to Flash is the same as my main problem with .pdfs. It’s one company’s proprietary system. Yes, it’s open in many ways, but not fundamentally, and that’s where it’s at variance from the spirit of the Net and the Web.

    My other problem is the one I detailed in the post: too many implementations flat-out suck. The Doors’ is an outstanding example: it fails on all three platforms I run here. Maybe it works for you, but not for me. Forgive me for finding that sucky.

    If I want to “experience” The Doors on their site, I’d rather opt into it than opt out. Especially when opting out consists of crashing my machine.

  9. Doug’s avatar

    Thanks Doc,

    The gist of what they do (and they admit) is they work with labels to distribute half songs, noise, looping video to p2p/bittorrent sites. Essentially to dilute those sharing services. On their side they think they are providing a service to the labels and music industry as a whole. However they are just adding more noise to the already noisey landscape. It has become so easy for someone to post music online, it has become harder and harder to find the right “signals” that we individually enjoy.

    This myopic view of the industry is why they are hemorging money in my opinion. Take for example the experience we all get to this day (probably for the last 8 years) of clicking on a music file. A white screen with a quicktime (or other) player. Now there is the solution. Great article here – http://fistfulayen.com/blog/?p=127

  10. Internet: Algunos consejos para web de un artista - ALT1040’s avatar

    [...] Some advice for artists with websites ← Anterior | Inicio Comparte esta anotación [...]

  11. CAF Consejos: Para sitios web de artistas | XKOD’s avatar

    [...] En CreActivity Focus desarrollamos sitios web: para empresas, medios de comunicación, profesionales o personas particulares. Ayer conversando con nuestro equipo de usabilidad, comentábamos sobre algunos problemas típicos, en sitios web de artistas: [...]

  12. Ben James’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    The Doors’ website is what I expect from a website probably produced with no input from the band and designed to sell the band’s “coolness” to the MySpace generation with a gritty, visually engaging experience.

    What annoys me most is that (in Firefox on Vista) the flash seemingly captures my mouse’s scroll wheel but does nothing with the input – leaving me unable to scroll with my mouse.

    I was of course horrified at first to see all that text-as-image, but a look at the markup reveals that the content is actually available in the HTML so people with screen readers or text-only browsers can still read it.

    But on closer inspection I noticed that one of the paragraphs of text is completely different from the image version it is supposed to represent. That says to me that the producers of the site are merely box-ticking for accessibility and not properly testing, nor really caring. These people are only interested in finding the balance between outlay on development costs and fraction of the target audience reached, not art.

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Right on all counts, I’m sure. Seems to me the band hired a “design” firm to make its onlne music for it. Sad.

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