BACKGROUND: With over 22,000 individual clients, Bandzoogle has become the go-to service for musicians needing a presence on the Web. For a monthly fee, artists can design snazzy sites with little or no coding knowledge and even integrate with other services like Bandcamp. As CEO, David Dufresne is always seeking new ways to add functionality.
A Site is Born
My partner, Chris Vinson, is our CTO. He used to play bass in a grunge band in Montreal. They got signed by Aquarius Records here in Canada. They did an album, they toured. After a couple years, the band broke up and Aquarius hired Chris as a webmaster for their roster and a bunch of sub-labels. He was handling websites for dozens of artists, so he built a console that managers could use to update their artists’ websites. People started asking if they could use the console for other projects and that’s how he got the idea to launch Bandzoogle.
A Meeting of Minds
I’ve always been a music geek. I’m one of the only members of our team who’s not a musician, but I had a radio show in college and, when I moved to Montreal, I deejayed in a few bars and clubs. Then, I went into venture capital. I had a good seat to see how the Internet was disrupting the industry. I was getting ready to launch my own technology start-up in the music space when I met Chris.
We’re about 20 employees. We’re one of those companies that doesn’t have an office. Officially, we’re based in Montreal. Four of us are based here, but everyone works from home. We have staff in Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia. We have two people in California, one in Massachusetts, one in Vermont, we have one in Spain and one in the U.K. We’re one company, but we’re all over. About 80% of our customers are based in the U.S., with about 10% in Canada and 10% in U.K. and Australia. We have some customers in Indonesia, Poland and France.
Just For You
There are tons of website building platforms, but very few are focused on musicians. We’ve worked with thousands of artists, so all the features a musician needs we have built-in. You don’t need to fool around with plug-ins and widgets. We have music players, a blogging platform, photo galleries, band calendars and tons of other stuff specifically for musicians.
The Choice Is Yours
We have a mailing list management tool. You can send either newsletters or geo-targeted email blasts. We also have a lot of commerce options specifically for musicians. If you want to sell digital music, you can do that directly from your website. You can set the price of your tracks or your album. You can give them away for free with an email sign-up or you can let [your fans] set their own price. You can also sell CDs, vinyl, merch and combine digital with physical. You can do all of that directly. And we don’t take a cut of your sales, so all of that money is going directly to you. Our plans are $10, $15 and $20 a month; there are no extra costs whatsoever.
Keeping the Artist In Control
The most important thing is that the artist has control. There are too many artists who allowed some developer or programmer to build their website years ago and now can’t change it, because they can’t reach that person or it costs money or they’ve given their label control. You own all of your content and your address. The underlying themes are proprietary, so you can’t copy and paste your website anywhere, but all your content belongs to you.
User Feedback and Adaptability
Our development roadmap is 100% based on customer requests. Each time we have a request, we log it. We have some requests that don’t really make sense, but when we see something that maybe a dozen members have requested in the last couple months we add it to our roadmap. Recently, we added things like Instagram integration. You can always paste in any widget. If you want to paste in a calendar from an external provider or a Soundcloud player, that’s easy to do.
A lot of our users also use Bandcamp, so instead of re-uploading their tracks they can just connect to their Bandcamp account and set up a player on the band’s website.
A Solid Proposition
If you compare us to other music-focused website building platforms, we’re just better. We have more themes, our technology is more modern, we have more features. In many cases, we’re more affordable. We have online support seven days a week. And we’ve been around for 10 years. We’re very stable as a company, but at the same time we’re independent. We’re not backed by big venture capitalists. We’re only two shareholders, so our business model isn’t going to change. We’re a platform you can trust won’t go away any time soon.
A lot of traffic on artists’ websites comes from either tablets or smartphones, so we’ve made sure if someone visits your website from their iPhone or Android that it adapts perfectly. The design responds to the screen size, the menus adapt and everything works.
The Fan Relationship
When you sell through iTunes, you have no idea who bought your album, T-shirt or CD. When they buy directly from your website, you give them the opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. That artist-to-fan connection is extremely important. That’s how you’re able to remain relevant, by sending them remixes or acoustic videos. You can’t do that through iTunes or Spotify. You can only do that through your website and mailing list.
You have access to all your traffic. You can’t see who came to your website, but [you can] see which city they’re from. You can also see which websites send you traffic. You can see which tracks got played and which got played in full. For your mailing lists, you can see how many people opened your email, which links they clicked. It’s very important to understand your audience and traffic. It’s a mix of our own technology and Google analytics, so you can dig deep and see what pages they visit, what user flow happens. If you know what you’re doing, it’s a powerful tool.
A Great Website
Have amazing content, but also update often. You have to give reasons for people to come back. In terms of design, keep it simple. I like a website that has clear navigation, that fits with the band’s brand in terms of images, fonts and colors. Each page should have one role to play. Too many musicians don’t even have music on their website. That’s extremely important. Bandzoogle is very affordable, so reinvest that money into getting a professional photographer and maybe a professional copywriter. That’s going to make or break your website.
Helping Artist Independence
Our job is to build cool shit for musicians. We got an email last week from a guy who composes music for modern dance and yoga, saying he was going to leave his day job because now he makes enough as a composer to completely focus on it. That’s amazing to see these stories. It’s very fulfilling.
By Andy Kaufmann