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Guest ChoralTech: A DIY Website Crash Course

 
Have you wondered about having a website for your group? Not sure where to begin? Decided "it ain't for me?" Today is the first of a series from guest ChoralTech blogger Seth Garrepy on how to build your own choral website.

“Your choir needs a website.” 
 
Does this statement immediately cause gnawing anxiety in you?  That feeling in your gut is telling you that there may be some truth to my statement.  Immediately, your anxiety is followed closely by fear: “But I’m barely good enough with a keyboard and mouse; how am I going to get a website?  We don’t have the money to pay a professional!”  Just as the angel said to the shepherds on Christmas, “Fear not!”  It is true that by ignoring the Internet, you are failing to tap an ever-increasing audience. Nevertheless, getting a website does not have to be imposing, overly expensive, or even mind-wrenchingly difficult.  In this three-part series, I will help you take the bite out of creating a professional-looking website for your choir or performance organization.  In this article, I want to give an overview of why and how a good website will benefit you as an organization. 
 
What good is a website for any performing ensemble? 
 
Like it or not, more of our world is becoming electronic.  Consequently, an increasing segment of our audiences are also turning to electronic resources, such as the Internet, to discover the arts around where they live.  The days of reading a physical newspaper seem to be numbered, although I suspect that they will never entirely go away but simply wane in popularity.  Many used to turn to the “Arts & Entertainment” section in their local newspaper to find out what concerts were being held in their area.  Today, potential concertgoers are surfing to NYTimes.com, MeetUp.com, or any other thousands of arts-related websites to find out where and when events are happening.  The newspaper essentially used to serve a marketing role for symphonies, choirs, and operas by publishing lists of concerts and writing reviews on those concerts.  Therefore, your website should fill that same marketing role for your group.  It should entice the viewer to come out to your venue and donate or pay to fill a chair because they are embracing your artistry.  Since the Internet’s readership is easily bigger than the newspapers’ readership, it makes sense to capture the largest segment’s attention by using a website.
 
It is getting harder to survive as the director of an ensemble.  We hear monthly about another performing organization, such as the English National Opera, that is going broke and is facing dissolution.  You may be or may have been the director of a failing or failed organization.  Over the past several decades subscribership and concert attendance has dropped off, which consequently affects what kind of venues and performing forces we can hire.  A website cannot presume to fix all of these ailments, but it can help get the word out that you are in the area and are creating a quality artistic performance.  The more seats we fill with audience members the better.  I am sure that most of you would stand out on the street in a period-accurate suit of Mozart and wave people into the auditorium if you had to in order to attract concertgoers!  Trust me, a website’s probably a better way to market your group.  Also, a website isn’t necessarily the only way to market your group, but it this bit of digital real estate can be invaluable, especially when you want to spread the “official” word about some news with your ensemble.  Why leave it up to the grapevine when you can be the source of that news?
 
So we’ve talked about why to get a website and how it could impact you practically, but the next burning question on everyone’s mind is guaranteed to be:
 
“Is it hard to make a website?” 
 
My answer: “It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.”  Some characteristics I would recommend you embrace during this process would include patience, perseverance, and curiosity (something I call “PPC”); it helps to have a good tech-minded friend to resource, as well.  These three traits­––patience, perseverance, and curiosity–– are what most successful students embody.  Even if you are not familiar with all the ins and outs of web design, you needn’t be intimidated.  Imagine that you are put back in the role of a student… the material is new, and you may run into challenges, but with a little PPC you can power through them and complete your task!  With that being said, no prior website design experience is necessary to create a functional and aesthetically pleasing website.  If you have prior website making experience, wonderful!  You may approach these articles as a way to update your skills with some new tools.  The ideas and resources I will present in the next two articles are geared toward the first-time builder, so only a basic level of functional knowledge is assumed.  Translation: if you can use a mouse and keyboard, surf around the Internet, check your email confidently, and maybe even be a fly on the wall of the ChoralNet forums, then you are a prime candidate to benefit from this series.
 
Next week’s article will be, “Buy this, get a website.”  It grapples with the blank page, the dreaded first paragraph… in other words, how and where to start your website!  We’ll cover what you will need, how much it will cost, and what web building tools you can use to create your new digital abode.  Interested?  Check back next week for the next installment on how you can better market your choir with a new website!