Archive for PR Tips

Getting Started with WordPress – Updating your own site

Find out about Maestra's New WordPress Starter Kit!Congratulations, this is your hour! Your WordPress site is up and running and you are ready to  edit your text and visuals and to populate new pages with your content!

When I say “hour”, I am talking about the HOUR you should take to read this, watch a few videos, and familiarize yourself with your WordPress Dashboard and Posts/Pages editing window. This is key to your success, and, trust me, it will save you MANY hours in the long run if you slow down and learn the basics first.

So, let’s get started.

Wordpress Login1. Logging in to your WordPress Dashboard

You should have a WordPress login address, username and password. If you don’t, ask whoever set up your site to send it to you.

The first thing you see upon logging in is either your homepage (with a grey WordPress bar at the top) or your WordPress Dashboard. You want the Dashboard, so if you see the homepage, click the title of your site at the TOP LEFT of the grey bar.

2. Adding a Page and editing the text

Once you’re into your Dashboard, look at the left-side menu. “Posts” refers to dated blog postings, which are traditionally listed on a blog page with the most recent at the top. Blog posts include current, more dynamic content, like current news, reviews or events. Static “Pages” on the other hand, include information that stays pretty much the same over time, like your Biography, Repertoire List or Contact information.

To edit your static “Pages” click Pages > All Pages, and select the title of the Page you want to edit. Or click Pages > Add New to create a new page for your site.

Here’s a helpful 5 minute video to get you started:

3. Cautionary Words about adding Text and Images in WordPress

Firstly, before you copy text into the WordPress edit window, it’s a good idea to copy it into a non-formatted text editor like Notepad or save it as a txt file before you copy the text. That will strip it of formatting code from whatever program you used to write it. You want your formatting (fonts, text sizes, margins etc) to come from the stylesheets (CSS) in your WordPress design, which will keep everything looking consistent.

Secondly, remember to “Save Draft” your Pages and Posts and Preview them to see what the formatting will look like before you Publish. The edit window only gives you basic default viewing options (usually showing everything in Times New Roman), it does not show you exactly what your text will look like once it’s viewed with the site’s stylesheets in effect.

Edit windowThirdly, once you have copied your text into the window, you may want to use Headings. I highly recommend breaking longer text into sections and titling the sections to make your content more scan-able and digestible. You can use the Heading settings that are already available in your site by Highlighting the text, clicking the Kitchen Sink button in your edit window, and then click Format and a dropdown of options will appear:

4. Changing or adding images to a page or post

The video above shows you how easy it is to add images and place them within your text. One of the great things about WordPress is that it resizes image files for you, so when you select the 300-pixel-wide option (usually a good choice, as it allows room for text to flow beside the image), the image to be downloaded is actually only this big. Ergo, your page loads faster! Yay!

But wait, there is cause for pause. By default, WordPress also makes your inline image link to the original image file you uploaded. If your original image is gigantic, it will be an annoying download for people who unsuspectingly click on the image. If your original is the basically the same size as the inline image, well then there’s no point opening a new one by clicking on it, is there?

My suggestion is to remove links from your images unless they are useful (ie: they open a reasonably sized original image that people might like to see). Here’s a wee silent movie to illustrate how to remove links from images:

There’s a lot more to explore with WordPress – photo galleries, links, plugins, widgets – and I’ll cover everything over the next few posts. If you want to learn more in the meantime, check out this helpful playlist of Bluehost WordPress tutorials on YouTube.

Let me know in a comment below if there are other topics you’d like me to cover!

So you want to edit your own website? What you should know…

In the past couple of years I have expanded into offering sites run on both WordPress and LightCMS – both platforms which allow you, the client, to edit your own website materials online by logging into a dashboard and navigating to the appropriate content area. I wanted to clarify the difference between the various options to help prospective clients decide what type of system they want.

All of these involve a considerable learning curve, particularly for the tech-challenged. If you have trouble attaching things to your emails, or syncing to your MP3 player, then editing your own website is not for you. Better to save yourself the time and frustration and pay a professional to do it by the hour – honestly, it usually takes me an hour or two, a couple of times a year, and the results are more professional looking than what most people can do for themselves. You need to ask yourself – Is saving $100 a year really worth pulling your hair out for hours front of a computer monitor?

Now, disclaimer aside, here are the options I offer for those who want to edit their own site:

1. Dreamweaver HTML site

Dreamweaver screenshotI use Adobe Dreamweaver to set up most of my non-blog sites – it is incredibly feature-rich web design software, but it has so many bells and whistles that it would be overwhelming, not to mention expensive at $400+, for most users who just want to edit the text on their site and change out a few photos. So, once the site is up and running, I recommend updating a Dreamweaver site using a simpler WSIWYG (what you see is what you get) html editor. There are a few free programs out there: Kompozer, Pagebreeze, Coffee Cup to name a few – but you do have to be careful as these will allow you to edit Dreamweaver-created template areas, which can mess up the layout of your pages. If you’re willing to spend a few bucks to prevent that from happening, you can invest in a $200 program from Adobe (Contribute CS5) which recognizes Dreamweaver templates and locks the areas outside the content area so you can’t edit them and change the overall layout of the pages.

PROS: Dreamweaver sites are a bit more flexible in terms of design – it’s easier to have different banner images (created in Photoshop), or different background images on each page of the site, or to use a completely different layout on different pages. You are not as limited to the grid layout that is generally used in WordPress and LightCMS. But, to be honest, most sites work just fine with a grid layout, it keeps things neat and intuitive to navigate, and it’s what most users expect. You might think  you want something different and unique that blows the rules away, but your site has to be navigable and a somewhat predictable layout often makes things easier to find.  The setup is faster than with an online CMS, so the initial cost is less, for the same kind of look and number of pages.

CONS: Updating a Dreamweaver site using an html editor can be tricky – you have to be aware of your file hierarchy and remember to post the files and images you’ve linked to into the proper folders with the proper names, or your links will break. You also have to make sure to save a copy of your original html files before editing, in case you make a mistake and need to start over, or post the old version.  Dreamweaver sites are more finicky to add pages and change menus then the online content options, because it requires uploading every page of your site to reflect a changed template.

SUM IT UP: If you think your site will be growing soon, or a blog or purchase area will be added, you should likely consider one of the other options (below) that will make these features easier to incorporate. If you really want to update your own site but are are a little tech-challenged, then you should also look at WordPress and Light CMS. But on the whole, most solo artists are happy with a Dreamweaver site, and either have me update it or take the time to learn how to update themselves.

2. WordPress

Wordpress DashboardWordPress is an open source (ie: free) blogging platform, and it has evolved into a very effective CMS (Content Management System) – you can edit both static “Pages” and blog “Posts” online by logging into the WordPress Dashboard.

PROS:  You can edit your site content online from any computer – no need for special software on your computer. You can also rearrange, re-name and add pages to menus, and have them change magically on every page of your site. In addition to editing text, the WordPress edit window allows you to insert images and links to other files by uploading them from your computer, and provides the appropriate link so you don’t have to worry about uploading all your related pages, files and images the way you do with an html editor. WordPress is great for people or organizations who frequently have lots of news and wisdom to share – it can all be posted in a News or Blog area, and stay archived and categorized so it’s still accessible and search-able over time. All those blog posts also open up a world of search terms for people to find your site – which is why blogging has become so popular of late as way to increase site traffic.

Another big plus is the wealth of free or inexpensive “Plugins” (scripts and programs) that can easily be added to your WordPress site – from Search windows, to Lightbox slideshows,  to Flash audio players, to comment spam blockers, to contact forms, to subscribe windows and social network widgets… well you name it, somebody has probably already written a script for it. This can open up the possibilities for features on your website and make them much less expensive to implement than if you were trying to install them individually into a Dreamweaver framework.

CONS: If you have a slow or unreliable Internet connection or a slow computer, WordPress can be incredibly frustrating. If you lose your connection mid-Post, you can lose your changes. Inserting images takes some practice, and can look unprofessional if you try to insert too many for the amount of text you are adding, or if you use a size that pushes your text into a small area beside the image. Working with tables, like those often used for Resumes and Schedules, is a real pain with WordPress as those tools are not provided in the WordPress edit window – they have to be coded in html. It’s usually safer to create vertical lists rather than trying to create columns of data. Setting up the WordPress framework for a site takes a bit more time at the outset, so I do charge a premium for that. I generally use iThemes to design WordPress sites, as it’s very flexible and customizable, allowing a good range of layout options within the basic grid framework.

SUM IT UP: If you do intend to update your own site frequently, and/or post news/blog on a regular basis, that initial extra outlay for a WordPress site will pay for itself over a short time. If you know you want a blog, you’re going to have to pay the WordPress set up premium anyway, so you might as well run the whole site on WordPress and at least leave the option open to do your own updating.

I recommend a personal tutorial to get started, and maybe a brush up once you get going to fine tune your skills. WordPress also has a wealth of online tutorials and videos to get you started: a good place to start is WordPress’s support articles on Writing Posts and Editing Pages. I also found this helpful blog post which includes short video intros about the WordPress Dashboard and creating pages and posts. I suggest you set up a temporary blog at www.Wordpress.com so you can test drive the blogging software and dashboard for yourself before you pay me to set up a customized, domain-linked, self-hosted version for you.

 3. LightCMS

Light CMS ScreenshotLightCMS is another web based Content Management System, but it is not free. In exchange for a hosting/user fee of $19/month (for 10 pages), $29/month  (for 25 pages), or $49/mo (for 50 pages),  you get an even more user-friendly content management system that literally allows you to surf the site while logged in and click the areas you want to edit. There is a good variety of templates to choose from (you can browse them at designs.lightcms.com), which I can customize with your colours, fonts, background and banner image. Or a brand new Dreamweaver-created template can be uploaded with content areas ready to be filled. There are several videos about LightCMS & its features here.

PROS: LightCMS is very intuitive to use, and has some features that make it very enticing, especially for smaller sites. There is a fully integrated online store which makes it easy to add items, descriptions, prices with shipping and taxes, and link it all up to whatever online payment gateway you choose (PayPal, Google checkout, Payflow and/or Stripe). Once all the sales items are created it should be relatively easy for you to change and add to them. There are various other features (forms, photo gallery,  blog, calendar, search function etc) included that make inserting things like a slideshow and simple blog a snap, and like WordPress, adding a new page and menu item is quick and easy to apply to the whole site. There is a good variety of available templates, so if you are planning on a store, adapting an existing theme that has store views built in would be the easiest and cheapest way to go. LightCMS has a very extensive support  guide, a support forum as well as strong customer service team that I have found very helpful, responding to requests within 24 hours. For those who are less tech savvy but still want to update “in house” at regular intervals, LightCMS is good way to go.

CONS:  As with WordPress, updating online using the system depends on your having a relatively fast and reliable internet connection. Installing additional scripts (like the WordPress plugins) that are not pre-installed with the system is labour intensive, so if you anticipate needing features that LightCMS doesn’t already provide, consider looking at WordPress. The blog feature, for example, does not have the categorizing and menu features that WordPress does, so if blogging is a priority, WordPress would be a better choice. The cost, of course, is another con – compared with standard WordPress or Dreamweaver site hosting at around $6/mo, a plan that starts at $19/mo might be more than you want to spend. I add a premium to set up a custom site on LightCMS, but the cost is less if we modify an existing theme.

SUM IT UP: For a relatively small (10 page) site, especially with an integrated store, you can’t do much better than LightCMS when you consider the cost of setting up such a thing from scratch elsewhere.

 

When making your decision about how you plan to run and update your site:

  1. Consider:
    • how you plan to use the site (blog? update frequently?)
    • your technical prowess
    • your budget (both for the set up and monthly hosting fees)
    • how much time you have to spend updating
  2. Remember: Whether you are a professional company, ensemble or individual, both learning the process and actually updating take time. If you are paying someone “in house” to do it, you will still have to pay them those hours – and if it’s not their area of expertise it could take them a whole lot longer than you think. Consider your skill set (or that of your staff).
  3. If you ARE technically inclined and want to be able to adjust and fine tune your site whenever the mood strikes, fear not! There is lots of online support to get you started, especially with online platforms like WordPress and LightCMS. The HTML editors, while (some of them are) free, involve significantly more of a learning curve and potential for mishap, and less support. It may be worth the initial investment for a WordPress/CMS set up to avoid the hours you could spend messing around with a free HTML editing program.

There you have it. Not brief, I’m afraid, but hopefully informative. Please comment below if you have any questions, or other topics you would like discussed! Next up in January, a WordPress Introductory Primer for getting started updating your new WordPress site.

7 Helpful Tips: Editing your Written Materials for Web

My blog posts will be answering many of the questions I get, and the helpful hints I’ve gathered from nearly 15 years promoting artists and arts organizations as a web designer.

Artists are an interesting paradox (and I’m allowed to say this as both my husband and I are performing artists!) – we are creative and sometimes driven individuals, but we often lack the objective perspective to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to putting together a promotional package, press kit and website.

Here are my top 7 pointers for honing your promotional materials, particularly for websites:

1) Keep it concise – Quality over Quantity

Quality over QuantityIn general, it’s best to keep the most important (ie: impressive) information at the top, so people only have to read the first paragraph to know just how fabulous you are, and entice them to find out more. Try to keep your online bio and list of reviews to under a page (you can always have a downloadable long version if people want more).

Cutting hurts, but if you don’t do it, your best accomplishments will be lost in the torrent of excess verbiage. Figure out exactly how you can highlight the best of your work in 200 words or less. If you can’t do it, hire someone (again the name Liz Parker leaps to mind) to do it for you!

2) Keep it current

Update your bio!!Nix gigs from 10 years ago or more from your bio, unless a) they are very high profile (ie: The Met or Carnegie Hall), or b) you don’t have more recent work to highlight. If b’s the case, keep the gigs, but downplay the dates. If you are lucky enough to have a full schedule, then limit past performances to 5 years and major highlights.

3) Keep your visitors on your site

Nix the no-content landing page (ie: the extra wall between your fans and your content) and keep links out of your site to a minimum. When you link, always link to a new page (so your site stays open), or when possible embed external content into your pages.

Don’t leave pages blank or “Coming soon” – if your content isn’t ready for launch, do not include that page – add it later. Navigating to a blank page just annoys people browsing your site.

And, while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about FLASH. You know, the fancy animated stuff that takes forever to load, won’t display on certain devices, and will mostly annoy your public. Flash has it’s place (it’s handy for streaming audio/video for example), but if it distracts from your content or gets in the way, I say get rid of it. People are not browsing musicians’ websites to see their web designer’s proficiency with FLASH – get to the content, people!! I know at least one “Flashy” singer site that shows a completely blank page when I browse to it with my iPhone… need I say more? (OK, rant completed).

4) Organize and cull

“Why include 25 reviews if they water down the impact of the 5 amazing ones?”

I recommend cutting reviews down to the 10 very best and/or highest profile media for the press page – again you can have a separate archive if you really want to. Again – Quality trumps quantity – why include 25 reviews if they water down the impact of the 5 amazing ones?

In fact, an even better idea – take 5 – 10 words out of certain reviews and highlight those in large text boxes within the text body, as they do in Newspapers (see example at right), or perhaps highlight them in the banner of your site.

5) Nix the resume

No resumeOnline resumes are not really necessary for established artists. A list of your current season’s schedule and a link to a few past seasons is sufficient to establish your stature as a professional. A well organized Repertoire List, sorted by composer, combined perhaps with a list of the organizations or ensembles you have performed with, covers the bases for establishing your performing experience. If you have an extensive list of performance collaborations, consider cutting out some of the lower profile ones. You can always use words like “selected” and “including” to make sure people know it’s a shortlist.

6) Make it scanable: bold or headings for key information

Assume your public won’t read extensive text. Web browsers generally want “in a nutshell” – so give them your very best, and make it easy to scan with clear headers that sort information into digestable chunks. Allow them to click for more if they’re interested.

Use the “teaser” – for a full review or profile, take the very best 5 – 10 words, then a link to “Read full article”. And, in the full review, bold the best phrases so they stand out and can be scanned easily. I often do this for my clients – but if you want to have more control of the process (and I bet you do!) it’s best to do it before you send them to your designer.

No scanned newspapers!

Really, click on this and try to read it. It hurts my eyes!

NB: In my opinion there is no real benefit to posting a scanned paper copy of a newspaper article – they are hard to read, difficult to navigate, often unwieldy to download, and can’t be edited to bold certain phrases. Oh AND, search engines can’t read them to find any phrases or words that might lead people to your site! If anything, you are discouraging your public from reading it by posting this way.

You can usually copy the text body directly from the newspaper’s website – use that, edit out the relevant text (with some kind of a “… [disclaimer]“), add the newspaper’s logo, the reviewer’s name and the date at the top, and PDF it so it looks pretty. Or, better yet, ask the paper or magazine if you can have a PDF version of the pages you want.

7) Sound clips

Only post your very best, even if it’s just a couple of clips.  Less is more! If you have an extensive discography, chances are there are MP3 samples on iTunes or other websites selling your recordings, so you do not need to sample every track you’ve ever recorded. If your playing or singing has improved, make the effort to post something recent. Including 3 – 5 contrasting tracks is enough for most musician sites.

The GIST:

Remember: 1) Less is more, 2) Quality over quantity and 3) People don’t read.

If you have any comments or suggestions of other topics you’d like discussed here, please reply below! I’d love to hear from you (if only to know someone out there is reading this!)

- Mary (the Maestra)

People Hear with their eyes – Planning Photos for your Website and Promo Materials

The internet is primarily a visual medium, which means the first impression people will get when they visit your site is what they SEE. Your clips sound great, I’m sure, but people LOOK first. Like it or not, they will intuitively judge your professional status based on your photos and the professional look of your website.

Planning photos for performers’ websites:

1. PAY

Beverley Johnston

Beverley Johnston looking gorgeous and polished, with the help of Ivy Lam, hair and makeup, Bo Huang, photographer, and Liz Parker (LIZPR) photo shoot stylist.

Much as it pains you, INVEST in photos, and better yet, invest in a stylist as well to give you candid advice on what to wear, where to be, how to stand and sit for your shoot. And, spend a few more bucks for a pro to do your hair and makeup, just this once. It doesn’t have to look fake, just polished and bring out your natural good looks.

2. PREPARE & RESEARCH

Be prepared with an idea of the type and style of photos you want, the colour scheme you’d like to see on your site, and what sort of backdrop might help forward those ideas.  Do your research, figure out what you like and why. Show your photographer, your stylist and your web designer other photos and websites that you like, and try to explain why. If you have a specific image you want to portray – be it fun and funky, serious and professional, modern and sophisticated, natural and youthful – plan your photos in a setting that compliments those ideas.

3. ASK FOR ADVICE

Even if you don’t get a stylist, get a friend who KNOWS and will be honest to tell you which clothes look best and show your “assets” to the best advantage. Bring someone along to your shoot (ask your photographer first) as a third (or rather, fifth and sixth) eye to straighten your collar, get that stray hair out of your face, powder your nose, tell you that your fist doesn’t look good butted up against your chin like that… you get the idea. Your photographer might be focused on light and getting you with your eyes open, not necessarily on those little staging details.

4. PLAN YOUR BACKGROUND

Sinéad Sugrue, soprano - SineadSugrue.com

Sinéad Sugrue’s photos were beautifully atmospheric and very inspiring for website design. Click for photo credits.

If you are planning a photo for your banner, a big background area really helps, because your designer can superimpose text (your name and instrument, for example) over top.  Remember the banner image will (in general) be horizontal (landscape orientation) –  portrait shaped photos don’t work so well here, as then your designer might have to recreate/photoshop more background, do a fade out, or copy it from another image – which will cost you more money for their time.

Remember also that the background image and your clothing colours might well be the inspiration for the colour scheme for your site. Choose colours that you like and that look great with your skin tone! Natural textures like rock, wood, a garden, or brick, will usually make a far more interesting background than a flat white wall. On the other hand, if you and your designer have in mind a full page photo with text superimposed – a white or light grey background might work really well! Plan for the site and image you have in mind, or ask your web designer for suggestions.

5. STUDIO SHOOTS

This could be just me, but I personally think most people look better in studio shoots than outdoors, once they’re past a certain age (45 or 50?) – the lighting can be more controlled to downplay uneven skin tone and wrinkles.  Nothing wrong with wrinkles, but it’s nice to have them DOWN-played rather than highlighted, no? Consider having both a studio and a setting shoot, so you can pick and choose which you prefer for both your promo headshots and website images.

Susan Hoeppner, flute

This gorgeous studio shot of flutist Susan Hoeppner, with it’s rich purple velvet background, was the colour inspiration for her site SusanHoeppner.com. Click for photo credits.

6. STUDIO BACKGROUND COLOURS

Again, your background will most likely feature in some way on your website and/or promo materials. Try to stay away from mid-range greys or mid-range colours as it’s hard to superimpose text and make it clear and legible (neither white nor black, or coloured text will contrast well on a mid-range grey). Better to go with a shade on the darker or lighter end. If you’re not sure, imagine overlaying text over the image – would white or black be easy to read?

7. FEATURE YOUR INSTRUMENT

A website should make it’s subject clear on first glance, without your having to read the text body. So, if you are a pianist or a flutist, there should be a piano or flute in at least some of your promo shots. If you are a musician, the website is not just about you, it’s about you, your music and your instrument.

8. ORDERING

You don’t need your photographer to crop your image if you’re getting a digital copy.  For web, you want as much background as you can get, to start with. And, you don’t necessarily need 20 different shots to display on your site. If you are an instrumentalist your website is, fundamentally, about your music – too many photos can look a bit superficial. One shot on each page of your site should be more than enough.  Singers can do more because they are featured in staged productions and their bodies and facial expressions are intrinsic to their art. But even with singers, I would limit to one or two photos per page, a gallery of performance shots and a few promotional downloadables.

Finally, here are some local (Toronto) photographers  I can recommend :

And, consider Liz Parker (www.lizpr.com) to style your shoot – she does amazing work!

This is my first blog post about tips for website planning – If you have other suggestions about topics for discussion, questions or need advice about website planning, comment below to let me know!