As musicians, we all obviously need to have music available for listening on our websites. But as we creep further and further into the 21st century, the options are getting more and more vast and it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed as a result! I think the most important thing is to figure out what your priorities are in terms of how a music player behaves before you pick one and implement it on your site. This will guarantee that after you’ve done all the work setting it up, you will be totally happy with it and not discovering things about it later on that fail to meet your needs. Below is a list of questions I would recommend asking yourself before you set out to decide on the online audio player that is right for you.
1) Is it absolutely imperative that the music player works on mobile devices (phones)?
The answert to this question should definitely be yes, because so many people use the internet only on their phone these days. Because of this, you’ll want to avoid any audio players that use Flash. End of story.
2) Do you want the music playing onsite to be consistent and ongoing while a person browses the various pages on your site – or are you content to have music playing only on ONE page?
More and more I’ve been receiving requests from clients who want people to be able to listen to music continuously on their site – not just from one page. It’s a good question as to which is better for site visitors. Some people feel that having the music only available on one page will make it more likely that the user will actually sit and listen to your track, rather than having it simply playing in the background while they browse your photos, bio, gigs, etc. The choice is up to you. But do keep in mind that it would be good not have music playing continuously unless it’s quite important to you as that method has some setbacks, or can get complicated … which leads us to our next question.
3) Are specific links (such as yoursite.com/gigs or yoursite.com/bio) important to you – or would you be content with having one URL (yoursite.com) visible for ALL pages of your website?
If your answer to this question is that you don’tneed specific URLs and that one single URL is good enough, you’re in luck. This setback will allow you to have a music player embedded in what is called an iFrame, which will be discussed below under Music Player Options. In short, using an iFrame will allow you to have a mobile-friendly music player that plays continuously from page to page.
4) Do you want people to have the immediate ability to purchase the track that is playing from the music player?
If your answer to this question is “yes” then I would recommend one of two things: either have your music player only on one page, which would allow you to simply insert links that go to that track or album’s page on iTunes, CDbaby, or what have you, OR use a Bandcamp page as both your listening page and your purchasing page. The great thing about Bandcamp is that it seamlessly integrates both listening and buying of music tracks. More about Bandcamp below.
Below are the five main options for onsite audio players that I have found. Thought of another one? Please let me know!
Option #1) Embed your music player on your website using an iFrame
An iFrame is a box (of dimensions you define) embedded into a website. You can put anything in an iFrame: additional content, a movie, a music player, or even a totally different website from an external URL (learn more about iFrames and how to use them). In our case, we’d have the music player in the main body of the browser, and then your individual pages (bio, links, gigs, etc) would come up in your iFrame. The downside of this, as you might have guessed – is that the browser will only detect the main window (which includes the music player) when displaying the site URL. That’s why the music player will stay on every page and continue to play – because the visitor is never actually leaving that main page. They are simply changing the page that is being viewed in the iFrame). I myself would like the ability to send someone directly to my bio page or directly to my contact page – an ability that you would not have if you do decide to go the iFrame route.
Works on phones? Yes, as long as you embed a mobile-friendly audio player.
Plays continuously from page-to-page? Yes.
Free? As long as the audio player didn’t cost you anything, it does not cost anything to create an iFrame on your website – just a sense of adventure and a semi-tech savvy mind!
Setbacks? No unique, individual page URLs to provide for people. You can only use one URL: yoursite.com
Option #2) Use a popup window for your audio player
Popup! While at first this may seem like the perfect solution – after all, the popup music player stays separate from the main website, allowing people to browse the site while they listen, and since its in its own window, you can easily put a mobile-friendly audio player there – we do need to be careful with how we use popups, as many people (yours truly included) have popups disabled in their browser settings, just because more often than not popups aren’t nice things that you want to see like audio players, but annoying things like advertisements and surveys.
Plays continuously from page-to-page? Absolutely.
Free? There are some free Flash players that offer popup options. Obviously hiring me or another web person to build you a kick-ass popup audio player would not be free (smile).
Setbacks? For Flash popup players, there is the phone issue. The method I am now using has minimal setbacks, which is why I’m so happy with it!
Option #3) Use a WordPress plugin
If you are building your website using the platform known as WordPress, then you should consider using a plugin. There are oodles of WP plugins that are excellent for playing music tracks on both computers and mobile devices, or providing popup Flash audio players or Flash audio players that play continuously from page to page – but as with most things – you can’t have it all. I recently said to someone that the person who comes up with the easily installable WP plugin that provides a non-Flash popup audio player will make millions (hey maybe I’ll get to it one of these days!) But for now, when it comes to WP plugins, you can either have Flash, music on ONE page, or iFrames. A note: I’m always looking for new good WP audio player plugins, so if you come across a new one that works great, please do let me know! Here are a few WP audio plugins that I like:
- WordPress Built in Player (a surprisingly good option for playing single track or plalylists on ALL platforms, including iPhone, iPad and Android)
- Compact WP Audio Player (good if you want a super simple and small play button)
Works on phones? For the two listed above – yes! Just be careful because a lot of WordPress audio player plugins use Flash and aren’t mobile-friendly.
Plays continuously from page-to-page? No, not unless you use iFrames.
Free? Yes, both plugins listed above are totally free. There are also paid audio player plugins ranging from $10-$40.
Setbacks?Plugins, while they make installing and implementing relatively easy, always have limitations of one kind or another, so customization is minimal.
Option #4) Use a Bandcamp page as your listening page
For those of you who don’t know – Bandcamp is a platform on which you can build yourself (for free) a page to display all your music, allow users to listening to all tracks streaming, and purchase any track or album (FYI Bandcamp takes 15% of all purchases and your money gets deposited to your Paypal account). You get an automatic URL of yourname.bandcamp.com for free. An easy way to integrate this with your website would be to simply create a link in your navigation that says something like “listen or shop” that takes users to your bandcamp page. A new really neat feature that Bandcamp is now offering is some code that will embed your audio player (without using iFrames) into your webpage, and I must say it is pretty cool. Get there by logging into your Bandcamp account, navigating to your album’s page, and clicking on “Share/Embed” and then selecting “Other.” It gives you many options such as colors, and whether you want the playlist displayed or not. I am a fan of Bandcamp! If interested, sign up here.
Works on phones? Yes!
Plays continuously from page to page? No.
Free? To set up yes, but they will take 15% of all purchases.
I hope this blog post has been helpful in showing you what options you have for setting up an onsite audio player and the pros and cons of each. Which one will work best for you all comes down to what is important to you in terms of how the thing behaves. Phone-play the priority? Continuous play the priority? Selling your tracks the priority? The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction. Good luck!