Infectious Magazine recently had the pleasure of chatting with Glasgow-based Ross Barber, owner of the web design/marketing company Electric Kiwi and co-host of Bridge The Atlantic, a podcast that explores various creative industries from music to film-making in depth with a touch of humor.
Discussing both ventures, Ross talks about the importance of color schemes and successful band marketing strategies with Electric Kiwi, how Bridge The Atlantic stays both fun and educational, and much more.
Hi Ross, thanks for taking some time out to chat! To start off, can you tell us a little about your background and how the idea for Electric Kiwi came about?
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you!
Absolutely. I’ve been designing websites on and off for around 15 years and started it mostly as a hobby back when I was 12 years old. When it came to deciding what I wanted to study at university, I opted for music as it’s the one thing that I’ve been consistently passionate about and interested in. During my last year of my BA (Hons), I was becoming more and more interested in the promotion and marketing side of things rather than pursuing the performance side. One of my projects involved designing a website to promote myself as a singer/songwriter, and using social media to drive people to the site and to sign up for the mailing list. After doing that project, it pretty much set me on the path of becoming a web designer for bands and musicians! The rest, as they say, is history, haha.
When a client wants to contact you to discuss a design project, should they already have a clear idea of what they want or do you generally help them map it out?
When we’re initially discussing the project, I always ask to see a few examples of websites they like – this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to create something similar, but it’s definitely helpful to get an idea of what direction they would like to head in. Normally I get some ideas on design direction from listening to the music and seeing the photography the artist has, but I like my projects to be collaborative so always try and keep the artists involved in the whole process as much as possible.
How important is color in conveying the right message for a brand and how can choosing the wrong color hinder that brand?
I think it’s definitely important to choose a color that doesn’t directly conflict with what you do. For example, if you’re a folk band, you probably don’t want to go with a black and red scheme (which would be more commonly associated with metal). Ultimately, your website needs to reflect the music accurately, so choosing a color scheme that mismatches the music can be off-putting and confusing, especially for a new visitor and potential fan.
One of the most important factors in any line of marketing is knowing your target audience. In saying that, what is the biggest difference in designing a successful site for a folk musician (Rita Payne) versus, say, a management agency (The Bassline Group)?
I think the main thing to consider is that a musician’s site is going to have a very different purpose to the website for a management agency. A website for a musician needs to appeal to their audience, potential venues/promoters and press, whereas a website for a management agency is going to be far more focused on attracting new clients and showcasing the work that has been done for past/existing clients. There are definitely some factors that are going to be important across both – i.e. it’s important that they are both easy to navigate and allow people to find the content that they are looking for. I would say the most important thing is to know the purpose of the website, and build everything around that.
Many of your designs seem to be based around the concept of simplicity – making them easily navigable for users while conveying a tone that matches the artist’s personality. As far as user-friendliness goes, what is the most common mistake you see in a band’s website design and how can they rectify it?
There are a couple of things! The first would be autoplay – please don’t force people to hear your music or watch your video as soon as they land on your site! Chances are they’re already listening to something and have multiple browser windows open, which can cause confusion as to where the music is coming from. Not to mention sometimes people are browsing while at work and may not have headphones in! Don’t be responsible for a firing. 😉
The second one would be information overload – I find that a lot of band websites have way too much going on, especially on the homepage. My advice would be to think about what the main purpose of your website is (selling music / building your mailing list / promoting your gigs) and put the most important content up front and center – too much content can be distracting, so often less is more!
In recent times it’s been argued that, due to the influence of Wikipedia and social media, a band’s official website is no longer an essential part of having a prominent online marketing presence. Do you think there’s any truth in this and, if not, what does an official website still do (for both the band and the user) that can’t be accomplished through other outlets?
This is something I hear artists say a lot, but I definitely think that having a website is important. There are a few reasons for this. One being that it acts as a hub for all of the information that fans, press and venues could need. Another is that it is a space you own and can be customised far more than any social platform can. I also think that having a website shows a commitment to your career and shows everyone that you’re serious about what you do.
Having also made and performed your own music, what was the most important marketing/branding lesson you learned on the road that you may not have picked up anywhere else?
I think the biggest thing I learned was how important it is to have an overall plan. Since I started making music when Myspace was big, one of the big things I learned was that you can’t simply rely on a social network to be your website and point of contact with your fans… if that network disappears or people leave, you need a way of keeping in touch with your fans – and that’s done through your mailing list and your website. I also learned that people really respond to personal connection and that often they will buy into YOU before they buy into your music.
If you could have a crack at re-designing one of the world’s biggest websites (ESPN, Yahoo, BBC, etc.) to make it more efficient, which site would you choose and what changes would you make to it?
Oh wow, I don’t even know if I’d want to take any of those on! Haha. I suppose if I had to choose, I would maybe look at redesigning the E! Online website as it takes forever to load and has way too many ads, in my opinion. I also feel like there’s way too much going on, so it’s hard to know where to click. I actually feel stressed out and overwhelmed looking at it!
With all the experience and success you’ve built up over the years, what advice do you have for aspiring web design students?
The advice I would offer would be to always try and learn something new on each project you work on, build a solid portfolio and keep your clients happy!
In addition to Electric Kiwi, you record a weekly podcast with Canadian singer/songwriter Marcio Novelli called Bridge The Atlantic. How did the two of you first meet and come up with the idea for an educational/advice podcast?
Yes! Marcio and I actually met via Twitter back in 2012 as he was looking for a website to coincide with the release of his first full-length album. We became really good friends, and after both guesting on various podcasts, he proposed the idea of starting a podcast. We talked about it and decided that while we want it to be informative and educational, we also wanted it to be fun and entertaining. We’ve had so much fun with this so far, and we’ve interviewed some awesome musicians including Tyler Hilton, Nick Thomas of The Spill Canvas, X Factor UK’s Janet Devlin and James Black of Finger Eleven.
And you guys don’t just talk with musicians; you add to the show’s diversity by having actors, filmmakers, and discussing many other areas of the entertainment industry. Are you looking to expand to other industries as well in 2015?
I think we’re always going to keep the interviews based within the creative industries. We don’t want to go too broad with our guests as I think part of the appeal is that we are keeping it within the creative and entertainment industries.
One detail I immediately notice when listening is that you and your guests entertain listeners in addition to educating them, which separates it (favorably) from many other advice-based podcasts. Was this a goal you and Marcio had at the start or does it just happen spontaneously?
Yes – we definitely wanted our show to be entertaining. As much as I like other advice-based podcasts, I felt like that wasn’t something that was going to be right for us as Marcio and I have a lot of fun when we chat together anyway. Of course, we can’t force it to be funny or entertaining, and some episodes lean more towards the informative side – but I think we’ve struck the right balance, and people seem to be liking it!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from one of your guests on the podcast?
Oh wow, hmm. There’s been so much great advice given out on the podcast! A few of my favourites would be:
“The tree that has to struggle to grow, grows the strongest” – Heather Horton
“Perseverance, persistence and passion are the keys to success” – Dan Fila
“If you’re not willing to invest everything into what you’re doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it” – Steve Nguyen
And finally, any last words for all the Infectious readers out there (perhaps a promise that you will eventually watch an episode of Seinfeld)?
Hahaha. This comes up on almost EVERY episode of Bridge the Atlantic! I can’t even count how many people I have promised this to. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep, and I normally check out shows that I like the cast of, so I’m actually surprised that I haven’t watched any of it yet. Give me a few months and I’ll try and get to it!