It’s finally here! Dennis 4.0!

I started using the term in my blog posts a while back, but haven’t explained what exactly it is that I mean by “Dennis 4.0”.

For those of you keeping score at home, it’s true – I’ve only had three different site designs, as opposed to four. So why the Mark IV distinction?

Without going into mind-numbing detail about the months of work I’ve done on coding and whatnot, the site functions completely differently now. Whereas the site used to require 30+ individual HTML files just to display the works (one file for each individual work, and one file for each genre listing), it now requires two files. Two PHP files and one database.

This allows me to use the information across the site without having to retype everything about a billion times. I just call on the database with particular parameters, and – Ta-Da! – I have exactly what I want, in exactly the format I entered it into the database! That means fewer worries about typos that create contradictions. Of course, I have to be super-careful about the database itself, since a typo will be propagated across the entire site. Forget about contraditions – that’s just plain misinformation!

It also allows for greater uniformity of presentation. With the 30+ HTML files, I could accidentally reorder the works information from file to file very, very easily. This new functionality eliminates that possibility. All of the information is loaded into a single template so that the information about each work is loaded identically to every other work.

And! When the time comes – and it will, probably within the next 6-9 months – for a site redesign, 98% of the work will already be done. For all of my three past designs, the most time-consuming aspect was simple data-entry. Talk about boring! Then there’s all the room for error, even in Copying/Pasting! Now, I’ll only have to create the template pages, and I’m good to go!

But functionality isn’t all!

Philosophy? Seriously? Yep.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a good composer-friend over lunch, and we got to talking about web sites/web design/etc. The idea of the use of the web by different generations came up. I’ve designed sites for three different generations of composers. I have one client in his early 70s; I have another in his early 50s; and I’m in my mid-20s. We each use our sites differently.

For the first client, his site is a clearinghouse of information about his works, as well as a listing of upcoming performances. He’s particularly well-established, so his site is more a conglomeration of information than anything else. Performers can find out about works that they may be interested in, and where to buy them; institutions can see lists of recent works/commissioners; and researchers can have a starting-point in collecting information for papers or articles.

The second client uses his site in all the same ways, but also uses the site to promote performances to a greater degree. Current productions of his operas are covered more heavily, and we deal much more with photos and press articles. He’s also rather well-established, but his site is a bit more active and hands-on.

I, on the other hand, am not terribly well-established. (Though I’m working at it!) I use my site like both of these clients, but also take things even further. Or, rather, I will be from now on.

With the rise of Web 2.0 (sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc), artists of my generation, more than ever, need to start making use of their personal websites not only as a business-card-like web presence, but in a way that is much more dynamic and personal. We used to use MySpace to promote ourselves, but we all know how that turned out. Profiles took forever to load, and when they did, they showed just how little taste their creator possessed. And good luck finding anything you were looking for! Facebook doesn’t work like that, and, honestly, why would we want it to? Oh, sure, it’s free – and we all like free, right? But sometimes it’s worth putting in a few dollars a month to be, you know, classy. And less…assimilated.

There are, however, lots of pitfalls in creating a viable web presence. Probably the most dangerous is straddling the personal and professional realms. Being too far into the professional realm can come across as static, and more than a little boring; on the other hand, being too personal looks unprofessional – the site and, by extension, the artist show themselves to be unworthy of attention because they don’t come across as serious enough. I’ve seem my share of both site types from young artists.

So, how do I intend to walk this tight rope? Where is my balance?

First off, I’ve got the professional look down. I’m proud to say that my site is well-designed and representative of my professional style: clean, elegant, substantive. (Why do so many sites lack these qualities?! Especially the latter! Why even have a site if it has nothing to say?) So the personal elements will come in the form of content: regular blog posts, periodic essays and articles, and substantial audio/video/photographic content.

Which begs the question of what this additional content is and what it isn’t.

It is more personal in nature – sort of like opening up my living room for visitors. More in-depth discussions of projects; artistic musings; discussions that I would have (and may actually have had) with artist friends.

It isn’t the excruciating minutiae of my day-to-day life. What I had for breakfast; gossip; name-dropping. (I already have a private blog for such things. And, no, you can’t read it.)

The idea is to create a sense of who I am as a person and as an artist.

Some specific things I intend to do in this vein:
– The Young Composer photo project with Kaity Volpe, complete with essays and commentary from both Kaity and me
– The as-yet-untitled Vodcast project (which will also be available in audio-only format)
– A series of candid videos with composer and performer friends, singing/playing through pieces and just being ourselves

I hope you all enjoy the new site and the new content. You can look forward to more little tweaks to the site in the coming weeks, as well as to lots of regular content.