As some of you know, I’m a geek. I grew up favoring books over more normal, kid activities – like playing outside – i got a PC junior before I hit high school (and yes, this was in the 80s) and make my living publishing websites and other content for scientific research projects. Give me a 700-page book and a few hours and I’m a happy, happy camper. Needless to say, I like to geek out on things and realized that some of this geeking might actually be helpful to some of my fellow musicians/troubadors/bards who are trying to navigate life on the Internet.
In particular, I wanted to talk about WordPress. WordPress is free, flexible blog software that more and more folks use for their website. It’s fast and easy to install, there are lots and lots and LOTS of themes out there that let you change how it looks by just choosing a different theme. And there’s even more plugins available to help you do groovy stuff. A plugin is a sort of “app” that adds some extra function to your post or page. For example, there are plugins that help you moderate comments (in fact, a very popular one, called Akismet, is installed by default on a new WordPress blog).
But there are so many plugins out there that can do the same function so differently, it can take a while to sort through them all. In addition to regular blog functions (blogs, pages of static content like and About page), we have very specific needs: gig database w/ calendar, music jukebox, contacts and media galleries
And as I’ve been checking out plugins for this site and The Modeens site, it was surprisingly difficult. because there’s a helluva lot of plugins out there and they all work a little differently and you don’t know what you’re going to get until you actually install one and fiddle around with it.
But lucky you, i did some of the fiddling for you – at least, if you share my tastes in things that make a website go boom. I’m not affiliated with any of these plugins – and as usual these are free. But if you find a plugin you like and it actually works for you and you’re happy, you should definitely build up your karma bank and donate some dough to the plugin’s developers (if they give you that option).
Note: I’m not talking about themes today – but I want to: themes are actually the hardest part about setting up your own WordPress site if you are AT ALL picky (which I certainly am). But more on those later.
Okay, so I’ll just use my site as an example and take a little tour of the plugins that I like a lot and that work for me. But if you want to change the look of a plugin to better fit your theme, you’ll need to know some CSS. It’s (usually) simple coding that affects the *look* of a website: structure, colors, fonts, etc. I’m all about messing around with CSS, but there’s LOADS of great info about that online if you’re motivated (ie, Google it!).
Moving right along: my 7 favorite plugins for WordPress (as of press time):
1. Remote Database Backup
If you are doing anything in WordPress – PLEASE pay attention to this plugin – or any reputable backup plugin. But the cool thing about this is you can automate it! Because you need to backup your site regularly, nay religiously, because there’s a lot of assholes on the Internet that love nothing better than to hack into WordPress sites and screw your site up.
But when and if your site gets hacked or otherwise messed up because you changed the password of the database user and didn’t update wp-config.php or something like that, if you have a handy dandy backup, you can just restore and move along your merry way.
And it’s dead simple with this plugin. Once it’s installed, go to Tools and it’ll show up as “DB Backups”. There you have the option to backup now or set it up for daily or weekly backups. How often you backup depends on what you’re comfortable using and how often you post new content. I do it weekly, coz I have a high tolerance for risk.
I’m sure there’s more fully featured plugins out there but this one’s good enough for me and it’s WAY better than nothing. Trust me.
I just got hipped to the Catablog plugin this year and i LOVE it. It’s very intuitive and makes lists look super professional. I use it as my ‘discography’ on my music page here.
You’ll see a “Catablog” category in the left navigation of your admin area. From there you can start building your catalog(s). You can use this for multiple categories, so in general, you’ll enter all your items that you’ll ever want to list in your website and just assign them different categories (which is part of the interface as well). Then you use simple shortcodes to pull in just the entries you want or everything. You can sort the order in which your items appear, too. You basically end up with a thumbnail of the product on the left side and then whatever text/description/HTML you want on the right side. Pretty smooth!
3. Collision Testimonials
Press quotes are very nice to have. When you’re trying to prove to other people that you are indeed the bee’s knees, it’s human nature that pointing to other folks who already say you’re the bee’s knees will help bring them around. Enter Collision Testimonials. A simple admin interface makes it easy to add and organize your quotes. You can even have them appear randomly (so each time someone accesses the page, the quotes are in a different order). You can also choose one that always stays on top (you know, the one from Rolling Stone that says you’re a sassy rock star.) You can also use a widget in a sidebar that will bring up a random quote each time a page is brought up. Now *getting* the quotes is another matter…
4. NextGEN Gallery
Ugh, photo gallery plugins. This was the biggest pain in the ass of all. I was messing with a couple of flickr plugins that pull in photos automatically from your flickr account – which sounds so smart and efficient. One thing you learn when you try to get all social network-y with your band is how great it is when you only have to upload content in one place and it spreads to other places (though there are exceptions to this – hmm, another post someday…) But i haven’t found the right flickr plugin for me yet. And there are SO many others to go through. But for this website, for right now, I’m liking this one. The default CSS (styling) works just fine – the fewer tweaks, the more time I have to actually write – and it’s easy to deal with. Again, a helpful admin interface (see a pattern here?)
5. Soundcloud Shortcodes
Soundcloud is an extremely popular global platform for sharing your music that has a clean, lightweight good-looking interface for music. It’s free to set up a basic account and the Soundcloud Shortcodes plugin makes it super easy to include it in your posts or pages. I incorporated mine into my Catablog of albums on the music page but you can also sprinkle them throughout your posts and pages.
6. Contact Form 7
Of all of these plugins, you may already know about this one. It’s too easy NOT to use. As long as all you want is a message sent to the email you already associate with your WordPress instance, just install, activate and add the shortcode where you want the form to appear.
But it’s flexible enough that you can also change the look and use multiple forms. And fancy enough with options for CAPTCHA, file loading and lots more.
I love Gigpress so much. It’s not perfect but the admin interface is sah-weet and it saves your venues! So once you type in the info for a club for the first time, forever after you’ll just need to choose it from a drop down list. It also publishes its own feeds so you can share your band calendar with other folks, hook it up to your computer’s calendar program (iCal for me) and all kinds of other possibilities for the ambitious. It also comes with a widgetized version that can go in a sidebar (as you can see to the right – um, *if* I have any upcoming gigs at the mo’…)
And there you have it. Hope that was helpful, kids!