If you want to take your online engagement to the next level, then you might consider setting up a forum website where your fans can go to communicate and interact with each other. This is a great way to retain your fan base over the long term.
And before you claim that your fan base isn't big enough to support a forum, note that even Daniel Amos, a largely overlooked Christian band (have you ever heard of them?), has a very active forum that I used to be a part of.
If you want to build an online community, you'll definitely need to identify and define who your target audience is. You need to consider whether or not your fans are the kind of people that like to interact online. Just know that forums can work very well for certain niches and demographics.
But before we get too carried away with the marketing side of things, let's take a look at a few different methods you can pursue to set up a forum on your website.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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Forum Plugins For Music Websites
If you're using WordPress as the framework for your website, then you'll be glad to know that there are many free or affordable plugins you can use to turn your website into a community machine!
Here are just a few options for you to explore:
- bbPress: this is the ideal solution for beginners for several reasons. For one, it's free. It's also a very simple forum structure that can be managed directly from within the WordPress dashboard. It integrates seamlessly, is lightweight, and is easily installed. Plus, it was created by the creators of WordPress. If you're just getting started, and you want to get a better idea of how forums work, this is the best choice.
- BuddyPress: in terms of features and functionality, BuddyPress has more to offer than bbPress. In essence, it's a plugin that turns your site into its very own social network. Like bbPress, it's also relatively lightweight (we'll talk more about why this is important a little later). With BuddyPress, your registered users can create their own profiles, connect with other members, send private messages, share status updates, and much more. BuddyPress is also free.
- Simple:Press: this is another forum plugin that integrates seamlessly with WordPress, can scale depending on audience size, is lightweight, integrates with other commonly used plugins and services, and is also very customizable. The plugin is free, but you will have to pay for support, add-ons, the codex, and so forth.
Free & Open Source Forum Software For Musicians
There are plenty of free and open source forum solutions out there, and you may need to take advantage of one of these if you're not running WordPress.
The thing to keep in mind here is that the installation process can get pretty technical. If you aren't confident in your coding and backend (MySQL database) abilities, it may be best to get in touch with a local geek, or hire someone on Upwork to help you out.
Here are several free and open source forums you can take advantage of:
- phpBB: phpBB has been around for a long time, and is a popular free, open source forum solution. The base design still looks like it's stuck in the early 2000s, but fortunately there are ways to customize the look and feel of your board. You can install “Styles” that were created by other users, or even make your own. phpBB comes packaged with all of the standard features you would expect to get with a message board.
- CODOFORUM: CODOFORUM is another free forum software option that has a nice, simple design, is mobile ready, integrates with social media login systems, allows you to use @mentions like on Twitter, lets you tag posts, and more. Their website also says that it's easier to install than WordPress, which is pretty reassuring, but I can neither confirm nor deny that statement.
- Flarum: Flarum features a simple and clean interface, is mobile responsive, is fast and lightweight, is easy to install, is customizable, allows tagging, and much more. The software is in beta, and that means its functionality is incomplete, and that the platform could break. With that in mind, it's still a good option.
Is Your Hosting Enough?
Can your hosting plan handle a forum installation? In most cases, the answer to this question will be “no.”
This is something you should absolutely explore before setting up your forum. Odds are a typical shared hosting plan won't provide you with enough bandwidth to keep your forum and/or website online over the long haul.
Granted, bbPress and BuddyPress are pretty lightweight, but depending on your hosting plan, even too large a number of WordPress plugin installs can cause bandwidth issues (been there, done that).
I would suggest contacting your hosting provider if possible. Let them know that you're thinking about adding a forum to your site, and what option you're looking at. If they tell you to go ahead with the install, even if your plan isn't sufficient, then the onus is on them.
Traffic and growth in your online community can also have an impact on bandwidth and disk usage. There may come a time when you need to upgrade your hosting plan, so prepare for that eventuality in advance.
If you need a website, you can see how to make one here.
Thanks to advancements in technology, it's easier than it ever was to set up a forum and to start engaging with your fans in an intimate online environment.
Depending on how your website is set up, you may have to explore options other than the ones mentioned here. Sadly, some hosting plans are so outdated that they don't have the latest versions of PHP installed on their servers, and there are other technical issues that can sometimes come up.
The main thing to look for is compatibility between your hosting plan and your content management system (i.e. blogging platform or website builder). In some cases, you can also set up a separate forum website at a different URL, or on a different server, so there are always alternatives if you ever get stuck.