An open letter to the music industry: Enough with the Flash already!

Dear music industry,

Macromedia Flash has enabled you to put a lot of bling on websites. Just about every musician’s website I visit employs Flash in some manner, and it makes sense. Flash is incredibly useful for music and video playback. Hell, I even use a Flash player on the website for my own music project.

But please — just because you can paste an <embed/> tag onto your site does not mean you should. Nor does it mean you should design an entire site in Flash.

Among web design professionals, accessbility and usability issues with Flash are well documented. Just a quick Google search on "flash abuse" returns a link to a very good blog post detailing many ways Flash can break. Don’t think, music industry, you are above any of the problems detailed in the article. If anything, you’re one of the biggest offenders.

How many times have I encountered web sites that don’t show all the content in the viewport? Or web sites that don’t allow me to navigate without waiting to load? Or web sites with useless splash pages? Too many to count.

My current pet peeve are Flash sites which open links in new windows. Web browsers these days disable pop-ups by default. I’m not about to go through the hassle of unblocking your site because you don’t trust me to leave your site. If you rely too heavily on Flash, I’m not inclined to stick around anyway.

Then there’s the matter of being an asshole, something easy to do given all the big egos in your industry.

In the early days of the World Wide Web, nothing pissed off users more than embedded audio files which started playing when a visitor views a page. It was rude behavior back then, and it’s no less annoying now. If I’m listening to my own music player — with headphones, if I’m at work — I don’t want your music creating an unwanted cacophony. I’d put on a Charles Ives string quartet if I wanted to hear two pieces of music at the same time.

But embedded audio is such the norm with music sites, I’ve been trained to turn off my player the moment I encounter a site designed in Flash. I don’t like having to shut off my music to compensate for your asshattery.

I know the point of embedded audio is to get people to listen and buy, but you know what? Sometimes a soft sell is a good tactic.

With Myspace pages, the clusterfuck of embedded Flash is an eyesore. And for amateur site administrators, it’s an invitation for disaster. Around the time Outkast released Idlewild, the duo’s Myspace page had multiple embedded files. Nobody checked to make sure more than one embedded file didn’t play at the same time. When two of those files started up, it resulted in a noise so unappealing, I refused to visit the profile ever again.

Putting dozens of embedded files on your Myspace profile also slows down a user’s computer. I’ve had my computer freeze because I visited Myspace profiles with too many embedded elements. Don’t crash my computer if you want me to take your band seriously.

There’s a reason I visit news sites and blogs before I ever check out an artist’s official site — those sites tend to be much more usable. (Although clusterfucks of web ads and too-hip design makes a lot of music blogs obnoxious as well. Thank deity for CSS.) Too many musician web sites end up being frustrating user experiences.

Don’t spend so much time trying to look cool if it interferes with getting the message out about your music. Exercising restraint in design is definitely not rock ‘n’ roll, but it is smart business sense. In other words, don’t piss the customer listener off.