I love music. I wish I could play in a band. Heck, I wish I was running AudioTheme! They provide WordPress solutions for artists and musicians. This is the place where you should start searching if you’re looking for music related WordPress Themes and Plugins.
Brady Vercher was kind enough to answer my WordPress Theme Shops questions.
Who is behind AudioTheme and what is the history about AudioTheme?
AudioTheme was originally the brainchild of Luke McDonald. At the time, he was a partner at Press75, which was one of the very first WordPress theme shops. Independently, my twin brother (Brody) and I had published a popular country music blog called The 9513 and while covering independent artists with less-than-stellar websites or no online presence at all, we dreamed up a similar service to help music artists create better websites.
To make a long story short, I did some unrelated work with Luke when he pitched the idea of partnering up on AudioTheme. We jumped at the opportunity and have been growing ever since.
Aside from the three of us, most of our customers interact with Anna DiTomasso, who does a superb job handling most of the support on a day-to-day basis.
What kind of themes do you build? Is there a target audience for your themes?
We primarily focus on themes and plugins for bands, musicians and artists. Most of them do have some limited eCommerce integration with WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads and we’ll probably focus on improving in that area in the future.
We’ve also released a few general-purpose themes under our Cedaro brand, which is kind of our open source playground for publishing tools and processes that aren’t related to our work in the music industry.
Showcase 2-3 of your themes that you are most proud of. Why they are cool themes?
Obsidian is our most popular theme to date. It’s one of the first ones where we experimented with Flexbox to create a full-screen header on the homepage, which allows people to really highlight their brand in an elegant way. We also added a Customizer control that allows a color overlay on the background image to darken or lighten it up to help improve readability. We’ve seen some really cool sites using Obsidian.
Marquee was a bit of an experiment to try something different. When I first saw Brody’s design, I thought it might be a fun to try to build it out using the REST API, but scrapped that idea in favor PJAX. The partial page loading technique makes the site feel really snappy and allows the menu drawer to stay open, as well as the music to continue playing while visitors browse the site.
Billboard isn’t really a theme — it’s actually a theme in a plugin. We noticed a lot of our customers were using coming soon plugins, took awhile to finish their site, or just didn’t have much content when they were first getting started, so we decided to come up with our own take on a solution. We came up with this micro landing page concept that could be used on its own or as a coming soon/maintenance mode page. It’s designed to be really easy to set up and is completely managed in the Customizer. Its scope is fairly minimal, but has a lot of cool things going on under the hood.
Where do you get inspiration for design and code?
Code-wise, everything typically starts with a problem — usually one our customers are experiencing. Then it’s just a matter of trying to solve it.
I try to look outside the WordPress bubble at other projects and bring some of those best practices into my WordPress work. There are some incredibly talented people working on WordPress core, so keeping up with what they’re doing is also inspiring.
As far as themes go, we mainly follow Underscores to help with the review process on WordPress.com, but do have some common functionality abstracted into a library.
Brody is an incredible designer who seems to draw from some endless well of creativity. I’m always in awe of what he’s able to do.
Luke is a hybrid designer/developer and seems to dabble in everything, but somehow stays incredibly productive and he’s always got some sort of neat trick up his sleeve.
I think all of us really just derive inspiration from helping people.
What is your business and marketing strategy? (Do you have themes on wp.org, wp.com, lite versions, commercial versions, memberships etc.)
Our themes are really sold more like bundles. We think of what we’re doing as providing a holistic solution for musicians with WordPress as the base, so our themes come with many of the plugins that we also sell individually.
We don’t have any themes on WordPress.org… yet. It’s something we’ve considered, but the issues they’re having with the long queues and anti-commercial stances have generally pushed us to focus on opportunities that will have a greater impact.
We do work with WordPress.com to release streamlined builds of our themes. They’ve been good to us, but it’s beginning to get saturated and themes are seeing a shorter shelf life.
How is your theme business doing and do you have other business? Any numbers to give?
We’ve been profitable, but this summer has not been kind. It’s hard to tell if it’s seasonal or if it’s part of a longer trend.
A couple of numbers I find interesting: Over 60% of orders placed the last 90 days have been from countries outside the United States. Given a choice, almost 40% of our customers choose to pay with PayPal instead of a credit card.
On rare occasions we do take on contract work or partner with other folks, but it doesn’t make up a significant portion of our revenue.
Any specific workflow how you build themes? What kind of development tools you use?
Brody typically mocks up a design in Photoshop and solicits feedback from us. I can’t be trusted to make design decisions, so Luke cranks out the theme and I’ll jump in for code review or advanced feature implementation towards the end of the process. Overall, it usually takes a couple of months to finish a theme.
We spent quite a bit of time honing our tools and have a few custom Grunt tasks to improve code quality and automate some of the tedious tasks.
grunt-wp-i18n is one tool we built to internationalize our own themes, but ended up releasing as its own project. It’s really taken off over the past few years and has been adopted by some of the largest WordPress projects, which is incredibly inspiring — I just wish it helped pay the bills!
Any tips and tricks you want to share for users and for other theme developers?
We have a few tips and tricks on our blogs at AudioTheme and Cedaro. A lot of musicians are interested in protecting their music, so I recently wrote a post about why that isn’t really feasible. When get enough questions about a topic, we’ll usually write up a blog post or support article.
One thing I really wish theme developers would do when styling the core audio players is to limit the impact of their styles. The default MediaElement.js styles are pretty difficult to work with, so a lot of theme authors use !important when implement their styles, which stomps all over plugins that provide custom audio players based on MediaElement.js. I wrote up a blog post on this, too.
What are your future plans? Do you see themes changing in some direction?
We hope to make it easier for people without prior WordPress experience to get started. That could be getting into hosting ourselves or partnering with existing hosts.
I have high hopes for improvements to the new user experience under Helen Hou-Sandí’s lead during the WordPress 4.7 release cycle.
We tempted fate by switching to a subscription model on the Ides of March this year, so we’re still waiting to see what kind of impact that has when it comes time for renewals.
In terms of how themes meant for public distribution are built, I don’t see any major changes, although the REST API would create interesting possibilities for custom site builds and applications. I’m really hoping the endpoints make it into core relatively soon.