I do a lot of surfing, looking for design inspiration, coding tips, or simply something to amuse me. I often start a surfing session using StumbleUpon or Wikipedia and then simply see where my interest leads me.

Sometimes, even in 2009, it leads me to a website that starts playing music or talking at me as soon as its first page loads. It seems that some website creators really don’t think through what they are doing and who they are doing it for.

Are you guilty? Step into my usability courtroom and allow me to present the case for the prosecution…

1. Simply The Best

Look at the most commercially successful websites. Does Amazon play music automatically? Does Facebook? Does Ebay? Does Google? What about Yahoo, or IMDB? The answer in all cases is no. Why? Because they’ve done their research (they can afford to, after all). And their research told them it was a bad idea. Isn’t it great that you can benefit from this research without paying for it?

2. No Accounting For Taste

There is no music that all of your visitors will like. Not everyone likes Mozart, not everyone likes Metallica, and relatively few people like elevator ambient background music. For every visitor that comes to your site and thinks “cool” there will be at least one who will think “ick!” and never return.

3. Mixing It Up

A visitor might be listening to a quiet classical CD using their PC with headphones. They click to your site, which then adds a hip-hop beat to the mix at four times the volume, making their ears bleed. Hitting the back button and remembering your site name takes less time than finding your wierd-looking “stop” or “pause” button. You’ll never see that visitor again.

4. Share And Enjoy

4. Someone may be using their laptop in an open-plan office without headphones, and may have forgotten to mute the sound. Your site may be relevant to their needs, but if the music that suddenly blares out embarrasses them or annoys their colleagues (or worse still their boss), you can bet they won’t visit again or recommend you to others.

5. You’re Nicked

Are you sure you have the right to add that particular track to your website? If you didn’t compose and record it yourself, you’d better be very sure, or start putting a lot of money aside ready for when the Warner Brothers or Sony legal team comes knocking at your door.

6. We Can Multitask

With tabbed browsing, it’s often convenient to middle-click several search engine results and then flick through them. If your site is one of those results, and it starts playing music, and your visitor doesn’t want that music, they have to flick through the tabs until they work out which site is offending them. You can bet they’ll close that tab. And imagine what happens if two of the websites they clicked start playing music – a horrible cacophany that will have your visitor reaching for their browser’s “Exit” button.

7. Of Lipstick and Pigs

You may think it really gives your website that finishing touch of “pizazz”. OK, let’s turn that statement around. You’re seriously saying that your website isn’t interesting enough unless you add automatically-playing music to it? Man, you’re in trouble. Or your designer is.

8. The Science Bit

Assuming you’re still ignoring every point made so far, and you actually get a visitor who stays on your front page while music plays at them, and amazingly enough clicks a further link in your site, how do you keep the audio track from stopping and starting again? That’s right, you’ll be using a frame or iframe. Or your site is entirely Flash-based. Or both. Well done, you’ve just broken the back button and hindered the ability of search engines to find and index your site properly.

9. Money, Money, Money

Any decent length music loop, let alone a full track, will probably use up a higher proportion of your bandwidth than the rest of your site put together. Are you ready for those extra bills?

And finally…

10. Reason For Living

“But it’s a band website!” So, you know how to use a “play” button, don’t you? So do your visitors.

End rant.

Am I some kind of music-hater? No. I’m a musician and I adore music. I often have Winamp running with headphones when I’m working. See point 3 above…