Spotlight: Eric Miller - BMI
March 23, 2010
by Jacob Russell
This week we spotlight Eric Miller and the EE site he built for Broadcast Music, Inc.
Our “Spotlight” series of articles gives designers, developers, add-on creators, and just generally great members of the ExpressionEngine community a chance to talk about how they have used EE and its add-ons in their work.
Eric Miller is a Brooklyn based designer and web developer who does everything from print media to branding to full web development through his business, Eric Miller Design. He has worked with Broadcast Music, Inc. for over a decade in various capacities, and had a large part in their current ExpressionEngine based web site. When not busy spreading the joy of EE to the music world he moonlights as the guide to graphic design for About.com and works on his personal photoblog.
How did you get started with ExpressionEngine?
I first worked with ExpressionEngine while working full-time for BMI, where I was the web designer and developer until 2008 when I left to work on my own. I was part of the team that built BMI’s first ExpressionEngine-powered site in 2005. Once I realized what I could do with it, I started using it for freelance projects and it really transformed my business from “just” design to design and development. I went from building mostly static sites to giving a client any feature they wanted, whether it be part of the ExpressionEngine package or custom-built.
What is this site, and why is it special?
BMI represents more than 400,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. They collect license fees and distribute them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. David Bills and his team at BMI build the site in-house, but I’ve been working with the company for 13 years and they hired me as lead designer and for ExpressionEngine development. It’s cool to think I first worked on the site as an intern in 1997 and still do today… see kids? Internships CAN pay off!
BMI.com serves many functions. You can join BMI online, and existing members have access to manage their account and get discounts and career advice. Businesses can obtain a license to play BMI music and search the BMI catalog of more than 6.5 million musical works. There is also a great deal of content for music fans, including artist features and video clips from BMI events.
What add-ons are you using on BMI?
We’re using over 80 add-ons, many of which are custom-built by BMI along with myself, Mitchell Kimbrough at Solspace and Patrick Crowley at Mokolabs. I’ll just highlight a couple here, but there are tons of little add-ons performing various functions all over the site.
The ImageSizer plugin is used extensively throughout the news, features and photo galleries. Back in the day we’d create 3 image sizes for story photos, and now with ImageSizer we just upload one image that is used for everything from the thumbnail to the full screen photo gallery. It really came in handy when we made a late change to the news feed style during the latest redesign, and just had to update one value to make all photos larger.
The User module is used to maintain a completely separate environment for the BMI media relations team, who manage the Press section of the site. The section gives registered members of the press access to press releases and high-res photos from BMI events.
Were there any particularly challenging parts of BMI that required creative solutions? What add-ons were involved with that?
Three challenges come to mind that resulted in the development of custom modules, built by Dave Bills at BMI and Solspace.
“Pubtools” is a module that adds tools to both the front-end and to the control panel. On the front-end, logged-in content editors can apply categories to entries while browsing the site by using a toolbar anchored at the bottom of the browser. There are a lot of editors for the site, and some of them focus on a particular genre like country music. This allows them to add a story to the “Country” page without even going to the control panel. On the back-end, Pubtools adds a powerful feature that automatically scans a field for BMI-affiliated songwriters (who are each represented by a category), and adds a link to their page in the extensive “Roster” section of the site. You can also remove links, search for an affiliate, add new affiliates, and access HTML tools and code snippets, all within the Pubtools interface. There’s great AJAX-powered module configuration to control it all, too.
“LeadGen” is the “choose your own adventure” of ExpressionEngine modules (see video of the LeadGen Control Panel in action on YouTube). To better assist potential and existing BMI customers, there is a license search that leads to a series of questions and answers, so these visitors end up on the right page of the site (say, if they want to license their bowling alley vs. their restaurant). In the LeadGen control panel, we can create these paths and control the user’s experience, sending them to a new question, a weblog entry or an external website depending on their answers.
The “Events” module was built to manage registration for BMI events, such as songwriter workshops. There’s a powerful control panel interface for managing events, available spaces, reminders and registrants. That’s all tied to entries in the events weblog, and registration forms are automatically added to the pages on the BMI calendar.
What is the greatest need you had on BMI that you wish were met by an EE add-on?
I’d love to see the ultimate image management tool. We’ve come up with great solutions for controlling the photos on this site, but I’d like more powerful tools for uploading, resizing, cropping, changing the order of photos in a gallery, etc.
There are a lot of add-ons in the EE world now, which ones do you find most useful throughout your work?
Whenever I have a site with user accounts, I automatically install the Solspace User Module. I also love what Solspace did with Freeform, Related Entries and Primary Category. They all do one thing, really well. I’m about to use Leevi Graham’s LG Polls module for the first time, but I can see using that over and over as the options and interface look great.
I worked with Solspace on the development of their Super Search and Importer modules, when we teamed up for client projects, and I know those are going to be very useful for many projects in the future.
I just launched a new version of the Eric Miller Design website. There are lots of projects with BMI coming up, so I’m looking forward to working with them to continue to improve the site. I’m close to launching an ExpressionEngine-powered web application that we built with Solspace, so I’m excited for that to see the light of day. Whenever I partner with Mitchell and Solspace, great things happen… so more of that to come. Also, I’ll be speaking at Baltimore’s first design conference, A Day in the Life, in April.