MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Supporting your favorite band used to be so straight-forward, you could buy an album at the local record store or get a ticket to a concert. You could tell your friends about the band or carve its name into the top of your desk during homeroom.
The NPR music news blog, The Record, is spending the next month investigating the ways fans support musicians. As Jacob Ganz reports, the Internet, as it does with just about everything else, is making the act of being a fan much more complicated.
JACOB GANZ: One thing that fans still do: wait in lines to see their favorite musicians perform.
Mr. JACE JONES: I'm standing out here in the cold right now. And it's pretty ridiculous. They're saying that we should most likely go home, but I have a feeling that we're going to get in here, hopefully.
GANZ: The group that Jace Jones is hoping to get in to see on this frigid February night in Lower Manhattan is Odd Future, a Los Angeles rap collective. Odd Future is a young group and one that exists almost exclusively on the Internet.
Jones, and everyone else waiting in line, found out about the group by reading about it on a blog or seeing a video on YouTube or some other Web-mediated form of word-of-mouth.
Mr. JONES: I just keep track of everything that comes out about them. Basically they give away their music right now for free. But I just feel like me being here right now is me showing my support, you know, me just staying connected. And I'm fine with being in the cold right now.
GANZ: Later this spring, Odd Future will release the first album that Jones can pay for on an actual record label. And believe it or not, that's when things will really get complicated.
Dawn Barger is a manager for indie rock bands, some not yet famous, others, like her clients The National, with Billboard top-ten albums under their belt.
Ms. DAWN BARGER: I think in general, you want to make sure your album is everywhere. You want it in the indie stores, you want it on iTunes, you want it on Amazon, and if you can get it into the chain stores, it is good because there are a lot of markets where that's the only possible place to buy a physical record these days.
GANZ: If the physical options for getting a record to fans are becoming more limited, everything else is wide open. Say your favorite band is putting out a new album and you want to make sure that when you buy it, the band gets as much of your money as possible. Where do you shop - iTunes, Best Buy, your local record store?
Ms. BARGER: Generally all physical retail has a wholesale price, and that is the price that every record store can buy the record for from the distributor.
GANZ: So how much does it cost?
Ms. BARGER: Anywhere between 5, 6, sometimes $7, depending on the packaging of the release.
GANZ: That 5, 6, $7 goes to the record label. Part of that money gets paid to the band. It's pretty much a different amount for everyone, depending on the musicians' contract with the label.
Distribution of digital downloads works pretty much the same way, but even downloading mp3s for free or following a band on Facebook can raise its profile. But if your goal is to get more of your cash in the band's pocket, Barger says there's one sure-fire way to make it happen: buy your CD or LP directly from them at a show.
Ms. BARGER: Typically, a band purchases the albums from the record label at the same wholesale cost as a record store. So they're purchasing from the label, and the money that goes back to the label is paid to them in their royalty share. But all of the markup that would normally go to the retail store goes to the band when you purchase it from a show.
(Soundbite of applause)
GANZ: Support doesn't always involve money. Imagine you're at a venue, and before the headlining band comes on, an opener, someone you've never heard before, plays a set. When that band finishes a song, you have a choice. You can keep talking to the person next to you or you can tuck your beer into the crook of your elbow and applaud. It's a simple act that can actually change the experience for a band.
John Vanderslice, a musician based in San Francisco, says that at its best, the relationship between fans and musicians can get close to a friendship.
Mr. JOHN VANDERSLICE (Musician): If you've played, let's say Lawrence, Kansas, or Salt Lake City, Utah, you know, 15 times in the past six years, you have close friends there.
GANZ: The Internet, Vanderslice says, actually brings him closer to the feeling of playing live than releasing an album into stores. Last summer, Vanderslice released a free EP.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. VANDERSLICE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)
GANZ: It was recorded with the same care as his commercially released music, he says, and put out into the world quietly, via links to a secret page on his blog.
Mr. VANDERSLICE: It was like this flash. It was like a millisecond. The response is immediate. And, you know, you're gifting out 22 minutes of pretty intense and stressful creative production, and you just get flooded with comments and energy. It's really gratifying. And four or five years ago, that did not exist.
GANZ: Chances are at least a one of those fans will line up in the cold the next time John Vanderslice comes through town.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Ganz.
(Soundbite of music)
NORRIS: And you can tell us how you support your favorite bands. Go to our music news blog, The Record, at nprmusic.org.