I’m not a musician. I’m a fan. And from my perspective, it’s clear that fans do want to support artists that they like. Here’s a list of things that fans will pay for, even if they can get your music for free:
The music. First and foremost, many people will (and do) voluntarily pay for digital music, even if they don’t have to. This might be because it’s easier to use iTunes than BitTorrent. Or it might be because they want to support the artist. Or both.
CDs and merch. Atoms, not bits. You can listen to NPR for free. Do you pledge them money to support the programming, or for the This American Life DVD? I regularly buy merchandise as a way to support artists. I buy CDs at concerts, because I know the money goes directly to the artists (and because I can listen to them in my car).
Relationships. Anything signed or limited-edition is not just about the article itself—it’s about expressing a relationship with the artist. And relationships aren’t fungible. Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer are two excellent artists who have close relationships with their fans, who in turn support them.
An experience. The canonical example of this is, of course, the concert – whether it’s $5 to see your favorite local band or hundreds of dollars for an arena show. But this also includes things like doing ’shrooms in a Lamborghini with your favorite drummer.
Something unique. A commissioned song is one-of-a-kind. It’s certainly worth something to the recipient.
A narrative. What’s a story worth? Apparently, quite a bit. The Significant Objects art project posts thrift-store finds for auction on eBay, along with the back stories. But the back stories are fictional, and are described as such. Nevertheless, the items go for substantially more than their market value.
What are you willing to pay for? What have you offered to your fans? Other thoughts?