The fan club goes digital

Those days of floppy discs in the post have gone. Stars are using websites to offer exclusive and free content. Elisa Bray reports

Remember when CDs used to come with an inlay card for you to post back to the band's fan club? What happened to those fan clubs? Well, many may no longer exist with a postal code, but they remain in various incarnations all over the internet, as bands develop their websites to interact more with their fans.

It's why Squeeze's Chris Difford and his manager created the Saturday Morning Music Club. Fans who subscribed to it could download Difford's last solo album track-by-track on a Saturday, and it is now putting out a Squeeze greatest hits album. Difford told me: "I was a member of the Beatles' fan club and I really looked forward to getting the floppy disc that they used to send out. With the internet there's no thought for fan clubs any more. Delivering music in this way hopefully involves the fan in a more unique process."

In October a new "super site" launches that will pave the way for other young acts to launch their own subscription-based sites. McFly's venture aims to combat piracy by offering its users music by the band as soon as it's recorded – before it becomes available anywhere else. Costing £250,000 to build, the site provides free content, but it's the subscriber sections, giving fans access for a fee of £6 per month, or £50 per year, which render it like a fan club.

"This is the modern day equivalent," said McFly's manager Fletch, who helped set up the site. "Where it differs is we are a one-stop shop. You couldn't have had music distributed through a fan club – you had to go to the retailers."

Bands are realising just how important their fans are, by offering a unique hub to find the latest news and music. Here are some more connecting with their fans on the web in interesting ways.

Gorillaz

Being a virtual band, Gorillaz have resided mainly on their website (below) for nine years. As the place to find the band and hear their latest news, the site also became the hub for their last release, Plastic Beach. With EMI, Jamie Hewlett's company, Zombie, revamped the website around the Plastic Beach concept and the site features games, and a subscription-based members' area called Sub Division.

gorillaz.com/sub-division



Deerhunter

The American indie-rock four-piece have launched an "interactive Xerox art project" through their new website to coincide with the release of their album, Halcyon Digest. Inspired by 1970s and 1980s artwork and the cut-and-paste style of their New Wave heroes, the band asked fans to print out a poster designed by their frontman, Bradford Cox, place the posters in strategic places around town, photograph them and email them to the band. Fans participating were rewarded with exclusive access to the first single, "Revival", via a password-protected section of the site. The photos themselves are displayed on the site.

halcyondigest.com



Akala

Also known as Ms Dynamite's younger brother, Akala has been establishing himself as a rapper bringing Shakespeare to youngsters ever since he founded the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company. On his site he shares his passion for books, discussing them with his fans and encouraging fans to explore spoken word.

akalamusic.com



Riz MC

London rapper Riz MC's new interactive, sci fi-themed website, The Lab, was created for his debut, concept, album, MICroscope, which will be released in January. The site is designed to introduce audiences to the story behind his sci-fi world and its music via a three-minute web game, while for dedicated fans it is an extension of the sci-fi theme of his live show. After completion of the game, fans are given three free tracks from the album to download. The website recently won an Favourite Website Award for innovation in digital design. Riz MC explains: "This is a subversive, interactive, music-video site that allows you to download free music. You go undercover as a MICroscope Sonic Resistance Forces agent, into the heart of the DOCC [Department of Culture and Communication], to sabotage their cruel music and mind- control experiments."

rizmc.com/lab/



Underworld

The electro duo, who have been going since 1980, were active online before most. They have kept a daily blog for nearly 10 years on their website (below) – they were one of the first bands to properly embrace blogging, followed by countless artists, including Lily Allen. The site also hosts the band's radio show, while the art section links to their art-and-design collective, Tomato, and currently previews Karl Hyde's first major exhibition in Japan. They were also one of the first established acts to release music exclusively through their own website with the Riverrun album project, when they sold a series of internet-only tracks direct to the band's fanbase (including music, artwork, and pictures) two years before Radiohead sold In Rainbows online. It was Riverrun which went on to inspire the band's score in Danny Boyle's 2007 movie Sunshine.

underworldlive.com



Lightspeed Champion

Dev Hynes, best known to his fans as Lightspeed Champion, has just launched his new interactive website (below). You can sign up to download a track for free ("Heavy Purple", which was recorded recently in New York), and secure access to exclusive music, short films and photos loaded by Hynes, as well as his blog. You can also create a profile, load images and videos and talk to fellow fans. Currently you can enjoy Hynes's wordplay in his three-sentence movie reviews, as well as his pun of the day.

lightspeedchampion.com



Jamie Cullum

The jazz singer interacts most with fans on Facebook and Twitter, but his website allows them to upload gig photos and videos (via YouTube) for each performance, meaning there's lots of user-generated content. He is currently giving away a free track via unique Pins printed on the wristbands that fans receive at gigs. Anyone who signs up to his site has advance notice on tickets and occasional exclusives.

jamiecullum.com



Pendulum

The drum'n'bass act were the first band to stream a live performance of a new album during the writing process to enable fans to give feedback and help finish the album; 350,000 people watched it and made more than 50,000 comments.

pendulum.com



Muse

One of the most advanced fan sites to date, Muse.mu features fans on a world map, and fans can access documentary content when pre-ordering albums.

muse.mu



Tinie Tempah

The rapper's site was created using WordPress, and designed to work well on iPhone and iPad, as well as standard web browsers, so fans can keep up to date with the rapper's regular blogging. When he signed the deal with EMI for his second album, he ran a competition on his website. The winning "superfan" landed the chance to go to the signing deal – high tea at Claridges – and the star uploaded a video of the occasion.

tinietempah.com



Marina and the Diamonds

Marina Diamandis took such huge interest in her fans from the start that the Diamonds part of her stage name represents them. She has grown in fame since her early blog, and her website now boasts a VIP area for "super-fans", the Diamond Club. There, she offers first option on the best tickets for her shows, free songs and remixes, photos, and a blog, aiming to keep fans loyal.

marinaandthediamonds.com



Biffy Clyro

The Mercury-nominated band have a fan club area on their site (above) called Team Biffy where 40,000 fans are members. A "gig module" lets fans discuss gigs past and present. The site also offers widgets, tickets, and more.

biffyclyro.com

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