A backstage look at how supersecret Musictoday helps hundreds of artists and athletes engage with fans and take more control of their brands.

John Legend's debut album Get Lifted sold 3 million copies, but retailers didn't "fingerprint" those fans. When they join his Musictoday site, though, they give email addresses and demographic information. It's invaluable: Legend, a former business consultant, knows who they are and how to reach them.

Before hitting it big, John Mayer would ship t-shirts to fans himself from his home in Atlanta. Now Musictoday handles orders for his merch, organizes fan meet-and-greets at the sound check before shows, and runs his online fan club. In one regular feature, "Dear John," Mayer answers fans' questions.

As a manager, Capshaw modeled the Dave Matthews Band on the Grateful Dead. Build a grassroots following. Encourage bootlegging. Own the brand. After investing in the ticketing, fan club, and e-commerce infrastructure for the band, Capshaw started Musictoday to offer those services to other artists.

Musictoday understands and cultivates music fans' obsession, then commercializes it, like a church that sells communion wafers. For megabands and megabrands like the Rolling Stones, it sells hundreds of items for each tour through the band's Web site. There's also holiday fare like the Stones' tongue logo featuring a Thanksgiving turkey.

The key to a good fan club, says Musictoday's Matt Blum is access -- "both perceived and real." For Kenny Chesney's site, Blum traveled with the band, videotaping exclusive footage, such as the interview with Chesney on his tour bus, or the impromptu backstage tour that included band members napping before the show.

Musictoday works with artists to come up with merchandise for monthly contests to keep fans returning to their Web sites -- and shopping. For the band Santana, fans had a shot at winning one of the trademark black fedoras that Carlos Santana wore in concert.

Musictoday helps bands create extra perks for fan-club members at concerts, such as "cut passes" for the food line and a peek backstage after the show. The Backstreet Boys go beyond the standard meet-and-greet. Musictoday has arranged for fans to play blackjack and softball with band members.

The ultimate fan engagement? Christina Aguilera used her Musictoday fan club to solicit voice-mail messages from fans that she incorporated into "Thank You," a song on Back to Basics, her most recent recording.

The ever-prolific Ryan Adams uses his Musictoday site (www.ryan-adams.com) as the ultimate creative outlet. He sketched the sci-fi design and has posted 14-plus unreleased albums, which is unheard of. Rolling Stone declared, "If we could nominate a website for president, it would be Ryan Adams's newly updated homepage."

Musictoday gives artists the opportunity to offer fans new merchandise directly, so they, not the retailers, keep the profit. After Rob Thomas wore a T-shirt saying "Love Me" in concert, his manager spotted a fan wearing a homemade version at a later show. Within two weeks, Musictoday was selling hundreds of the original shirt online.

Musictoday provides the infrastructure for less-mainstream artists like pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph to be in business for themselves, similar to established stars like the Stones. Randolph sold more than 3,000 copies of his latest CD, Colorblind, through his site.

When Usher starred on Broadway in Chicago, his management relied on his Musictoday fan club to let his most ardent fans know about his new gig. Later, they were also invited to attend a special Q&A following the performance, the sort of perk that sells tickets and fan-club memberships.

Music's Invisible Money Machine

A backstage look at how supersecret Musictoday helps hundreds of artists and athletes engage with fans and take more control of their brands.

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