Umphreys McGee Embrace Change

Change.  It has been the ringing theme across America throughout the last six months, not only politically but socially.  Our country has finally come to the conclusion that "business as usual" can no longer work, seen most prominently by the economic turmoil facing the nation today.


umOne area reeling from its own such financial crisis is the music recording industry.  Sales from physical albums have massively plunged over the last decade, due mostly in part to the rise of the digital age.  There are too many options via the internet for people to get their music for free or cheap, making the purchase of CDs virtually too expensive or unnecessary.


Record company executives have been scrambling to figure out ways to make money off of their artists, and some are beginning to try new revenue streams in hopes of making their products profitable again.  Yet many still seem to be relying on tired methods of heavy marketing, and fighting digital retailers such as iTunes.


Artists have taken note, with some prominent names deciding that they no longer necessarily need distribution labels to sell their music.  There is a fundamental shift taking place in the music industry, one that now seems long overdue.  A change in approach has become evident, and no group this year has embraced such change more than the progressive rock outfit Umphreys McGee.


The popular touring band from Chicago started off 2009 fresh with a brand new studio release called Mantis.  Musically it was their most bold, complex, and well-produced album to date.  But what really made this project so special was the means by which they chose to market it.  The campaign consisted of a grassroots-type effort of giving fans more music through their pre-ordering system.  What it came down to was the more orders that got placed then the more fans would get out of it.  Levels of digital bonus content would be "unlocked" if more folks purchased orders for the new album.


In addition to the ordering campaign, the group incorporated a new technology into the disc itself that worked like a "key" to getting even more bonus material from the internet.  Using this PUSH product, users only needed to insert the disc into their home computers, which would then direct them to a website where they could download more content such as photos, liner notes, and live songs.


And the strategy worked.  Fans old and new excitedly purchased the new album, landing the release on the coveted Billboard Top 200 for that week.  This is from a band that went from modest CD sales to #62 on that chart.


umUmphreys McGee did not stop there when reworking their image.  Shortly after the release of Mantis, the band hit the road in support of the album.  They are no strangers to large tours, but decided to also alter the way they approach touring.  First they brought along famed lighting engineer Jeff Waful to set up a new light rig and wow fans with a more visual experience.


Second, they are considering changing the two-set format that most jam bands use in performances to one longer set with an extended encore.  This will give fans the same amount music, but will inevitably cut production costs with shorter overall venue use.


As if the experience of the show is not enough, fans can also purchase downloadable copies of each performance through their partnership with Live Downloads at UMLive.net.  The concerts can be purchased as MP3s or the higher quality FLAC files.  The band will also soon be delivering shows in a new HDMP3 format, which will give listeners lossless audio files that are compatible with standard MP3 players, thus providing much better quality overall sound.


The band has those who want the whole live music experience, but cannot be there in person, covered too.  On a recent string of shows the band partnered with iClips to allow fans the opportunity to stream live shows as they happen.  For a modest fee of $5 anyone could get a virtual experience of a live Umphreys McGee concert.


umThese revolutionary methods are working off the mantra, the more you give the more you get.  And because of this thinking, the band is experiencing their most successful year of their career.  By embracing change the group is laying the groundwork not only for their future, but the future of those who follow.


As artists and recording companies look for ways to survive in a suffering industry, Umphreys McGee may be the ones to lead the charge of new methods of not only sustainable, but profitable growth.

Umphrey’s McGee Among First to Embrace New HDMP3 Format

ryanUmphrey's McGee are among the first bands to make their content available in the new HDMP3 format.  The new format allows for the creation and playback of a new type of audio file using lossless compression. MP3HD files are approximately four times the size of corresponding MP3 files, but remain compatible with existing MP3 players.  Umphrey's McGee will make a sizable portion of their recent two-night run at the historic Murat Egyptian Room on March 13, 2009 available in the new format beginning April 1st at http://all4mp3.com/Listen_mp3HD.aspx.  Additional recordings will be made available in the coming weeks.

"As one of the few artists who record and make available every show that is played, sound quality is paramount to the entire band.  The HDMP3 format is a welcome addition to our existing arsenal of lossless and lossy formats we make available for fans, explains Umphrey's McGee's audio engineer & producer Kevin Browning." Offering a much richer sound spectrum combined with the convenience and familiarity of the MP3 format, we expect HDMP3 to be a hit with the band and fans alike."

Umphrey's McGee has recently made headlines with a groundbreaking digital campaign surrounding their latest studio album, Mantis.  Mantis debuted at #62 on the Billboard 200 Chart, and #6 on the Indie Chart, with more than twice the sales the band's previous effort achieved week of release.  In a declining record industry, the band's ingenious and innovative digital strategy has bucked the downward trend.  Prior to this initiative, the standard approach towards offering bonus content was limited to delivery of exclusive materials as a one-shot incentive to the buyer.  Umphrey's McGee, in super-serving their fan base, have built a modern nine-tier solution supported by grassroots and viral word-of-mouth, that marketing executives across the planet will envy.

This innovative initiative relies on fan support to see its goals realized.  A variety of content is made available to those who pre-ordered the album in stages, based on purchased units unlocking the vault at varying thresholds.   With each tier reach, more content goes out to the core crusaders.  Guitarist and vocalist Brendan Bayliss explains, "Our fans have always been there for us, and with each year that has passed, the legion has exponentially grown.  Collectively, we knew that this is a program that they'd love.  Without a community, as we enjoy, this would probably never be executed as a realized vision.  In our case, it worked."  Band manager Vincent Iwinski adds, "That we were able to super-serve our fanbase with content they want, while making them part of the process, resulted in crowd-sourcing a passionate sales team like no other.  With sales more than doubling our previous album in such a tough recorded music market is a testament to the creativity of the band, the support of the fans and the power of the new medium that enables artists like Umphrey's McGee to push the envelope from both music and marketing perspectives."  During the release week, Mantis reached #25 on the iTunes Album chart.

In addition to a one-of-a kind pre-order campaign where fans can participate in "unlocking" exclusive bonus material, Mantis incorporates PUSH(TM) technology by Digital Insert to deliver new content throughout 2009.  PUSH requires no software installation or serial number; by simply putting the Mantis CD in your CD-ROM drive, the disc acts as a "key" to an Umphreys.com micro-site where fans get access to exclusive 2009 content as it becomes available.

Umphrey's McGee has also broken new ground by being among the first bands to offer their fans a video subscription service.  Available exclusively at iClips.com, Umphrey's has made an entire week's worth of concerts available in realtime video streaming to their fans for the low cost of only $5 per show, or the total package for only $20.  Fans have the option of streaming the shows live as they happen, as well as further streaming on demand for two weeks following the concerts.

The Mantis campaign, the band's video subscription, and their use of the HDMP3 format are all innovative music experiences offered by Umphrey's McGee, who have proven adaptive and inventive both in music and business over the last 10 years. Through online community building, creative web-based promotions, and open taping policies allowing live music sharing among fans, Umphrey's McGee has harnessed the internet's momentum to spread their music far and wide. The band's download store UMLive.net is an archive of their ever-diverse live performances, hosting downloads of over 300 shows with 750,000 tracks sold since 2004. Umphreys.com hosts the iTunes friendly UM Podcast which releases two 75-minute episodes of live material each month to its 20,000 subscribers. Since 2001, Umphrey's has released soundboard recordings of each night's concert immediately after the show in both physical and digital formats - and each show typically sells upwards of 300 copies per night. The band's unique approach to online and digital distribution, paired with word of mouth buzz, has helped Umphrey's McGee sell out shows nationwide while keeping their fans a top priority.

jakeThe band has returned to the road for a run through the northeast, midwest and several forthcoming summer festivals.  Confirmed dates are as follows:   

April 02 The Grand Opera House Wilmington, DE
April 03 Penn's Peak Jim Thorpe, PA
April 04 Ram's Head Live! Baltimore, MD
April 05 Toad's Place New Haven, CT
April 07 Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel Providence, RI
April 08 Calvin Theatre Northampton, MA
April 09 House of Blues Boston, MA
April 10 Nokia Theatre Times Square New York, NY
April 11 Nokia Theatre Times Square New York, NY
April 16 Taft Theatre Cincinnati, OH
April 17 Egyptian Theatre Dekalb, IL
April 18 Morris Performing Arts Center South Bend, IN
April 29 Bama Theatre Tuscaloosa, AL
April 30 House of Blues New Orleans, LA
May 01 House of Blues New Orleans, LA
May 02 The Lyric Oxford MS
May 22 Summer Camp Chillicothe, IL
May 29 Mountain Jam Festival ~ Hunter Mountain Hunter, NY
May 30 Newport Music Hall Columbus, OH
June 05 Wanee Festival Live Oak, FL
July 02 High Sierra Music Festival Quincy, CA
July 11 All Good Music Festival ~ Marvin's Mountaintop Masontown, WV
July 18-19 Alpine Valley East Troy, WI supporting The Dave Matthews Band
July 25 10,000 Lakes Festival Detroit Lakes, MN