Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

document.getElementById( “ak_js_1” ).setAttribute( “value”, ( new Date() ).getTime() );
Umphrey’s McGee has never been afraid to embrace new technology. The band has a rich history of finding high-tech ways to enhance the fan experience, including giving fans their own wireless monitor mix with Headphones and Snowcones and letting them suggest themes in real time for spontaneous live jams during their UMBowl concerts.
With their brand new studio album, Asking For A Friend, set to release on July 1st, the band is stepping into the blockchain future and bringing their fans with them by offering affordable, entry level NFTs that come with benefits including audio stems from the album, limited edition collectible art, and access to an exclusive live album premiere on June 30th, the day before the album drops. Among the NFTs will also be hidden Easter egg prizes like handwritten lyrics, studio-used sheet music, vinyl test pressings, and more surprise goodies.
The Asking For A Friend NFTs are intended to help familiarize fans with NFTs and the Web3 space, which the band sees as a great new way to connect with their audience. The tokens can be purchased with a regular credit card for $25, and no crypto wallet is needed to access the included benefits (though NFT holders are supposed to set one up to access the live album premiere).
We talked with Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins and band manager Kevin Browning to get their take on the new album and how blockchain technology is transforming the way bands connect with their fans.
L4LM: So Umphrey’s McGee has a history of using new technology to enhance the fan experience. Is that something that’s important to you guys as a band? Is it something you guys are really interested in?
Joel Cummins: Well, I think the biggest thing is we’re always trying to find ways to use technology to really connect people on a more human level. At the root of it, music is really an emotional and connective experience. And when you can use something that is kind of the opposite of that when you’re talking about new technologies and stuff, I think that there’s kind of this aha moment for a lot of people.
A few examples of things we’ve done are like at UMBowl, fans can vote for things in advance, but then there’s a component to it where people are contributing ideas in real time. We do an improvisational segment called the S2 where they can basically text in something abstract or something that’s more specific that they want the band to play and it appears up on the screen. And then we attempt to improvise over that idea. So we’re basically using the technology here to involve the fans to create music and to create part of the show. So somebody who has an idea that gets up there and let’s say it’s one of those moments that really hits and people were walking out of the venue going, “Oh man, the Jamaican sunrise on the beach, that was incredible.” And you’re like, “Dude, that was my idea!” You know?
It becomes this really personal thing. And so that’s generally what we’re trying to do is just trying to continue creating these connections with the fans and giving them something unique and something that will really give them both the NFTs to hang onto, but also just a sense of pride that you’re supporting something that is going to the artist. And you’re helping connect to that. So it’s kind of a logical extension of a lot of the technology that we’ve done.
I think the other one that stands out to me is this thing we do called Headphones and Snowcones. It’s named after a rather obscure Umphrey’s tune from our album Local Band Does Okay. You get this super detailed audio mix without any extraneous noise that’s happening. People are super curious about it. And, you know, the headphones experience is honestly probably best shared with like two or three people, so you can kind of pass it around during the show and check stuff out. You get a wireless pack that you put on along with the headphones, and you’re free to roam about the venue, so you send your friend for drinks and they don’t miss any of the show. I’m not gonna recommend going to the bathroom though because accidents do happen. [Laughs] But it’s cool because it really gives you that opportunity to stay super focused on what’s happening with the music no matter where you are in the venue.
So with these NFTs, obviously we have a new album coming out and we want to get people involved in as many ways as possible to get the word out and to hopefully share this music with as many people in the world as we can. So this is just another way for us to do that.
L4LM: Very cool. I think the Headphones and Snowcones thing a really great idea. I would love to try that. And don’t some of the NFTs have special, hidden, one-of-a-kind Easter eggs? I believe I saw some have things like vinyl test pressings, handwritten lyrics, studio-used song charts, and a whole collection of things.
Joel Cummins:  Yeah. This is always something that we love to do. I think putting the Easter eggs with the NFTs is kind of an extension of something that we’ve done at the summer festival for years and years, and that is we create a golden ticket contest where we basically create pretty bags with a bunch of merch and other rare stuff that go for I think like 20 bucks a pop. We usually make maybe a thousand of these each year. And within those, there are 20 golden ticket prizes. 19 of them are two tickets to any show of your choice, and the biggest one is two tickets to every show that we play in the next year.
So that had kind of become a really fun part of Summer Camp for us, and we figured why not extend this to the NFTs and try to get creative with what we can give people here. And just looking at the test pressing vinyl part of it, we’ve made a ton of vinyl over the past ten to 15 years, and we’ve done some reissues too of things that had never been put out on vinyl before. So we know that there’s a great desire for the fans to pick those up and to get a test pressing is obviously something that is incredibly unique.
L4LM: And the golden tickets are just randomly distributed, hidden among the packs?
Joel Cummins: Exactly. They are randomly put in the packs that we give out at the event.
L4LM: The NFTs also include audio stems from the album. I think the obvious question is how could people enjoy the audio stems? I heard whispers about a remix contest of some kind. Is that something you are planning, and how else do you think people could make use of the audio stems?
Joel Cummins: There are probably a few people out there saying what are audio stems? And those are basically when we get the tracks of a new tune, everything is on its own channel and in its own place. And so the audio stems are these individual tracks that you can break out. So if you want to hear just guitar, or you want to hear just bass, or you want to hear just drums, or you want to hear just the vocals, and the rare people who want to hear just the keys, you can do that. You can do a lot of things with this stuff.
Obviously, there are plenty of people who just want to hear what it’s like when you take everything else away, which is a pretty cool experience. And other people who are musicians out there may wanna take these things and repurpose them and either create remixes or, you know, maybe start something completely new with it and reenvision them entirely. So I think that there’s a lot of room for creativity for people who are musicians out there. And there’s also a lot of ear candy for audiophiles who just want to hear what exactly is going on with this one specific part.
L4LM: Yeah. I mean, I can tell you as a drummer, I would be stoked to just take the drums out and be able to play along.
Joel Cummins: Yeah. There you go. Perfect. Yeah, exactly.
Kevin Browning: We haven’t publicly said anything yet, but ultimately we are going to launch a remix contest where we’ll have people submit versions of any tune on the record they want in whatever format, arrangement, or style they want and the band will sort through them. We will share and distribute some of the winners. While we haven’t publicly announced the contest, I can tell you that we are going to be doing so and going to be engaging fans to put their spin on it once the record is out.
L4LM: And it comes with garage band files, so it sounds like it should be easy for anybody with an apple product to upload them and use them in garage band.
Joel Cummins: Yeah. We try to go the path of least resistance as much as we can.
L4LM: Yeah. I mean, that’s what I appreciate about the whole project—that it’s kind of like an entry level NFT to get people excited about the space and kind of separate it from the crazy digital art and speculative investments that they’re associated with now.
Joel Cummins:  Yeah. It’s for people who have been working in the NFT world before—obviously they’ll be very comfortable with this—but I think that’s a big part of it too. We don’t want this to be something that’s intimidating to people who aren’t familiar with the NFT experience. So we’ve really tried to create something that would be for everyone, regardless of your technological background. We really wanted to make this something that would be enjoyable for people that have been in the NFT space before, but also people who aren’t as familiar to kind of help those entry level people be more into it and to get into it and understand what’s happening.
L4LM: Yeah. On that topic, I was gonna ask do you need to set up a meta mask wallet for any of this? I assume you need one to access the livestream, but can you claim the other benefits with just a regular credit card?
Kevin Browning: Yeah, that’s the idea. We want to help onboard as many people as possible, so the NFTs can be purchased with regular fiat currency. For a lot of people, the idea of a digital wallet is still something new and there’s a bit of a learning curve. The idea is that by time for the stream you should have a wallet set up and you can access it that way, but we’ve also built in sort of a failsafe that if push comes to shove and you’re just unable to get a wallet set up the team at Lively can still make sure you get access to the premiere. If for whatever reason you’ve been unable to get a wallet set up, we built a default break glass in case of emergency option and you can still get access to the stream.
L4LM: Okay. That sounds cool. How would people do that?
Kevin Browning: Through the FAQs and Lively or the customer service email there. If people have any questions about it they can email their team and they’ll get a quick response making sure that people get in. Our goal is to just let anybody who wants to be there be there. We understand the reality that there’s still a lot of friction in the Web3 space. We’re trying to do our best to walk the line of helping lead people there, but also making it user friendly in a space that’s not entirely user friendly yet.
L4LM: Speaking of the album premiere, what can we expect from that? Will it be basically a listening party followed by a live Q&A with the band?
Joel Cummins: Yep. That’s the plan. And it’s gonna be a little more challenging for me because I’m going to be in Amsterdam. So we’ll be setting my alarm for that one. But yeah, like most listening parties, we’re gonna play the whole thing. And I’m really excited about this because obviously people have only heard five of the 14 songs and I don’t know if we’ve ever put out a 14-song album.
We’ve been working on this thing for like over three years and multiple different sessions. We were trying to find a collection of songs that we felt like sonically made sense together. When we got to the point where things were finished, we did a bunch of anonymous voting about which ones we thought worked best. We were like, “14 songs is too much for the album. Maybe we should do ten, 11, or 12, something like that.” And there was just no consensus. We all have different favorite tunes and we all have different least favor tunes. So we were like, “You know what, let’s just put ’em all on there and we’ll see how they fall.” And hopefully people will appreciate that. We tried to give them as much content as possible.
L4LM: I read about the album that it is the band’s first album since 2009’s Mantis on which fans haven’t gotten a sneak peek from the stage. There are some singles out that people have heard, but I’m curious how intentional that was. Have you purposely just kept it secret and not played these songs or is there another reason why you made that decision to not play them live until the album’s out?
Joel Cummins:  I think we really just want people to hear the studio version of these songs before we play them live, and before they have a new interpretation of it. That was our thought process with Mantis too. We put our heart and soul into these for so long, and to us, these are like the essential versions of the songs. These are what get at the root of what these songs are all about. So why not let people hear ’em this way first and then bring them into the live experience.
It’s a little bit of a throwback to the way albums were produced for so many years in that bands had new albums coming out all the time and they hadn’t road tested the songs. So I love the idea of our fans getting something where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is all this new stuff. What is it gonna sound like?” And you know we’re audiophiles too, so we’re trying to produce things that are gonna really shine on headphones and big PAs and when you’re blasting it in your car. So that’s kind of the feeling with that. We want people’s first experience with these new songs to be these studio recordings.
L4LM: I also read that the band is reapproaching their craft with a new lens. Could expand on that at all?
Joel Cummins: Yeah. So I think there’s a really strong focus on vocal melodies. A lot of that is Brendan [Bayliss] and Jake [Cinninger], and then I contributed as well with some of the arranging stuff. And having all this time with the pandemic, we were able to go back and just literally take years on these songs and find all the little holes and things that we needed to create something else and fill those spaces with melodies that would stick. And so I’m just incredibly proud of everything we produced here, because most of these songs I can still go back and listen to, and I’m not just incredibly annoyed. So that’s a good sign after hundreds and hundreds of listens for most of these. And I love where they ended up.
L4LM: How did the process compare to past records? Do you usually spend that long on studio records or is this the longest one?
Joel Cummins: This is definitely the longest one because there was just no rush for us to put it out. We didn’t know really when we were going to be touring full time again. And the timing of this kind of made sense, we’ve obviously got a lot of tour dates in July and August and even September this year. So it was nice to really have that time. There’s usually kind of the ambiguous push to get things done. And with this, it was just a little more laid back and we were able to take our time and enjoy letting these songs kind of rest and then going and revisiting them. So I think that really helped the songs in the end.
L4LM: Cool. Alright. Before we wrap up I wanted to ask about the band’s future plans. First, I saw there may be future benefits added to the NFTs. Is there anything in particular planned for that?
Joel Cummins: I can’t give out these surprises, James, come on.
L4LM: [Laughs] Okay.
Joel Cummins: Yeah, no, but much like our Manchester release, I think that there’s always stuff that we have in the can and things that we’re holding onto. I don’t want to say too much about that, but we always like to have a few extra things. So who knows? Who knows what that will be?
L4LM: Okay. And what about other NFT or Web3 plans beyond this project?
Joel Cummins: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. Obviously, this is a very new technology that we’re embracing for the first time with the album stuff. I mean, I’m honestly really curious where this will go too and what kind of other things we can mint and put out for future releases. And maybe it doesn’t even have to be an album release. I mean, this could be something that makes its way into the live arena too since that’s such a huge part of what we do. So for now, I know we’re focusing on this album and the NFTs with this, but I’m very curious and open minded to what else it might bring.
L4LM: Very cool. I’m curious, do you own any NFTs yourself? Are you involved in the space personally?
Joel Cummins: I am not involved in the space personally yet. So right now I have two children under three years old, and so those are my personal NFTs that I spend most of my time on. But yeah, man. I think obviously I’ve learned a lot about it with us doing this with the album, so that could very well be something that I get more involved in now.
L4LM: Okay great. Is there anything else you want to share either about how the album came together or anything else about the NFT project?
Joel Cummins: Well, I would just say we’re going to be debuting these songs little by little here over our summer tour, and we’re really psyched to be going back out and to have a whole array of new material that we can throw into the live shows. And of course we’ll still be keeping our shows full of variety, like we always have over the years. We’re looking forward to getting these out there and playing them in front of people.
L4LM: And what about the future of NFTs in music? Any final thoughts?
Kevin Browning: I think that right now it’s easy for the signal to kind of get overwhelmed by the noise in the NFT space as a whole. Like anything where there’s a new technology where a lot of people don’t necessarily understand it out of the gates, there’s always a gold rush and there’s always people looking who just see the ability to try to make a quick buck. I think we’ve seen a ton of that in the NFT space, just like we saw a ton of that in the social space with Web2 and a ton of that in the dot-com boom with Web1. It’s really no different in some regards. However, fundamentally I think that the blockchain is going to change the way that the world interacts with all sorts of services, brands, bands, you name it.
I’m of the opinion that we are at the very beginning of the next truly seismic shift here. We’re bringing our Web2 sort of social media internet brains to the blockchain where they’re not the same thing and they don’t work the same. I think there’s a lot of confusion back to that noise in the space. Fundamentally being able to directly communicate access and be supported by your fan base and also to be able to reward your fan base in the same way without having the intermediary of a centralized company is a huge thing that’s going to significantly disrupt the way that labels work, that distribution works, that band clubs work, and that social media works.
You don’t control a lot of your databases. If you want to reach people on Facebook, you have to pay for it. These are audiences that you’ve built, but then they get gated. To me, the idea of having wallet addresses to our biggest fans and most ardent supporters is really exciting because nobody can change an algorithm one day and decide that you’re not going to get our content. We have the ability to reward and engage with a wallet address in a way that nothing can ever affect because it’s decentralized. Right? If we want to airdrop a free guest list spot to everybody who holds this Asking for a Friend token in three months or six months we can do that without any intermediary. That’s just one example of why I’m very bullish on it and excited about the opportunities that it provides a band to be able to engage with fans and vice versa.
I think there’s still a lot of misunderstanding in the space and there’s a lot of people that think that NFTs are just a fad and the bubble’s burst, but I don’t look at it in those same terms. 98% of NFTs that have been speculated upon will in fact be worthless, but the underlying technology is here to stay and it’s powerful and it’s going to be beneficial to artists and to fans. I encourage people not to miss the forest for the trees because it’s exciting and I think it’s a win for music fans and artists alike.
The Umphrey’s McGee Asking For A Friend NFTs are available for purchase hereAsking For A Friend drops on July 1st. NFT holders will have access the exclusive album premiere listening party and live Q&A, which will be streamed via Lively on June 30th.
Umphrey’s has tour dates scheduled throughout the summer. To view a full list of upcoming shows and purchase tickets, visit the band’s website.

Copyright © 2022 L4LM | Website by Computer Courage


Leave a comment