Kevin Browning heads up Strategy and Development for Umphrey’s McGee. Kevin has been involved in key aspects of the band’s business since the beginning and worked as the band’s front of house engineer & producer for over a dozen years. He transitioned to his current role at the beginning of 2011, where he oversees marketing and distribution, as well as other social and digital media efforts. You can follow him on Twitter – @soundcaresser
Joel Cummins is a founding member/keyboardist in Umphrey’s McGee. In addition to playing and touring extensively with UM, Joel has collaborated with such artists as Huey Lewis, Joshua Redman, Mavis Staples, Phil Lesh, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Sinéad O’Connor, Bela Fleck,Victor Wooten, Warren Haynes, Bob Weir, Les Claypool, John Oates, Adrian Belew, Ray White & Lee Oskar. You can follow him on Twitter – @goldlikejoel
So you guys just wrapped up a 4 night run at the Tabernacle in Atlanta for New Year’s. How’d it go?
Kevin: Yup, our first 4 night NYE run to date. Incredible time. Great venue, awesome crowds, & inspiring energy.
And you live streamed each night on StageIt. Tell me a little bit about why you chose StageIt and what the benefits are for both the band and fans tuning in from home.
Kevin: I met Evan, their CEO, a few years back and tucked StageIt somewhere into the back of my mind. After Hurricane Sandy forced us to cancel the live cable broadcast of our All Night Wrong Halloween event on AXS.TV last year, we wanted to find a way to still share the event with our fans. So we did an impromptu stream with StageIt and donated all of the profits to hurricane relief efforts.
I thought the overall experience was a solid one for fans so when toying with streaming options for NYE, I wanted to kick the tires a bit further on their platform. They are very proactive and want to share unique musical experiences with their customers and that’s something very much in line with our thinking.
Plus, I like that fans can tip!
Do you guys do anything differently – whether in terms of setlist writing or playing – knowing a huge portion of the audience is enjoying the show remotely? For instance, do you tap resources like Twitter to get fans involved?
Joel: If I get a good request on Twitter, I might consider adding it to a set list, but for the most part I just use Twitter to take the temperature on a given song or subject rather than look for specific requests.
I would say we are always playing to whoever is *in* the room, so as far as live streaming, no, nothing is different. It’s more about giving the streamer a view into the show so that they can feel like they are there.
Kevin: We’ve webcast a bunch of past shows and festival performances, many with iClips, another quality streaming service. I’ve been spending some time as of late investigating ways to stream more and more live performances in a cost effective way, something that’s good for fans but can be executed consistently without breaking the bank, as video production can get very expensive.
Streaming the FOH static cam is an idea that has come from that line of thinking. We’re already recording it for our personal review.
Monday morning quarterbacking?
Kevin: Exactly. I can assure you we are our toughest critics. If we can share with the fans who appreciate being able to watch that perspective on a regular basis, we will. The lack of consistent internet is actually the biggest hurdle to pulling that off on a nightly basis. It’s amazing how many venues have internet that rivals my ’97 AOL dial up connection.
Kevin: It feels thoroughly primitive to me. Quality high speed internet is essential at so many levels when putting on a real rock show.
So you were set to broadcast on AXS.TV last october?
Kevin: Correct. But the crew was unable to get into the area because of canceled flights, safety concerns with the video truck etc. That said, we are working to reschedule another event to bring live HD UM into your living room TV.
Can you talk a little bit about how you arranged the event with AXS.TV?
Kevin: Our publicist put AXS.TV on our radar in the middle of last year. I then spoke with Evan Haiman (VP of Music Programming) and we began the dialogue. He had seen an episode of Jeff Waful +1 and really liked what we were doing with those (I am an associate producer on Jefferson’s show).
I told him about our pending Halloween date, explained to him the set of fan voted covers & we both agreed it would be a great, unique event for AXS.TV to shoot. They are very interested in all things social media and our close connection to the fans was something that they liked. The more interesting pieces an artist brings to the table, the more content a station like AXS.TV has to work with.
You can expect an event in 2013 with UM and AXS.TV.
Speaking of a close connection to the fans, what ways, if any, do you solicit feedback from fans?
Joel: I joined Twitter in the beginning of 2012 and it’s been an amazing way to interact with fans. I’ve got about 4,000 followers now and have interesting conversations with them a few days a week, discussing music, where we should play, food, politics, religion, you name it. So cool to have this sort of interaction where everyone can share their opinions with each other.
We also have some VIP events where we have meet and greets before or after the shows. These have also been great opportunities to casually shoot the shit with the fans.
One other way we’ve been interacting with people is by playing sets at Turntable.fm – one afternoon we got our room up to about 600 people hangin out listening to what we were doing.
So let me ask you this – which do you think is the better platform for live concert streaming: TV or the Internet? This could be in the context of artist exposure, revenue for band/sponsors, ease of use for fans, etc.
Kevin: They both are/can be great. There are lots of different factors at play with both. People consume in more ways than ever and various strategies are needed to cast the widest net possible. The size of your audience directly impacts your ability to make money on either platform. If you can charge on a per stream basis and do solid numbers on a regular basis, that’s probably the most direct way for an artist to net additional revenue. But if you’re a big time stadium/arena act, you’ve got more options for sponsorship and the like, across multiple platforms.
I believe exposure to new eyes and ears is possible on both platforms, but you have to set your objectives properly. If you want new people to give your band a shot, stream a show for free or find a tv station that wants content and make a deal. I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to give folks a healthy dose of low barrier content (free) to get people to check you out these days. With so many options for people to choose from, you have to give them a taste.
It’s like dealing drugs, first one’s always free. If you’re good enough, they’ll come back. Quality trumps all. (That said, there is definitely some garbage that makes more money than we do. But I sleep better at night.)
So we can expect UM and AXS.TV in 2013. Anything else coming down the pipes in the new year?
Kevin: If you know UM, you know there is always works in progress. Look for more on the video release front to be sure.
From where I’m standing, it seems like a lot of people are really loving the video releases. Now instead of “download this show” it’s “watch this show.”
Kevin: Video is inherently a little more difficult to turn around in a rapid manner but we’re trying to take video releases toward the UMLive model, i.e. quick releases following shows. Fans want video, we want to give it to them.
As platforms evolve and technology becomes more ubiquitous, you will see UM striving to stay at the forefront of what’s possible to bring the best musical experiences to our fans. It’s an exciting time to create: if you can dream it, you can build it. As my father likes to say, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”