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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2008/11/23
by John Zinkand

Mantis: Masterful Marketing in the Making

Umphreys McGee has already displayed good business sense when it comes to marketing. They were one of the first bands to offer a copy of their show on CD for sale at the end of the night. And in addition to selling a copy of a show after playing it live, they also have one of the most extensive websites on the scene offering shows for download at UMlive.net. Without exception, every show the band plays can be downloaded in mp3 or FLAC format just a few days to a week after the show was played live. Wise choices that help aggressively build their fan base have always been part of what Umphreys McGee does well. From their humble beginnings as a South Bend City college bar band where they had a great street team handing out free soundboards of their shows to help spread the word, to the last few summers teaming up with other bands in the scene like moe., String Cheese Incident, The Disco Biscuits, and STS9 in an effort to garner new fans, Umphreys has always been ahead of the marketing curve.

There should be no surprise to anyone, then, that Umphreys McGee is breaking new ground in the world of music marketing with their new CD Mantis. Set for release January 20th, everything about this album marks a fresh approach for the band. First of all, none of the songs on this new album have yet been played in a live setting. For a band like Umphreys McGee who makes many of their songs out of live improvisations (aka Jimmy Stewarts) that are then molded into more concrete song structures, this is a huge departure. Until now, most songs that have appeared on an Umphreys McGee album had first been played live many times. Through development as a live song on the stage, the band would flesh out any changes that they might want to incorporate into a given song before ultimately laying down the track for a forthcoming studio album. Mantis, however, will present all new material that has never been played live a complete reversal from their business as usual. It will be interesting to hear how the songs develop and depart from the album versions as the band acclimates them to the live setting.

Mostly, its the pre-order. Umphreys has set up an ingenious marketing plan to encourage pre-ordering of their upcoming album. First, the fan chooses between pre-ordering the basic album or the deluxe edition. Both editions come with a copy of the CD and a free life time digital subscription to Relix online, but the deluxe edition also comes with a vinyl copy of the album as well as other collectable knick-knacks. The pre-order of the studio album is done via UMlive.net, which also encourages the customer to peruse some live shows they might have seen and want to download while pre-ordering Mantis. By pre-ordering the album, fans are now privy to material which the general public has no access. For example, an mp3 of their first single off the album Made to Measure is already available for download as a preview for those who pre-ordered.

But the real genius of Mantis marketing is in the unlocking of levels of bonus material. Basically, if more people pre-order, then more material will be accessible to all pre-order customers. There are 8 total levels of locked bonus material. Bonus material includes things like pre-show snippets, video of the band recording the album in the studio, various outtakes, bus jams, etc. As more people pre-order the album, more bonus levels are then unlocked. After the official January 20th release date, all those that pre-ordered will have access to all of the bonus levels that have been unlocked during the pre-order. The disc will allow the purchaser access to a micro-site where the disc will act as a key that unlocks the various levels of bonus content. Exactly how much additional material available is up to fans and how well they can spread the word to get people to pre-order the album. The band has also taken things into the 21st century by having fans sign up for text updates via their special Mantis website#. The text updates let the registered pre-ordering fan know when another level of bonus material has been unlocked, thus generating anticipation and excitement for the actual release.

With the traditional style of music business marketing being a thing of the past, Umphreys McGee has taken the reigns of their destiny. The band is always on the technological forefront and always pushing boundaries musically, as well. In the past theyve shown an ability to be ahead of the curve with their uncanny ability to build up a solid fan base quickly through excellent playing, relentless touring, and wise business decisions. Mantis looks to cement those older fans as well as gain some new ones with its innovative concept of what a music album can be in this modern day and age. Instead of being stuck within the old and decaying confines of what a music album once was, Umphreys is pushing the concept of the album, and of its marketing, into the 21st century.

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