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Published: 2013/04/30
by Chris Washburn

Umphrey’s McGee’s Headphones & Snowcones

As the economic window of a once lucrative business has slowly closed on touring acts such as Umphrey’s McGee, modern bands are forced to come up with creative new avenues for supporting their art financially. The first of these ideas has become a new standard in the industry: live recording downloads. These downloads have created a new channel of income for acts, one that is desperately needed as the costs of supporting a full tour are quickly rising as the economy tightens. In the modern day, people no longer purchase music, and would rather turn to streaming services and digital trading through chat forums and download servers like drop box. For a band to make a fuss and attempt to regulate this trading is musical suicide and will only alienate fans, as we saw during the Napster crisis of the early 2000’s.

So how are these bands, which we are so passionate about, to keep this movement going? They will have to think on their feet and create new opportunities for income, which do not put pressure on traditional sources of income like ticket prices. One such concept is being beta tested by the Umphrey’s McGee tour crew. Headphones and Snowcones is a cleaver new concept which gives audience members the ability to have a perfect FOH soundboard mix streamed to a personal monitor system through the same wireless packs the band uses on stage. While there are still many challenges to overcome, the concept works and the results are in.

I responded to an email link, requesting a set of headphones for the show at The Plaza ‘Live’ in Orlando, FL. I was graciously responded to by the Umph crew notifying me that they were sold out for the evening, but would consider me on a reserve list. I was told to go to the soundboard and look for a person in a black shirt and black hat. You can imagine my thought as I strolled into the pitch black packed venue. How the hell was I supposed to find this stranger? Well I did find the man in black and he had good news as a pack had in fact freed up. Matt (the man in black) took my payment and $400 deposit, and then gave me a quick rundown of the system and informed me that I would probably need to stay close to the soundboard, as he was unsure of the true range of the wireless pack. Now I don’t want to get too side tracked here, but the packs currently come with very nice high-end traditional studio headphones. Being the fashion guru I am, I decided that the headphones were just too bulky, and I didn’t want to look like a weirdo. So I brought my own single in-ear monitor. I realized this was a good move as not only did I protect my one bad ear, but I achieved ultimate coolness as everyone assumed I was a secret service agent.

How was the sound you ask? It was the most clear and clean listening experience of my long concert-attending career. The unit did in fact work everywhere in the venue. I was bobbing my head in the bathroom, the beer line, the smoking porch, and most importantly right up front and center! Now I did mention my bad ear. I have sustained significant hearing loss due to my irresponsible listening over the years. I often experience pain and distortion in venues with louder systems and louder crowds. This personal monitor system allowed me to protect me bad ear, while having full control of the actual volume of the music. Often at shows the front center position is the worst sound of the room. You will most likely hear more of one amp than another, and never get a true mix as it is intended. Needless to say I did not have this problem in Orlando. I was basking in musical richness from every spot in the room. Now I love witty crowd banter as much as the next guy, which is very little. Nothing is more annoying than having the person next too you shout the wrong off key lyrics to every song. But who am I to interfere with this person’s pleasure, which they paid for? Not a problem anymore, as it was just me and the Umph. I did still get to enjoy the live mix and some crowd noise through my open ear, which added to the realness of the experience that I was scared of losing in the first place.

Throughout the night I would pull out my earplug to remind myself of what I was missing. The result was the sad realization that this one giant leap forward in the concert experience had completely spoiled me and I would never experience a live performance the same. I thought to myself, “What am I going to do if I can’t get a wireless pack at tomorrow night’s show in St Petersburg? I would be so disappointed.”

What I am getting at here is that this is truly a revolutionary breakthrough in the live music experience, which will surely spread throughout the music world. No surprise that this idea is coming from a band which has lived and survived their entire career on the road. Umphrey’s Mcgee is live music. So why not take their home to a new level?

It’s not quite perfect yet. Several problems still exist, such as the high cost of the wireless packs, and the fact that people get rowdy at shows. These things are expensive and fragile. – No they do not operate submerged in beer. In addition to the cost and durability of the units, the mix is never the same, as many venues require different levels in the mains, than you would have in a personal monitor, due to the level of the amplifiers on stage. Running a sub mix is ok, but you would really need a designated sound operator to achieve this. I did notice that the Umph Crew was having to periodically give notes to the sound engineer on where his levels should be on the submix. Small kinks to be worked out I am sure. If anyone is going to be able to take this concept to the next level, it is the Umphrey’s Mcgee Crew. These guys are truly out of the box thinkers and will surely see the potential and value this will bring to the Umphrey’s McGee live experience.

To conclude, I was not only surprised to have two packs waiting for me in St Pete, but I was treated exceptionally well as a fan by the entire Umph crew and staff at Janus Live. This venue was outdoor, and very crowded. The Umph crew had a lot on their hands, but they were able to pull it off without a hitch, and for that I am truly thankful.

From one music fan to another, I strongly urge you all to go out for some Snowcones & Headphones the next time you are lucky enough to have Umphrey’s McGee and their wonderful crew in your town. The only thing you will regret is having the knowledge that the grass truly is greener on the other side. Once you share this experience, you will know that things will just never be the same.

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