By: Paul Keiss
The year 1993 contained many major events. Pablo Escobar was killed in Colombia, the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, Power Rangers debuted on television, and the String Cheese Incident was formed. The String Cheese Incident is a bluegrass-influenced jam band out of Boulder, Colorado. Since their formation, they have released seven studio albums, a series of live albums, and performed over 1200 shows.
In 1998, String Cheese Incident, together with their management/booking agency Madison House, Inc., created SCI Fidelity Records. According to current SCI Fidelity President Kevin Morris, the band created their own label to avoid signing with a major label and thus losing a large amount of control over their music, both creatively and business-wise. This became the focus of the label; to offer as much as they can in-house – marketing, management, etc. – and help the artists retain control over their product. At the label’s launching point, Kevin Morris was performing legal work for both Madison House and String Cheese Incident. In 1999, Morris joined the label as a partner and currently manages the company’s legal work as well as working with Madison House’s management division.
Do-it-yourself was not a new concept to the members of String Cheese Incident. The band formed its own ticketing service in 1996, SCI Ticketing, now known as Baseline Ticketing. Baseline Ticketing serves artists such as Michael Franti, the Drive-By Truckers, and Keller Williams, as well as String Cheese Incident. Along with their ticketing service, the band also had their own merchandising arm, SCI Gear, which also underwent a name change to become Baseline Gear. The members of String Cheese have embraced the business side of their work, with Kevin Morris noting that bassist Keith Moseley has “become really active in the label.”
Since the label’s formation, it has grown to be one of the most well-known labels on the jam band scene. In addition to String Cheese Incident, SCI Fidelity has prominent acts such as Umphrey’s McGee, Keller Williams, the Disco Biscuits, and Lotus on its roster. String Cheese side projects such as EOTO and the Emmitt-Nershi Band also call SCI Fidelity home.
One of the strongest points of SCI Fidelity is their marketing. Whether through street teams or freebies, SCI Fidelity finds unique ways to promote their artists. The label puts a strong emphasis on the grassroots effort. Matt Hogan, SCI Fidelity’s director of Grassroots Marketing & Promotion said in an interview with FanMail, “Grassroots marketing is the most authentic, effective and inexpensive way of spreading the word about any project to a large audience.” SCI Fidelity’s collective of street teams have a total of over 10,000 members nationwide. These members make up band teams such as SCI Pirates and Team Keller, or work on the label street team, Team SCI-FI, which promotes all of the label’s artists. Work for the street teams include posting flyers and giving out handbills at various shows. In addition to the traditional street team, SCI Fidelity also makes use of a Digital Street Team. This team is tasked with taking advantage of various avenues of promotion through the internet, including blogs, social networking, etc.
SCI Fidelity artists have been on the cutting edge of live. String Cheese Incident and Umphrey’s McGee were among some of the first bands to begin offering up live recordings of every show through services such as UMLive and Live Cheese. Not only can fans purchase the show for download online, but following shows, fans can purchase a copy of that night’s recording.
Because of the creative freedom that bands on SCI Fidelity have, it has fostered innovation in both the music and the business. The most innovative of these bands has been Umphrey’s McGee. Their 2009 album, Mantis, was promoted through an extensive pre-order campaign. The band offered nine tiers of free downloads of additional live tracks, studio outtakes, and various videos. As pre-order numbers reached certain levels, additional tiers containing bonus material were unlocked to be downloaded by those purchasing the album. This encouraged fans to either pre-order multiple albums, or push their friends to order as well. In addition to pre-order offers, the band has taken to the stage to thank their fans. Umphrey’s McGee has started the Stew Art Series (S2), a take on their extended “Jimmy Stewart” jams during shows. A limited number of tickets are offered to each S2, but fans who do make it in get treated to a jam session of which they become a part, texting in various songs and mash-ups for the band to perform on the fly, followed by a meet-and-greet with the band.
SCI Fidelity’s approach as a label has been a focus on self-reliance and fan support. They have done much to make sure their business remains focused on the music and the fans. The label has allowed their bands to retain creative control, and fans have thanked them through attending shows, purchasing records and merchandise, and donating time to the street team.