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What If No One Listens? by Mike Turner

Recently, a social media friend and fellow songwriter posted a general question: how important is it that anyone listens to the songs we write?

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately, and I can say this: I am compelled to write. Each of my songs tells a story about something that matters to me, be it an emotion like love or sorrow; or a human condition like poverty or homelessness; or an issue like the environment or the tragedy or violence; or the glory of God and our world; or even just having a bit of fun. I write because I want to express my thoughts on the subject matter. Because I have to. Because I can’t not write.

Certainly, I hope that my completed songs are heard – that someone actually listens, and connects with what I’ve said. That they hear the story I wanted to tell, feel the emotion I wanted to convey and evoke, are inspired to take action on issues that matter to us as people. That’s why, even though I’ve never felt compelled to perform, I have and do – live, and recording and posting to YouTube, my webpage, social media and elsewhere around the Web. Because I do hope that the connection might be made.

But, what if no one listens?

In thinking about it, I’ve come to realize that, even if there was never any chance anyone would ever hear my songs, I’d still be compelled to write them. For me, the drive to speak, to create, is the primary motivator. The hope that someone will listen, and hear, and respond, is surely there – but if that possibility did not exist, I’d still write.

Because I have to. Because I can’t observe and experience the world around us, and not comment upon what I see and feel and believe.

Because I can’t not write.


How best to develop ukulele skills?

There are many reasons why people enjoy and play music. Some people are happy to learn to  strum a few chords and there’s definitely a place for that. Others like group strum alongs which can be terrific social events. Many ukulele and other niche festivals can be social meet ups and places where people would rather jam that actually listen to seasoned performers. A major ukulele social media site ran a poll where only 22.8 % of those polled would attend an event to see experienced performers v 52.9 % would prefer to jam with friends. Online there are lots of people asking questions about how to develop skills and the advice can be at times “questionable” at best although well intentioned. Phil Doleman wrote a great article on this very subject here 

In the UK there’s a great interest in promoting ukulele festivals and festival style events with one happening almost every 3 weeks, often with the same core artists. Some of these events have workshop opportunities for learning usually in a 60 minute or 90 minute format. In the past these snapshots have been a lot of fun, but of course there’s only so much you can do in this limited period of time. Memorable ones to date include a claw hammer introduction from Aaron Klein and a rhythm workshop by Phil Doleman. My observation in recent years is that many workshops are not fully sold out even though the actual festival is fully subscribed. This again reconfirms that the festival format is often focused on social interactions rather than learning.

The more intensive learning retreat model is in my view a much better way to develop skills for the following reasons. Firstly those attending have committed a period of time (usually a weekend) solely to musical learning. This makes such events a real immersion process. I have personal experience of attending two wonderful Martin Simpson workshops. This would typically be for a maximum group size of 30 attendees. During this time, we each have a unique opportunity to ask questions and learn a huge amount about the technical aspects of learning but also many other aspects of performing. The frame of the learning environment means students can really forget about worldly activities and only focus on music.

In the UK Sorefingers  have ab excellent reputations for providing excellent learning for students. Both Phil Doleman and Percy Copley are teachers with this group. In June this year Matt Stead is providing a very welcome new learning initiative with a residential ukulele retreat that looks very well organized with some really excellent teachers. See

OUS is all about creating NEW ORIGINAL MUSIC. Musical education is a key element in making this possible and in my view investment in developing such skills is time well spent. We never stop learning and being in the company of music professionals is only going to help with that process.


Original Ukulele Songs – Two year anniversary

Almost exactly two years ago I had the idea to set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform. In November 2015 in a conversation with my dear friend and band mate Jessica Bowie I lamented the lack of original ukulele music online and at “ukulele festivals” There were occasional glimpses of some original work, but there was an ocean of cover versions that flooded the internet.  I remember saying “I simply cannot bear hearing yet another version of “You are my sunshine” To clarify, I don’t hate cover versions of classic songs BUT, those classics were once original songs and without artists taking the time to craft original material all we are left with is endless recycling of original material.

I started OUS by setting up the FB platform that I described as “Phase 1” of OUS. I was surprised at the amount of attention we received even in the first few months. Even though I clearly stated that all material needed to be ORIGINAL, in the first nine months we had endless posts from uke artists that would posts the same cover versions to every single uke FB group. This meant a certain amount of polite culling and after a while it settled down and we started to build some momentum. I commented “When  we hit 1000 subscribers, we’ll start phase two” Inevitably folks would say “What’s phase 2?” I replied “When we hit 1000 members, you will find out”

I’m acutely aware that FB is a useful medium for discussion, but its a company in its own right and its better to own your own platform. With this in mind with my tech guy Alun Richards we set up The purpose of this central site was to create a platform that would showcase the best artists that originally posted on the FB page. Each artist would have their own page and at that time I had no idea about how this site would grow, The emphasis was on gathering together many skilled artists from all over the globe. One of the first videos that really caught my attention was Alan Thornton’s “Mary’s moving on” I thought “wow, this is really great!”  The FB page became and remains a daily inspiration and Alan has become central to the OUS platform.

I have been blown away by the terrific quality of music that is now on this site and the daily postings on the FB page.


At the start of 2017 I wanted to start exploring creating better live opportunities for original artists. With this in mind OUS sponsored a stage at the GNUF ukulele festival in Huddersfield. The stage had a four hour 20 min slot on the Sunday of the festival and we had seven artists to play in that period. I chose four of the artists and the material was very well received.

This response inspired further thinking for developing bigger opportunities for live playing and I’m running some beta tests which allow for better artist exposure. Prior to the festival I offered an open house to artists and we had an excellent attendance highlighted with the superb Victoria Vox and Jack Maher playing in my kitchen. These folks are the OUS artists for 2017, smart well delivered music at its very best.

Special thanks to all those who have supported the platform to date and all those who have contributed articles to the site. We are a small but mighty growing group. We now have 100 artists on the main site and over 3000 members on the FB page. As I always say “Its our site, I simply direct traffic” I’m now looking at expanding the platform in 2018 with live showcases in the UK and overseas where the wider public can experience the power and inspiration that stems from the mighty uke.


Listening Rooms and House Concerts by Mike Turner

Two emerging trends here in the United States, offer options for writers seeking venues for the performance of original songs: the “listening room,” and “house concerts.”

It’s a sad fact that live venues most often available to local writer/performers – restaurants and bars/pubs – are not optimal for the performance of original music. Why? Because such venues are not primarily dedicated to music performance, and not all patrons are primarily there for the musical experience. Restaurants, bars/pubs and the like exist primarily for eating, drinking and socializing. Live music, when offered, is principally there as an adjunct to those activities – “background noise,” as it were. Yes, live acts are used as a draw for patrons – but the primary business of these establishments is eat/drink, and truth be told, that’s the major reason most patrons are there, too.

So the audience is automatically focused on things other than music: their food, their drinks, their family and friends. They’re not primarily focused on the music; they’re certainly not focused on lyrics and music they’re unfamiliar with, or have never heard before. Cover tunes they know and can groove along with may, perhaps, temporarily distract them from the primary reasons they’re present. But songs they’ve never heard before? It’s possible they’ll listen – but it’s just as likely that they’ll push the music to the background and focus on other things.

So, if restaurants, bars and pubs aren’t the best venues for those of us performing original tunes, what are our options? What venues can we find where the focus is on the music and performance?

Here in the States, two options have developed: the listening room, and the house concert. A listening room is a business venue – perhaps the basement or back room of a restaurant or bar/pub, perhaps a room dedicated to the purpose – that is set aside to present artists in an environment where the focus is on a respectful, attentive audience experience. Generally, no food, or the most basic of snack-type foods (chips/crisps, etc.) and only a minimal bar (beer/wine/soft drinks) is offered. Patrons are actively discouraged from talking, texting, etc. while the performance is underway. The setting is designed to be intimate – seating typically might accommodate 40-50 patrons, although some are larger – and to facilitate a closer connection and interaction between performers and audience.

Because the listening room is a business, there’s usually a set admission price, often termed an “artist donation.” Some listening rooms pay the full gate to the artist; others have an agreed-upon split to help the venue cover costs. Generally (though not always) the venue keeps the full amount of bar receipts. The artist typically will be given a small table to display “brand” items (CDs, DVDs, posters, etc) for sale, with the artist keeping the receipts. A key concept here is that the venue will expect to make money to cover costs and expenses.

A house concert, by contrast, is a private function hosted in a private residence (or, more rarely, in a venue such as a reception hall, rented expressly for the purpose). The host is typically a fan of the performer, and networks with other fans to provide a core audience. The key concept here is, “private function.” Attendance is by invitation only. The “house” typically does not provide food or drink; audience members may be encouraged to bring a dish to pass, pot-luck style, and to bring their own beverages. Like the listening room, the “house” will suggest an “artist donation” from attendees, but it is not mandatory – a key point in the US, which helps to avoid potential tax and business implications for charging admission. Unlike the listening room, the “house” makes no money from the event – proceeds from the “artist donations” go to the artist.

Publicity may be split between the venue and the performer – but it’s important to note that operators of listening rooms and house concerts, will expect the performer to work her/his fan base in the area to bring in attendees. House concert hosts in particularly, since they typically are fans of the performer, will network with other local fans to build a core audience for the show. But the room/house operators will be keeping their expenses to a minimum, so artists are expected to bring a good part of their audience to a given venue for their show.

You can sense that these are more guidelines than hard-and-fast “rules” for either type of venue. The important points of distinction are the “business” character of the listening room, versus the “private function” character of the house concert. Audience size is limited to, in the case of listening rooms, what the fire marshal allows for occupancy of a given room; and for house concerts, what the house will reasonably hold (and what the neighbors will reasonably put up with!).

Both of these types of concerts are trending “up” here in the US. Both overcome the typical issues of a restaurant/bar/pub. The concert is specifically dedicated to the music. Distractions such as food/drink service are kept to a minimum or eliminated altogether. Patrons are encouraged to focus on the performance and discouraged from talking or engaging in other activities that distract from the performers. Interaction between artists and audience is facilitated and encouraged.

Listening rooms and house concerts are not just for local performers. They are increasingly being used as platforms for regional, and even national, touring artists. An artist doing a tour of major cities in a region, can look for listening rooms in intermediate cities to set up gigs between tour dates. And artists are using social media platforms to find fans in smaller locales to host house concerts. In some cases, the host may also provide meals and a couch to crash on, to hold down the artist’s expenses.

The result is rewarding for both artist and audience. I’ve performed my original songs in both bars/pubs and listening rooms, and attended small house concerts. The experience is like night and day. As a performer, in the listening room/house concert environment, you can more directly engage the audience with comments about your songs, banter, and more emotional input in your performance. And you can far more readily gage audience reaction – which songs connect, which songs perhaps need more work. As an audience member, you can actually listen to the songs, hear and understand the lyrics, catch the nuances of performance, feel a direct connection with the artist. The musical experience is enriched for everyone involved.

There is ample information available on the Internet about how to set up a listening room or house concert experience. Both are viable options for writers looking to showcase their works to audiences who are there to listen. Consider the listening room/house concert options when planning your future gigs.


Finding Your Muse by Jon Rissik

 In my experience there are three key components to writing an original song; the instrumental arrangement, the vocal melody and the lyrics. In order to create something that works as a coherent whole, these three elements need to have both an individual power and the capacity to work together to form something stronger.
Unsurprisingly, many of the songwriters I have spoken to feel comfortable with one of these components more than the other two. Personally I find that writing instrumental arrangements and vocal melodies come quite easily. My ukulele playing gets me by, but has its limits and although I am constantly trying to stretch myself, I find that putting together interesting chord progressions is a relatively simple task. The same goes for finding a melody. Although I am more confident in my singing than my playing, I really know the tones and range that suit the limitations of my voice. I also know the style of songs that I want to perform. That’s not to say I am constantly ‘playing it safe’, but that I know what I like and I am at that stage in my songwriting – and life in general – where I can write for myself first, and then hope that others like it. So, if arrangements and melodies are a relative box-tick, where do I struggle? You guessed it – I am lyrically challenged. How often do you really listen to the lyrics of a song? Others I am sure will disagree, but personally I find that the melody and overarching tone of a song are the components that excite me – or turn me off – to a piece of music.
Conversely, I am rarely either instantly put-off or attracted to a song because of its subject matter, lyrical wizardry or clichéd couplets. For me, if the arrangement and melody is the skin of the onion, the melody is the first layer beneath that, critical to the overall sensory experience, but not the first flavour to reach the mouth. So if they matter less, why do I find lyrics so darned hard? Why can I nail down a melody and arrangement in an hour, and yet find myself pouring over the accompanying lyrics for weeks! Well, I think it may have something to do with age and circumstance. Let me explain: Some of the most memorable popular lyrics ever written were born out of the passions of youth. Those years when love burns brightest, when pain cuts deepest, and when there is a naivety of the wider world. Stevie Wonder wrote ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ at the tender age of 15, Kate Bush penned the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ when she was a mere 13 years of age, and George Michael famously wrote his most enduring song, ‘Careless Whisper’ – including that sax intro – as a 17 year old in Bushey, Hertfordshire.
Okay, so these three artists possess songwriting and performing abilities that sit beyond my wildest imaginings, but I reference them to illustrate the point that very often artists write their best material at a young age, when they feel emotions most acutely, when their well of creativity is at its most full and when they quite simply have lots of stories to tell. Fast forward over the careers of many successful artists and how often will you hear it said that although the body is willing and the raw talent remains undiminished, the creative juices have stopped following. I believe that one of the causes of this is security, be that financial or emotional. I am 48, and I consider myself to be very lucky. I am thankful to have a pretty good job and a loving family. I find writing about finding love, or losing love, or generally being down-on-your-luck to be challenging as a result. I just can’t fake it with any conviction. It feels false to me and therefore I think that any audience I play to will see it as such. The same goes for what could be described as ‘angry’ or rebellious songs. I might have written a song about the current US President (‘Ship Of Fools’) but that’s almost too easy a target. In general I struggle to write songs about ‘The Man’ because in many ways, I am The Man – privileged and middle-class. My life is far from perfect, but I am very content, and that’s not a condition that makes for dramatic, autobiographical storytelling. I need to find my muse – my source of inspiration. The well is pretty dry and I need to find a new source. It would be great to read other people’s thoughts in the comments section below. Am I alone in struggling to find lyrical inspiration in my late-forties?



OUS Artists of the year- Victoria Vox and Jack Maher

The OUS platform is 2 years old with approaching 3000 members on FB and 92 artists with their own pages on the main site. Its a wonderful creative space for original songs.

Each year I have decided to announce an OUS artist/artists of the year and the winners for 2017 are Victoria Vox and Jack Maher.

This previously unreleased performance was done in one take in 2016 in my kitchen in the UK and this is what OUS is all about, smart, brilliant melodic music brilliantly performed. BRAVO Victoria and Jack and for those watching and listening here’s a clip that can now be enjoyed by everyone.

Also check out and

If you get a chance to see these guys live, grab it.


Some thoughts on learning to play the uke from the internet by Phil Doleman

First of all, I’ll come clean; people pay me for ukulele lessons, and they buy my book. I have a vested interest in persuading people that it is best to seek out tuition! Of course it is perfectly possible to learn how to play the uke for nothing, using nothing but the internet to guide you, but it is a minefield. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had when browsing the internet recently.

 If you choose to learn from the internet, you need to be very discerning. YouTube, Facebook, etc. has no quality control. There are indeed wonderful free lessons available, but I frequently watch or read ‘lessons’ which are disseminating bad advice or which are completely incorrect. Of course, if you are a beginner, how can you tell what is good and what is bad? The easiest way is to do your research, ask around of ukulele forums, seek out players that you know have a reputation. Another way, which is a lot more long-winded, is to compare lessons. Don’t just take the first search result as gospel, see what others have to say on the subject. The third way is to get a teacher and ask them!

 In the last week, I’ve seen people ask for advice on Facebook groups and be told completely the wrong answer, and have that poor information backed up by people saying things like, “do it your own way, there’s no wrong or right! It’s the ukulele, just play!”. Now I don’t mind how people play the ukulele or what they want out of it, but as far as music is concerned (and the music made on a uke follows the same rules as music made on any instrument) there is absolutely right and wrong! I’ve watched people told to miss out a hard chord, or substitute it with one that is in no way a suitable substitute. I’ve looked at sheets downloaded from the internet to find that they are completely wrong. The problem is not only when people take this at face value, it becomes and even bigger problem when, as the internet and social media encourages, that misinformation is then shared. The odd thing is that this doesn’t seem to be the case with other instruments as it is with the ukulele. As a player of the banjo, I rarely see banjo players telling other would-be banjo players to skip the hard bits, in fact it’s more often the opposite; practise and you’ll get it!

 There’s something else at work here, too, though. Let’s take a little trip back in time to when I was a teenager learning to play guitar. If I wanted to play a song I had on record (vinyl!) I could either work it out myself, by ear, or go to the music shop and buy the score. The score was usually in the ‘piano/vocal/guitar’ style, which meant is was essentially a piano arrangement of the song with chord boxes over it. At best this served as a rough guide, as it didn’t show the guitarist how the guitar player on the record actually played the song, so even with the score (if indeed there was one available), there was still a certain amount of working out by ear, lifting the needle of the record over and over again to try and catch that tricky bit. It took time, it was laborious, and there was no way to check what you were doing as there was no internet. We frequently got it wrong, but then would play it in front of another player and they might correct us, or we might see the performer play it on video and see their hand go to a different place to us on the neck. This sounds awful compared to the world of instant gratification we see daily online, but it wasn’t. This was learning; this process was invaluable. As we worked out songs, we trained our ears, we learned new fingerboard patterns, and, yes, we learned theory as we started to see that certain chord patterns occurred over and over again. We were even training ourselves for the time when we would get up and play with others by playing along to the record. Recently, someone asked about coming to an intermediate workshop of mine. They told me that they were worried it would be too easy as they had been playing for a month. A month! People are constantly told that the uke is easy, and of course physically it is much, much easier to get a pleasing tone out of a uke on day one that a violin, trumpet, or flute, but once you get playing, well music is music! Yes, a three chord song on a uke is easy enough to learn, but so is a 3 chord song on the piano! What isn’t so easy is to understand what you are playing and why, to go beyond reading the little pictures of chords, to jam with others, to compose songs, to really play music.

 So what can a teacher offer that the internet can’t? Firstly, a teacher will find out where you are and where you want to be and plan a route to get you there. In doing this, they’ll also know what kind of things you need to know that you don’t know you need to know (I’m starting to sound like Donald Rumsfeld)! They can repeat, rephrase and re-explain anything as many times as you want, and can present you with learning materials that are suitable for you and correct (unlike so much of the material available for free online). On top of a that, a teacher offers a two-way learning environment, meaning that while you play, the teacher will listen and observe, and be able to correct poor technique or spot those tiny mistakes you didn’t notice. A teacher will stop you cherry picking the easy stuff, but will introduce the tougher aspects gradually at an achievable rate and will be able to adjust that difficulty to reflect how easy or hard the student finds it. Your teacher will also be there to answer any questions between lessons. Finally, having regular lessons gives you a deadline (the next lesson), and having a deadline is a great motivator for practice. Yes, you also have to be discerning when finding a teacher. Look for recommendations, look for reputation, and yes look online for free content that the teacher provides as well. Remember that anyone can call themselves a teacher (I witnessed someone go from non-player wanting lessons, to a ‘teacher’ with a professional-looking website in a matter of weeks).

 I understand that lessons cost money, and that one lesson can cost more than a beginner uke (the disadvantage of ukes being relatively cheap; the same price for cello lessons doesn’t seem like much of an outlay when you’ve spent thousands on a cello!) but it’s worth mentioning that, although we love our instruments, they are just boxes with strings on. The real value in an instrument is being able to play it well, and the real value in being able to play is boundless; a new and rewarding social life, the pleasure of being able to entertain yourself and others, the ability to express yourself in a new way, the ability to play with others, the appreciation of your audience, maybe even paid gigs! I know people with 20 or more ukes who tell me they don’t want to spend money on lessons. That’s like owning a Ferrari but begrudging paying for a driving instructor!

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Jake Shimabukuro – Pushing the ukulele boundaries

I spent some time in Nashville talking to Van Fletcher Jake Shimabukuro’s manager about the next Jake record after Nashville which was already a departure from what many uke folk might expect. Van and his wife were good enough to invite me to listen to some of the new tracks which are yet to be fully mixed and mastered. Its clear to me that Van is a 100% music lover and his basement is remarkably similar in some ways to my onw music listening room – serious high end hi fi with multi speaker set up and a collection of box sets, CDs and Vinyl that essentially tells the history of all great music.

Michael Ross who runs Guitar Moderne and who is a long time friend and our wives were in for a treat that was really quite something. I’m not going to go into detail about who is playing on the next album or the tracks, but let me say now, this is a whole new jump for ukulele playing. Like many folks I love Jake’s brilliant covers of Queen and The Beatles tracks that made him so famous. When I interviewed him literally two years ago I was amazed at his diverse musical interest and I now know where a lot of this came from. The Nashville album hinted at what Jake is capable of in terms of pushing the boundaries of the uke. The next album is a whole quantum leap that I think will amaze many folks and really show just how this mighty instrument can be used in a really exciting way.

I for one really welcome these explorations which will only help show that the uke can be used for a huge range of sonic expression far beyond what many folks might imagine. Keep an eye out for Jake in 2018 and prepare for something that will really rock your musical world.



Firstly – the rules – there are no rules when it comes to song writing. Song writing is simply art with words and while some may say certain colours should not mix together- who decides these things . Its simply a matter of interpretation.
The only guideline I have is – would my Grand Mother or Grand children be offended if they listened to this – if the answer is yes, then I would not put that song up for the public to view. That does not mean I would not write it – if the words are going round in my brain – inevitably, they will come out in the form of a song. Just not for public consumption.
Some examples of this include my hysterectomy song which starts with the opening line ‘ I’ve got staples in my p-bes and my arms are full of tubes – or my song which asks Ed Sheeran ‘ does the carpet match the curtains – does the duvet match the rug… you get the idea.
There will always be the humpf brigade who take offence at everything but at the end of the day I have to live with the decisions I make without compromising my integrity.
Where do I get my ideas from? – Inspiration can come from anywhere and I often write about things close to my heart or what is happening to me. Politicians and public figures are fair game and there is always a funny side to everything if you look hard enough.
Which comes first – the music or the words. Usually for me, both together and often at the most inconvenient times. I live 25 k from the nearest town in a remote part of Southern New Zealand. I frequently find myself pulling over while driving to town, taking out my cell phone and recording the rough draft of a song.
I have discovered to my dismay if I don’t do this, by the time I get home, the lyric is gone. The early hours of the morning are also when my brain works best. However in the interest on marital bliss, I no longer prance around the bedroom with my uke at 3 am. My shift working husband does not always appreciate the urgency of my musical endeavours. (theres a song in that I am sure)
So there you have it – I write songs because I can, because there is an urgency in my inner being to communicate with others via music. Not all of them are masterpieces, but most of them will make you laugh. It’s the oil that keeps my engine running.